06/09/2015 04:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Putting the Heart back Into Business

By: Andrew Thornton


My journey from profit-focused entrepreneur to heartful business leader has been a long and at times bumpy one! Having run a retail consultancy for many years, I felt there had to be a better way to run a business than the quarterly profit addiction that I saw in more and more of our multi-national clients.

So I set up Thornton's Budgens as the 'Community Supermarket that really Cares" in North London (Budgens is a franchise). Our focus is on caring about our people, about the community in which we operate and about our planet.

In that role we have done seemly crazy things like setting up a farm on the roof of one of our stores and selling squirrels to the horror of the Daily Mail; and more sensible things like reducing our energy consumption by more than 50 percent and showing the global supermarket industry that putting doors on their chillers does not cost you sales and substantially reduces your carbon footprint.

With our people, we have developed the Heart Programme which literally encourages team members to open their hearts, though creating a safe working environment to show their full potential.

Through the Heart Programme sharing circles and the use of a talking stick (which ensures everyone gets to speak without interruption), people feel valued, contribute their ideas and have an input into the direction of their company. And it works - since we implemented this, we have got straight 100 percent's in our mystery shopper scores (we used to get very inconsistent scores) and our sales increased by 6 percent.

We are in the process of setting up a council that will become the policy making body for the company, which will see 5 or 6 team members sit along side the existing three board members. Inspired by Darshita Gillies, we intend to have at least one Millennial on it. These are people born between 1990 and 2000 - they have a very different outlook on work and what they want from it - a "civic-minded generation with a strong sense of community both local and global". We are even considering having representatives from other stakeholder groups - customers, the community and someone representing the environment.

After six years of this journey (and two years ago), I had to sell one of our stores - a third multiple supermarket opened on our doorstep making survival as an independent impossible.

This gave me the space to realise that my life purpose was to help put the "Heart back into Business". And I say back, as the original Quaker companies like Rowntree, Cadbury and Lever Brothers had real hearts - in fact it was Joseph Rowntree that invented the pension.

Somewhere along the way, there was a shift from business being positive force for good to a place where most companies don't care for much beyond their next quarters profits.

So why is this important? Well, if you look at the latest Gallup Poll on workplace satisfaction, it shows that globally 87 percent of people are emotionally disconnected from their work. As during the working part of our lives we spend half of our non-sleeping time at work, this may explain the amount of turmoil there is in the world right now.

As businesses employ such a large % of the workforce globally, we can do something about this. In fact, I would argue that it is our duty to do something about it.

The good news is that nearly all studies that have looked at the profitability of companies who look beyond maximising shareholder value and consider their wider stakeholder base, show that doing this delivers better financial results.

To help share my journey with others, I have set up Heart in Business Limited. And even though I can present the process of becoming a heartful organisation as a smooth logical 9-step process, for me it was far from smooth and involved many wrong turns.

I believe I can help others have a less painful journey.

I am encouraged not to be alone on this journey, sharing with other great movements such as Conscious Capitalism, the Blueprint for Better Business, B.Corporations and The B-Team. I believe that now is the time to change and that more and more businesses are ready for a different way of being.

These are some of the themes explored and celebrated by UK based social enterprise Pioneers for Change. Their inaugural 6-month Fellowship kicked off on 23 and 24 March, 2015 in London. Pioneers for Change is an initiative of Adessy Associates.

About Andrew Thornton
Andrew Isaac Thornton is an entrepreneur, the owner of Thornton's Budgens (a supermarket in North London) and the founder of Heart in Business Limited.

His life purpose is to put the Heart back into Business and encourage the shift from an obsession with profit, towards a business world where people and our planet are put first. He has applied these principles to Thornton's Budgens -- see what the Huffington Post had to say about his approach.

He is currently writing the book "How to put the Heart back into Business" and his aim is to build a network of heartful businesses.

Andrew was a founder director of social enterprises "The People's Supermarket" and "Food from the Sky," founded and ran the retail consultancy SRCG, is an Ambassador for Embercombe, the sustainability centre in Devon and is a fellow of the Royal Society for Arts, Commerce and Industry. He lives in London and has two (growing up!) children. Andrew is a graduate of University College Dublin, doing both a B.Comm and an MBS.