What matters most to Xavier Rees
"Calling on the creative industry to clean up its act" - Xavier Rees, CEO Havas London
Congratulations, you’re the first major agency to certify as a B Corporation.
Xavier: Thank you. It’s something we’re incredibly proud of. I believe that if you run a business generating the kind of revenues that we do, you have a responsibility beyond simply maximizing profit. Business can and should be a force for good, and that’s what B Corp is all about.
So, it’s not about being non-profit?
So, it's not about being non-profit?
Xavier: Far from it. It's about balancing purpose and profit, and considering the impact our decisions have on people and the planet. In fact, we’re now legally required to do so. I believe in running a profitable business, and it’s eminently possible to have a positive impact on your employees, local community and the wider world without inhibiting commercial success. In fact, I think being a B Corp is one of the things that’s driving our business performance.
What does it mean to be a B Corp?
Xavier: In practical terms, certifying as a B Corp requires meeting rigorous standards of accountability, transparency and social and environmental performance. We began working toward certification in 2016, and it took us almost two years to reach the standards required. While certification was a milestone, it’s also an ongoing effort – companies must re-certify every two years, and we’re always looking for ways to improve our score.
What are the criteria to become certified?
Xavier: There are hundreds, broadly spanning governance, workers, community, environment and customers. The tangible actions we’ve taken range from the micro, like removing plastic cutlery in our café, to real, big picture stuff like legally enshrining ‘triple bottom line’ principles – people, planet and profit – into our our Articles of Association. It forces you to look at every area of your business, and you soon realize that small changes can begin to add up very quickly.
Among many other things, we’ve also reduced our carbon footprint by 6% per person, established and trained a team of mental health ambassadors, appointed more women into senior roles and partnered with a number of local charities. We’re a much better business for it.
But should you not be generating positive impact through your work?
Xavier: Of course – but it’s not our only area of impact. My biggest learning has been the power we have as an industry to make a genuine difference in our own right. The UK advertising and marketing industry employs 200,000 people, while UK advertising expenditure is upwards of £22 billion. That’s a lot of people – and a lot of money. Imagine if you used it just a bit more responsibly than you do now.
But what about the shareholders? The bottom line? And driving profit?
Xavier: We're a big business, and I have targets to hit. But it isn't an an/or issue: I truly believe we can enhance our positive impact while also driving profit. There's also a substantial business benefit to BCorp. With people increasingly environmental and socially conscious, and with global clients now expecting their suppliers to have a point of view on these issues, B Corp certification is a key differentiator when attracting both talent and new business in an increasingly competitive environment. Being a B Corp is definitely a competitive advantage.
How much do you need to invest to become a B Corp?
Xavier: Most of the initiatives we’ve implemented haven’t cost money. So, it needn’t cost more but does require a change in attitude: actively think about the impact of every decision you make and go from simply making money to making a difference.
Do you consider yourself a change-maker?
Xavier: Not at all. And I don’t like that word. I happen to be responsible for tens of millions of pounds of revenue, which presents me with both an opportunity and a responsibility. We should all be worried about the social and environmental state of the world, and this is why B Corp is so exciting. Imagine if we can inspire the entire advertising sector to join us on this journey.
Sorry, but that still sounds like a change-maker.
Xavier: If what we are doing at Havas London inspires other people to make positive changes to the way they run their businesses, then I’m happy. I just don’t like the word. It sounds self-important. I am an ambassador for B Corp. And I genuinely believe that business leaders today have an opportunity to drive a new economy which balances profit, people and the planet. None of this is a ‘nice to have’. People want to work for, buy from, and invest in businesses they believe in. With clients, talent and society in general increasingly demanding this stuff, this is the new battleground.