High-street brands with strong track records of social purpose have won acclaim online for simple initiatives they have undertaken amid the global outbreak of novel coronavirus, or Covid-19.

As shops up and down the land run out of hand sanitiser, craft beer maker BrewDog – which invites customers to become genuine stakeholders – announced in an 18 March tweet that it had turned over its distillery in Scotland to the manufacture of ‘Brewgel’: its own, swiftly hatched sanitiser brand. [1] In a subsequent tweet, BrewDog boss James Watt confirmed: “Just to be clear, we will not be selling the sanitiser, but giving it away to those who need it.” [2]

In a similar vein, cosmetics and hygiene firm Lush – a major player in ethical sourcing – is allowing UK consumers to drop into its branches and use its bar-soap products and sinks for free in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. A spokeswoman said: “The winter months are always a time when hand hygiene matters because coughs and colds pass around, but the current situation with the spread of the new coronavirus means that it is more important than ever that people regularly wash their hands and observe best practice.” [3]

Over in the economically challenged hospitality sector, Pret a Manger – which supports work to help people recover from homelessness – announced in a tweet this week: “Dear NHS workers. Your hot drinks are on the house from today, and we’ll take 50% off everything else. Thank you for everything you are doing. We look forward to serving you.” [4]

Meanwhile, at repairs and key-cutting firm Timpson – home to a form of servant leadership called ‘upside-down management’ – CEO James Timpson tweeted part of a memo he had issued to staff wrestling with the difficult trading climate, saying: “You are an amazing group of people who I’m going to need to lean on heavily over the coming weeks and months to keep the show on the road, to keep caring for each other, and to keep your families safe. When this is over we will still be the same company. We will still have a strong culture. We will still have a strong future. Your colleague and friend James.” [5]

What do the Brewdog, Lush and Pret initiatives, and Timpson’s message to his staff, say about the priorities of purpose-driven businesses? And what could other companies learn from these firms’ reactions to the crisis?

The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “These four examples show just how genuine and authentic these firms’ sense of purpose is – and how they recognise not only their employees, but also their customers, as absolute stakeholders in their businesses. Taken together, they provide a powerful showcase for Institute Companion Charles Hampden-Turner’s assertion that, if you operate ethically, if you look to share value throughout the supply chain, and if no stakeholder gains disproportionately at the expense of another, then you have a sustainable business.”

She notes: “Under normal trading circumstances, business leaders talk so much about wanting their workforces to be engaged – to go that crucial extra mile. But I would suggest that, as an employer, you should firstly go an extra mile yourself in order to secure the loyalty and commitment from your staff that will galvanise them to give a mile back.”

Cooper adds: “Let these examples serve a lesson for the future that businesses should be for the long term, and that – as the Pret offer in particular demonstrates – they are very much a part of the society in which they operate. We often hear about how younger people want to work for companies with purposes higher than boosting profits, and these examples may well illustrate what those ideals actually look like. All four businesses are very much for-profit entities, but have at their core a bona-fide sense of altruism. And that’s very appealing.”

For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on taking initiative

Source refs: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Publicity image of Brewgel sanitiser bottles courtesy of the BrewDog Twitter feed