Interviews

Mark Cuddigan, CEO, Ella’s Kitchen & Xavier Rees, CEO, Havas London

"The interesting thing about B Corp is that you can put profit on equal merit with people and planet. It doesn’t mean you have to make a choice between one or other. It means you can do both."

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor of BITE

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Creativebrief: Please could you just outline your careers.
Mark Cuddigan: I’ve been in FMCG pretty much all my life. Left university, qualified as a professional tennis coach, then invested in a company that did nuts and snacks, Dormen’s. Did that for 13 years, sold that to a PLC and then bought a granola cereal company. Sold that and then was approached by Annabel Karmel. I went to work for her for a year and then went to Ella’s Kitchen which changed my life and changed my viewpoint on what business can and should do.
Creativebrief: And what about you Xav?
Xavier Rees: My first job was a researcher, which helped me to have a more curious mind. Then I was a grad at Boots, and I thought I wanted to spend my life client-side. Then I realised my friends working in agencies were having more fun. I’d like to pretend that it was a grand, carefully plotted career, but an agency called Grey Integrated were looking for an Account Exec and I jumped at the chance. I’ve been in agencies ever since. But not always advertising agencies. I’ve probably spent equal parts of my career in direct marketing and digital agencies versus advertising agencies. BBH, Wunderman, adam&eveDDB, where I was Group Managing Director. I arrived here two and a half years ago, and now I look after both Havas’ advertising agency and customer engagement agency.

It’s not for all companies but I would argue that those companies that embrace B Corp are the ones that are going to be commercially more successful and they’re going to be the ones that are around in 10, 20 years’ time.

Mark Cuddigan
Creativebrief: What work have you’ve been most proud of producing together?
Mark Cuddigan: It’s not something to do with Ella’s Kitchen but my parent company [Hain Celestial]. Xav and the team at Havas helped us craft what their purpose could be. We have been pushing them to lead in the purpose-sphere. And Xav and the team here helped us craft what that could look like. We did a whole piece of work together looking at how other brands like Unilever and P&G do it, which I then took to the Hain board. In terms of changing people’s lives for the better, that’s the biggest bit of work that I’ve been involved in.
Creativebrief: Ella’s Kitchen is B Corp certified. Can you explain what this is and if you believe it should be a prerequisite for every company?
Mark Cuddigan: B Corp is, to explain it in its simplest way, like Fairtrade but for your whole business. To certify as a B Corp, you have to spend a lot of time and effort going through the certification process. It’ll look at your gender pay gap, diversity, paternity policies, supply chain, impact on society, at your business as a whole and decides whether you are a good company or not. Is it a prerequisite for any company? No. There are companies that would find it very difficult to prove that they’re having a positive impact on society. It’s not for all companies but I would argue that those companies that embrace B Corp are the ones that are going to be commercially more successful and they’re going to be the ones that are around in 10, 20 years’ time. Now, particularly millennials are demanding more, which is great because if we’re going to demand more, we’re going to demand more transparency from our companies that we buy from and work for. It’s fantastic.
Creativebrief: What about for Havas?
Xavier Rees: It’s a very extensive process to become certified. For Havas London – and I’m incredibly proud to say that we’ve just been certified – it’s taken us 18 months or more where we have looked at all the different elements of our business. It’s good because in some areas, we’ve had to make fundamental changes. So, where our food goes at the end of the day, you won’t find any straws or many disposable cups in our cafe, you will find sugar cubes not little sachets of sugar. But you’ve also got the gap between the best and lowest paid person in the business, the benefits package, you have a whole range of things that all add up. The sentence B Corp uses that’s most effective from my perspective is ‘business as a force for good’. I only heard of B Corp through Mark, but it struck an enormous chord with me because I’ve spent my whole career feeling that you have to choose between working for a commercial business or working for a business that has a significant impact on society, a positive impact on people and the planet. I feel a responsibility to do something useful with [Havas] than just deliver a profit back. The interesting thing about B Corp is that you can put profit on equal merit with people and planet. It doesn’t mean you have to make a choice between one or other. It means you can do both. Frankly it’s a way of forcing ourselves as a business to actively think about these things that maybe we just didn’t actively think about before. It’s made us more efficient. And I’ve found that as we’ve involved people in the process and talked to them about it, it’s a highly engaging subject. They are interested in working for a business that is thinking like this. Outside of this building, the industry talks a good CSR game, but agencies on the whole simply don’t think about this stuff enough and there remains a real lack of transparency, accountability and long-term, codified commitment. B Corp certification puts our money where our mouth is and demonstrates there is no reason why other agencies cannot commit to these same standards. I would urge more agencies to do so. Right now, B Corp status is a competitive advantage to us but I wish it wasn’t.

The interesting thing about B Corp is that you can put profit on equal merit with people and planet. It doesn’t mean you have to make a choice between one or other. It means you can do both.

Xavier Rees
Creativebrief: I guess that thinking overarches your working relationship. What do you think makes a successful client agency relationship?
Mark Cuddigan: Having the same values, knowing that Havas understands our values, lives and breathes our values and that mutual respect. It’s no surprise that Xav and I are great mates and he’s gone on the journey of certifying Havas as a B Corp. We see things the same. We care about the people that work for us, about the people that are buying our products, all these things we come at from the same angle. So, it’s values and communication. Everything’s communication, right?
Creativebrief: Exactly.
Xavier Rees: You’ve got to create the environment for that. It’s very easy to say that you have to communicate, but you have to communicate honestly. And if that’s not well received, that’s very difficult. One of the things that makes the relationship between Ella’s and Havas, our relationship, work is the fact that if Mark calls me up with a hard truth, I know it’s because you mean well. We can have a good, honest conversation that might be hard if we didn’t all have the right end in mind. Mark wants Havas to be successful as an agency as a whole, not just on the brands that Mark looks after. I value that enormously because in those moments of honesty, that’s when you decide you’ll go over the mountain together.
Creativebrief: You have to have that faith in one another.
Mark Cuddigan: It’s true, because Havas London certifying as a B Corp is probably the proudest moment of my business life. And it’s not to do with me.
Creativebrief: Looking out at the rest of the advertising industry, do you think becoming B Corp certified is going to become, or should become more of a priority for other agencies?
Xavier Rees: 18 Feet & Rising [now And Rising] are probably the most known but they’re one of the only ones, and certainly an agency of our size certifying sends a good message to the market. It’s beholden on us as an industry to realise the impact that we are able to have. We spend too much of our lives living our successes through our clients’ successes, rather than looking at our own businesses and saying how can we be a good business? If you talk about purpose to a lot of agencies, they’ll talk about the purposes that they’ve delivered for other clients, not about their own. This industry has an enormous amount of money flowing through it and an enormous influence over some of the world’s biggest brands and there is much, much more we can do to put the money that’s flowing through the industry to best use.
Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for your creative partnership moving forwards?
Mark Cuddigan: I’d like to see Havas do more for Hain in Europe, which is happening. My personal ambition is to make B Corp as famous in the UK as Fairtrade. I want consumers to go out and actively buy from B Corps because they realise that they are having a positive impact. There’s a challenge there because the strength of the movement is its diversity. While our mission is all around children’s health and nutrition, method eCover is totally different, Havas is different, Pukka Teas is completely different to Ben & Jerry’s. We’re all doing different things and we’re all certified B Corps. So, if a consumer says what is the unifying thing and you say it’s business as a force for good, what does that mean? I have no idea what that means. We need to fix that before we then start talking to people. I would love it in 10 years’ time if most companies were certified B Corps because then what you do is you make it slightly harder. We should not kid ourselves that governments can and should solve all the problems that we’ve got. They don’t have the technical expertise, the creativity, the brilliance to do it. But if you look inside our companies, we’re really good at certain things. And if we can turn that to society’s benefit or the benefit of the people that work for us or the planet just in a little way, we could change things so, so much.

Now, particularly millennials are demanding more, which is great because if we’re going to demand more, we’re going to demand more transparency from our companies that we buy from and work for.

Mark Cuddigan
Creativebrief: What about you Xav? Is there any work in the industry that you’ve particularly liked this year?
Xavier Rees: I’m not sure it’s a great time for globally outstanding single pieces of work. There’s been an interesting debate around the Nike Colin Kaepernick ad and I fall on the side of, apologies for it being slightly obvious, but on the side of that being a good thing. It’s very easy to say you’re piggybacking onto something, but it’s always been part of what they’re all about. I thought they were smart, it was bold and confident because it was always going to polarise. Time will tell but I reckon it’s been a while since Nike’s been at the centre of such positive conversation. If you’re talking about campaigns with a purpose, the Channel 4 Superhumans. If you’re looking for populist advertising that has helped change people’s perceptions, that was and remains an incredible campaign. There’s an amazing piece of work done by 23Red recently with Network Rail to stop kids going on rail tracks. It’s a 30-minute piece of film that took the best part of a year in workshops with school kids from harder to reach audiences who helped build the work together. It was filmed and created by Fully Focused, a production company that is essentially a non-profit staffed with kids that they’re training to come into that industry. We’ve recently launched a big campaign for teacher recruitment for the Department for Education which I’m incredibly proud of and is already making a real difference, particularly in terms of elevating the position of teaching in people’s minds as a credible career. The perception of teaching as a career choice and as a career full stop in the country’s eyes has fallen away.
Creativebrief: Looking outside the industry, we like to ask people who or what they’re inspired by?
Mark Cuddigan: I would say a man called David Marquet. He was put in charge of an American nuclear submarine and he’d never set foot on that type of submarine before. He’d always believed in autonomy. It’s very difficult to deliver autonomy in any business but imagine on a nuclear submarine. This ship was the bottom, lowest marks, lowest ranked ship in the whole US Navy. He ripped up the American Naval rulebook which could put you in jail and he just gave people complete autonomy. Within four months it had taken hold. Within six months, completely different ship. Within 12 months they had an inspection from the High Command and they got the highest marks ever recorded not of nuclear submarines, not of the North Atlantic fleet where he was, but ever recorded in US Naval history. The second person would be him [Xav] and what he’s doing around B Corp. It will change people’s lives. Xav was right what he said before that they have this unique responsibility because look at all the companies they talk to, look how big his parent company is. The unintended consequence of Havas certifying will be other agencies, other companies in this building will notice. And other companies will certify and that will genuinely make people’s lives happier.
Creativebrief: And for you Xav?
Xavier Rees: I will say my dad because he’s not worried about being popular or being liked at all but is actually a wonderful man. He’s a passionate believer in seeing all sides of the argument. It’s very easy to simply follow your own perspective on things. It is important to have a set of values to guide you, but it’s too easy to block out the noise and decide you’re just going to keep going. It’s so much better to listen to what everybody’s got to say and be prepared to change your mind. I’ve watched so many people dig a hole for themselves because they don’t want to back out of a statement that they’ve publicly made because they think it’s going to make them look like a dickhead. And him [Mark], whether deliberately or by accident, putting his faith in us and trusting us. I value that enormously but also, god, there’s nothing like somebody saying I trust you to make you go ‘I am not going to let this person down’. If you know you’ve got someone’s trust, you want to do the best for them. Mark would want our business to be successful, just as I want his business to be successful. That’s not always an ever-present value among clients I’ve worked with. Maybe it’s implicit some of the time but to have a client that is actively willing the rest of your business to succeed is very precious to me.

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