I HAVE ALWAYS FELT IN MY BONES THAT BUSINESS HAS A RESPONSIBILITY BEYOND MAKING MONEY.

It seems so obvious that it hardly needs stating, yet every day we hear examples of companies putting profits above their people, the health of the planet and the communities they serve. 

 

Funnily enough I don’t recall spending any time thinking about “business values” when we first started out in 1997. At the time, my co-founder Dale and I just knew that we shared a similar philosophy. A lofty way of expressing it would be that business should be a force for good and treat people with kindness and generosity.

 

We didn’t get around to articulating what COOK’s culture and values were in any meaningful way until 15 years later. By that point there were around 350 of us, and we started hearing people refer to things as “not very COOK”. It motivated my sister and now co-CEO Rosie and I to define what that meant. Today our company culture is one of the things I love most about COOK, alongside our decision to become a B Corp seven years ago.

 

The Coronavirus went from being a news story about China to a full-blown global crisis in a matter of weeks. As the realisation grew of the massive impact it would have on our society, we turned again to our values and asked ourselves how COOK could be a force for good during this pandemic. We empowered our shop teams to help their local communities directly, giving away food to people and local organisations that needed support. So far that’s included shelters, hospices, hospitals, youth groups, care homes, the elderly, and those self-isolating and in the ‘at risk’ category. We’re currently working towards a goal of donating 100,000 free meals.

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ALTHOUGH THE PEOPLE WHO WERE THERE AT THE BEGINNING MIGHT SET THE TONE, NO COMPANY’S CULTURE IS THE PROPERTY OF THEIR FOUNDER OR OWNER.

ED PERRY Co-Founder and Co-CEO, COOK

We are very lucky to be able to help. It was obvious early on that demand for our meals was going to increase during the pandemic. Plus, in a spectacularly fortunate accident of timing, we opened a second kitchen in Kent a month before the crisis, significantly raising our production capacity. We expected to slowly build up to full production there over six months; it took a matter of weeks.

 

It is almost impossible to imagine what COOK would be without our values. They govern nearly every aspect of our behaviour within the business, like how we source ingredients, reduce and offset carbon emissions, pay a real living wage, share our profits and offer jobs to people who’ve been in prison, homeless or unemployed for a long time.

 

Every organisation around the world has its own culture, whether or not it has been considered or articulated. The danger of not thinking about it is there is always a tendency to drift towards the more base elements of human nature – primarily greed – and firms can default to making the pursuit of profits their only purpose.

Although the people who were there at the beginning might set the tone, no company’s culture is the property of their founder or owner. As co-CEO, I see my primary role as safeguarding our culture and values. If I can do that successfully, the strategy and performance takes care of itself. The more you grow, of course, the harder it is to maintain a strong and positive culture. There are, fortunately, some great examples of how to it. Patagonia are a constant source of inspiration.

 

You can only be brave when you are scared. In the same way, it is during times of crisis like these that businesses’ values and culture really kicks in. All over the world right now, organisations are having to take rapid decisions in response to a situation they have never experienced before and did not anticipate. As these decisions can’t be driven by data, they can only be driven by values.

 

The right values and culture will help see a company through the next few months – even years – of uncertainty. More importantly, it will also help to contribute to the new, better and fairer society that we have the opportunity to shape.

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