Interviews

Giving business a soul

Paul Milbank

Policy Lead for Arts, Culture, Heritage and Sport, Gov of Jersey & Advisor, Good Business Charter  

Where did you spend your childhood and what are your most vivid memo-ries of growing up?

I had an unusual childhood in lots of ways. My mother is from the Seychelles Islands and of Indian / Creole heritage. My father is English. We grew up in the grounds of a Victorian Hospital (not unlike St Saviours) in rural Suffolk where my father was a manager and my mother a nurse. We lived on site in many acres of countryside where my brother and I could roam freely. The hospital was a residential care facility for people with severe mental and physical disabilities.

Some of my earliest memories are of very sweet and often quite surreal interactions with the patients, most of whom were free to explore the grounds. I also come from a very culturally mixed background. I remember being at Muslim, Hindu and Catholic weddings as a child.

As a theology student at Chester University, you became committed to digging deep into the wells of Christian spirituality and history. Could you explain how this work helped shape your adult career?

Western society rests on a foundation of profound spiritual and philosophical thought and enquiry. In previous ages people saw no separation between their spiritual lives and their working or family lives. We might say that people, from all cultural backgrounds lived in a more integrated way. I think it is the loss of this integration, through industrial age, that has put us in the predicament we are in now (climate change, mental health crisis etc). Modernity has left our world bereft of soul.

I would say that a big part of my career has been to help people back towards that integration. Not necessarily through religion (I think a lot of religion is bad) but through asking questions of purpose and meaning: what is of most value? How should I live? What is true success? These are questions that haunt our civilization. We don’t have to start from scratch, many brilliant people have spent many centuries trying to answer them, and we can dig deep into those wells for our own flourishing and growth today.

Your first job was with Santander Private Banking International as a Rela-tionship Manager. What led a theology student into this profession?

I wrote my dissertation on business ethics. It has always fascinated me that we make a separation between business - which is considered at least morally dubious, and charitable activity - which is meant to be good and wholesome. I have always believed that divide to be false. I have done work with churches and charities, but I am always drawn back to the possibility that business could be a powerful force for good in the world, and that business organisations could be places of human flourishing and growth. I sought work in finance (which brought me to Jersey) because I wanted to live out my values in a place where it would matter and could make a difference.

You moved to Jersey in 2010 and took up a job with Standard Bank whilst also acting as a Consultant at the Business Connect Trust, an organisation which works to integrate Christian faith, thought and spirituality with the life of the business community. How has your dream of establishing organisa-tions that operate out of a new theological and economic imagination evolved?

This is such a complex question! I have, over the years, been involved in the start of many new organisations. I just can’t help starting new things! Again, I believe that the values and purpose that underpin organisations can be radically good. Some of things I have started have gone wrong. Some have not lasted. But occasionally in the act of starting new things from a different system of values, I have been privileged to glimpse wonderful hopeful examples of good businesses and organisations doing great things in the world. A business at its best is a community of purposeful action – greater than the sum of its parts.

Could you describe your time as a Director of Freedom for Life Ministries?

We were a small charity committed to making the experience of prisoners and those leaving prison more redemptive and hopeful. I volunteered as a Board member and helped with strategy. We started a small business to provide employment for people leaving prison. I have noticed, as I’ve progressed through my career, that the more worthwhile a thing, the harder it is. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. The barriers and forces that are put up to prevent people turning their lives around are extraordinary. The team at Freedom for Life were heroic in their devotion to giving people a second chance. We won Charity of the year in the 2014 Jersey Charity Awards. That was a good moment.

I have noticed, as I've progressed through my career, that the more worthwhile a thing, the harder it is. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

You founded ValueMatrix in 2018, a Jersey based sustainability and corpo-rate ethics consultancy. What is your vision for the business?

ValueMetrix was founded with the intention to transform the conversation about business ethics in Jersey and to take businesses on a journey towards greater purpose, meaning and holistic success. Things have changed a lot in the last three years, but in 2018 business ethics was mostly about doing well-meaning but ultimately disconnected bits of CSR. The Team at ValueMetrix have achieved amazing inroads and I think have been responsible for shifting the conversation in Jersey. The drum that we always bang is that real change is not driven by what we think or what we do, but by our values, identity, sense of purpose and our beliefs about what is good. As Peter Drucker once said ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Real sustainable change comes from the core of who we are. ValueMetrix helps businesses to uncover their core philosophy, which is often unconscious, and to build a new value system from the ground up. It is no good being hot on carbon emissions if you have a toxic culture of fear or anxiety. Likewise, it is no good being kind to your colleagues if you cannot identify the good that your business provides for your community and society. It is from here that we can build a sustainability and ethics strategy for businesses. The team at ValueMetrix are amazing at this skilled and delicate work. We have seen it totally transform organisations towards the good.

You also founded The Good Business Charter. Why did you decide to set this up?

We started with the question: What does a movement for change in the Jersey Business community look like? We came up with two answers:

1. Celebrating the amazing things that many businesses already do by giving them a platform of recognition

2. Challenging the whole business community to raise the bar on Good Business.

The Charter is a community of best practice, learning and changing together. Our membership includes 11 sectors of the economy, from the biggest employers in Jersey to very small services providers.

The Charter is one of the best things I have ever been involved in and I have learned so much along the way from our brilliant Board and Council. I feel like we are just getting started!

What kind of standards do businesses have to meet to be awarded your Charter Mark?

There are two aspects to the application, both equally important. First there is an online questionnaire – 80 questions across the 4 areas of the Charter (People, Planet, Customers, Suppliers and Community).

But the really fun bit is when our council interviews the CEO or leaders of the company about their application. This is where we get to hear the inspiring and moving stories of our members businesses, many of whom are doing extra-ordinary things behind the scenes.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

Two bits (sorry, I know that’s cheating):

1. There is no limit to what you can achieve if you don’t care who gets the credit. (Jonathan le Tocq from Guernsey gave me that one).

2. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being (Carl Gustav Jung).