28.04.2018 Responsible Business Week: Meet Chris Nott, the corporate lawyer tackling homelessness head on

Last but certainly not least in our Responsible Business Week series is Chris Nott. Chris a is Senior Partner and Founder of Capital Law and People, which provides commercial legal and consultancy services to businesses of all sizes. His work mainly involves handling disputes and finding commercial, practical solutions to contentious situations.

Chris is also deeply passionate about social justice and inequality. Recently appointed the Prince of Wales’ Business Ambassador to Wales, he’s chosen Working Responsibly as his guiding theme for the next two years.

He explains what moved him to want to make a difference through harnessing the power of the business community:

“A year ago, I had an eye-opening moment when I noticed so many people sleeping rough in Cardiff city centre. I took to LinkedIn to blog about the severity of the situation and received an inspiring response from people sharing my concern. Llamau, the homeless charity, also contacted me. They were about to launch their End Youth Homelessness campaign, which I was taken aback by the scale of, and we saw a great opportunity for collaboration.

“In September, we hosted our first Conversation on Homelessness event in Cardiff. The interest was fantastic; we had a full house. We had speakers from Cardiff Council, including Huw Thomas, the leaders of Pobl, Barod, the Big Issue, and Jeff Smith of Big Moose.

“We also had a moving discussion with two young people – Lily and Corey – who were working with Llamau to tackle their own experiences of homelessness.

“The event was a success, but we didn’t want it to be a one-time thing. We held workstream meetings afterwards, focusing in on four key elements of the problem. On 30th April 2018, we’ll host our second Conversation – focusing on creating a water-tight plan for tackling the scourge of homelessness in our city. 

“The support we’ve received from the business community has been great. Now, we need to focus on turning good intentions into practical actions.”

We caught up with Chris about how the business community can get involved in tackling the growing problem of homelessness in our cities and towns.

What does ‘responsible business’ mean to you?

Responsible business is – at its core – a dedication to having a positive impact on your employees, community, and the environment. Lines have become blurred between work and home life, and business and society; we need to acknowledge that, and act in a socially responsible way. Being a responsible business means having responsibility weaved into core business operations.

Why do you think responsible business is important?

The distinction between what falls under the responsibility of a business, and that of a social enterprise, or a person, has become increasingly unclear. But, I believe we all have a responsibility to act in a way that leaves a lasting, positive impact. We can’t afford to let anyone absolve themselves of the responsibility to act in a socially, ethically conscious manner.

What are the upsides of responsible business practice, for you? 

For me, the benefits are threefold.

First, it’s just good to do good. It makes everyone involved feel good, and has a good impact on our world. So why wouldn’t you?

Secondly, from a business perspective, it’s the only way to be sustainable. Acting in a socially irresponsible way has the potential to bring a business to its knees.

Thirdly, for a company to grow, it needs to recruit the best people – and keep them. A recent study found that 90% of business students are willing to sacrifice a percentage of their salary to work for a responsible employer. Making your employee’s work lives as happy as possible is key. Fail to recognise this, and you’ll struggle to retain the workforce of tomorrow.

What have you done in your business that you are most proud of?

The working environment that we’ve created at Capital. It sounds clichéd, but everyone can be themselves. Ultimately, we’re there to do good business – and the only way to do that sustainably is to trust people to take responsibility for their own behaviour and decisions. Yes, we’re a bunch of lawyers – but we’re also opera singers, martial arts practitioners, and marathon runners. That shines through, and it’s brilliant.

What businesses do you think are doing great work when it comes to giving back? 

So many businesses deserve to be mentioned here.

Cynnal Cymru is a fantastic organisation that’s taken Wales’ sustainability as its mission. It works with organisations across Wales, including Capital, to promote fair practice and good behaviour. We became Cynnal Cymru’s 100th accredited living wage employer last summer, something we’re very proud of, and we’ll continue to work with them to implement this, and other projects.

Costain, a major construction company, is another great example of a company increasing its bottom line through working responsibly. When it undertakes a project, it looks at all possible negative damages, and tries to alleviate them, promising to leave all areas in a better position than when it started. It’s won five out of five of the last major development projects tendered by the Welsh Government – which speaks volumes.

Another, unlikely, example, is Dutch-based bank Triodos. It invests in local projects, particularly renewable energy, and lets its customers see exactly where it’s investing its money. As a result, it’s become one of the major banks in the Netherlands.  

How do you think we can inspire more businesses to give back, and the next generation of entrepreneurs to put purpose at the heart of their business?

Companies who don’t believe in responsible business are already seeing the negative consequences. RyanAir has seen its profits plummet because of unfair working conditions, Starbucks isn’t ‘cool’ because it doesn’t pay its taxes, and I don’t need to say anything more about Volkswagen. Companies who embed responsible business practices have, on average, 17% better performance than those who don’t according to a Business School IMD Report.

We may not need to convince companies to work responsibly – the market might do it for us. As organisations realise that working responsibly is a way to sustainably increase their bottom line, they’re bound to change. They need to make profit.

What exciting things are you working on at the moment?

My role as Prince of Wales’ Business Ambassador is keeping me busy, as is Capital’s work with Llamau around the conversation on homelessness. They’re both exciting projects for me, and I hope I can make a real difference through them.

How can businesses get involved with your particular cause or mission?

As part of my two-year appointment as the Price of Wales’ Business Ambassador, I’ve put together some speaking material around working responsibly. It’s populated with real-life examples of companies who are successfully operating as responsible businesses. If anyone has anything to contribute to this material, please share your experiences with me. Alternatively, if you think the material could be useful for you, just let me know by dropping us an email here – I’d love to speak with you.

Also, I know that there will be lots of business people who have been inspired by Responsible Business Week to want to do more to make a difference and give back. And not just people in business, but people working in the public sector, in housing and beyond.

To all of those people, I say come along to our event on Monday 30th of April. It’ll be a great opportunity to learn more about homelessness in Wales, and to be part of a real discussion about how we can best do our bit to help. 

We need as many people as possible to come – and you can sign up here. We’d love to see as many people as possible joining the conversation. Together, we can make a real difference.