There’s no such thing as a free lunch?
I was 5 years old when my mother and I were going for a drive out the back of Mt Wellington. I don’t know why we were there but I do remember the truck that reversed in to our old Morris Minor causing fairly minimal damage but the jolt was such a shock that I still remember it. We were out the back of the Tip Top Ice cream factory. I well remember that too because I was so upset and a lady wearing a white hair net and jacket came up to me, grabbed me by the hand and took me in to their cafeteria. She offered me a free ice cream sandwich. My tears were instantly gone as she handed me my ice cream. I was born and bred in Mangere (South Auckland, New Zealand), which is still famous for its poverty and rough exterior, even though, at it’s heart was so much joy, love and generosity – in it’s own way. The generosity shown by many certainly wasn’t in giving things away it was more of a community spirit but the lady at Tip Top was generous with her bosses money and I got something for free which I will never forget.
I have now run two businesses and have watched in awe as capitalism in it’s purest form dominated a business landscape. Take what you can, while you can. Keep growth going at any cost. I risked it, I deserve it. Then came the collapse of the world economy and the pitfalls of risk were laid bare for all to see. Risk was good if it was some one else’s money you were risking (bank money was cheap and easy) and if you were a depositor in a ‘Finance Company’ in New Zealand, you simply couldn’t loose. Until you lost.
There are many other stories I will tell you one day (If I forget, remind me of Bluechip) but one thing is for sure, while I was never a total advocate of capitalism, I was a believer of sorts. The the GFC hit and I saw the limits to selfishness. I saw that if everyone was just in it for themselves, the basis of our decision making was so severely warped that fraud was an easy next step as were schemes to indemnify our debts by on selling them as packages that were some how attractive to others. The house of cards was based on greed and suddenly the emperor was exposed as being completely naked and I was ashamed on one hand but relieved on another. In my heart of hearts, I was the product of a society that cared about each other, covered for one another and while I didn’t understand it at the time, didn’t really agree with the narcissism that was so overt at the time.
When I started Antipodes LED, I wanted to put in my vision, a way of giving back some how. Many large companies do it but this was personal, using my money and my time to help others. Was it an easy thing, to be honest, no. I needed money and time to run the business but did I need all of it to make it work? I figured that by changing my perception of value and values and understanding that while there is a risk in giving things away, there won’t be a return, that is a good challenge. We do sponsor events but sponsorship was really a brand marketing campaign that looks for a return on it’s investment. No. Giving things, time or money away affects us in a healthy way. We learn that return on investment is often more effective when it’s not based purely on financial returns but social returns.
At a recent Tauranga City Partnership Programme, Phil O’Reilly (Business New Zealand Chief Executive) said…”Business philanthropy in general works best when business has a clear view of why they’re doing it. It’s more than just being nice to people or getting a bit of good publicity. Unless it’s a part of what business is trying to achieve in building a successful community and it’s linked directly into how they think about such things, it’s not going to work in the long term.”
So – great in theory but what does it look like in practice. I would like to introduce a concept that is working in the Bay of Plenty. The firm – whom I have no financial interest in but support their ethos completely, is called Sustainability Options. Their stated purpose is to ‘Give good, trustworthy and free sustainable and ethical living advice to house holders’ but they also work with business in a commercial capacity to assist in stimulation, development and implementation of sustainability inspired outcomes.
Everyone (including me) would ask the question of ‘How do they earn a living?’ Basically, they generate income through their commercial business relationships helping them with sustainability services and then commit 85% of their profit back in to the community through free services.
Folks – Sustainability Options leads the way by not following the perceived norms. As long as we work within the law, what should our rules be? It is clear that the old rules haven’t worked so well and now is the time to add positive outcomes for business and individuals alike. My challenge, like everyone else’s is to make enough money to sustain my business but consider both the people we meet that have needs and the environment we live in needs to be sustainable for our future generations.
PS. As an afterthought – coming back to the Tip Top incident – I guess free ice cream sandwich lunch did pay back, it just took 42 years for them to see it! Proof – investment in people can be a slow if at times bewildering master.