How MzN International founder, Christain Meyer zu Natrup CA, pursued finance for good
Christian Meyer zu Natrup CA, Managing Director of MzN International, tells Cherry Casey why his qualification has enabled him to pursue his real goal – systemic business change
In 2010, Christian Meyer zu Natrup CA was deployed as a humanitarian volunteer on a Red Cross assessment mission in Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake. He spent three weeks in the Caribbean country and by the time he had returned to the UK, something had changed. He quit his job with BDO and looked for a new way to use the skills he had gained in finance.
If we want to manage companies to do good, we have to first turn them transparent. And the major transparency initiative of the 20th century was accountancy.
Meyer zu Natrup always knew he wanted to “beat poverty”. And he knew that by being a CA, he was in a position to offer organisations the “hard skills” they needed to “fulfil their purpose, and their social good, better”. After an interim role as Finance Director at Save the Children in South Sudan for several months, he also knew the life of an international itinerant, making significant changes but on an individual scale, wasn’t for him. Instead, he came to the decision that to make the systemic change he thought necessary, he should join an organisation that offered good business and financial advice to non-profit organisations. “But there wasn’t one,” he says. “So I invented it.”
And so, in August 2010, MzN International was born. Despite being told by colleagues across the board that such a company wasn’t viable, due to the low rates he’d be forced to offer, MzN was profitable and sustainable within eight months. But while the firm originally set out “to make NGOs a bit more businesslike”, by 2018 it had also begun to make “businesses a bit more charity-like”.
“There was an increasing awareness at corporate level, starting with financial institutions, that beyond reducing harm, they actually needed to do good,” says Meyer zu Natrup – an attitude shift that the pandemic has only accelerated. “Maybe it’s because we all spent weeks and weeks at home, but there was a realisation that an organisation’s value is intangible – and paramount in that value is trust. If you don’t trust the organisation, you just don’t buy their services or work with or for them,” he says.
Nurturing this trust, becoming a company that customers want to buy from – and employees want to work for – is not just an exercise in looking after the “three Ps” – people, profit, planet – but a means by which to safeguard your business’s future existence. “These days, whether you’re an engineering company, a financial institution or a service company, if your customers believe you are principally a force for good, they will stay loyal through the next pandemic,” he says.
Meyer zu Natrup is adamant that “getting over Covid-19 is just a blip compared with the challenges we have to work on over the next 15 years. I think it’ll be 10 times harder and 10 times more intense to restore the ecological and societal foundations of our planet. That is the main concern for the next 15 years. Any organisation standing on the sidelines, will not grow much. Finance and business can, and should be, part of the solution, not the problem.”
Fundamental to any organisation’s success, says Meyer zu Natrup, is the understanding that to have a strong environmental, social and corporate governance commitment will require much more than “a corporate restructuring… [What’s needed is] a transformation… companies that do this aggressively, creatively and proactively will succeed. We can see that already.”
Those that dither, however, will do less well. “They will hopefully stay afloat but they will probably continue to experience incredibly intense pressures from the market and other stakeholders,” he says. “And those who still think this is a trend that will blow over… they probably won’t be with us in 2030.”
The good news, says Meyer zu Natrup, is that any company that genuinely wants to change can: “If they go back to their original purpose, they’ll find it’s about much more than just making money. All leaders I meet want to do more. They want to be part of the solution. They want the planet, the people and the business to do well, not despite them being there, but because they are.”
One way to unearth this purpose, and forge a pathway there, is via MzN International’s “sprint workshop”, an intense three-to-five-day session in which it facilitates the CEO and key decision makers in deciphering where their company currently does harm, and how they can turn it around. “It’s a pressure cooker event that would normally take a management consultancy three months to write and consult,” says Meyer zu Natrup. “We do it in a week.”
While it may be quick, it’s not always easy. Initiating change always comes at a cost. There may be products that a business can simply no longer offer, as it cannot be created within a circular economy model, for instance. Or price points that have to be changed to go the extra mile in sourcing ethical supply chains. “People are emotionally invested and have really big feelings,” he says.
What is infinitely more difficult, is working within businesses that have to acknowledge that their operations are inherently unsustainable. “To run a part of the business that can only be sustainable and profitable when it’s growing rapidly, on a planet with finite resources, it just doesn’t work,” says Meyer zu Natrup. “And again, you will have some very strong opposition, and some might need to say: ‘Look, we just need to get out of this business.’”
For the cynics, Meyer zu Natrup cites by way of example Orsted, Denmark’s largest energy producer, as proof that with the right mentality any business can be radically turned around. Once producing oil and gas from the North Sea, it’s now the world’s largest developer of offshore wind energy. “Imagine the challenge for a board member to say: ‘We have to stop extracting gas – our one product.’ That takes some courage. But they did it.”
As well as looking inwards, MzN International highlights the necessity of companies looking at who they work with, and the importance of cooperating with NGOs, if they truly want to make change.
“A lot of companies source material from developing countries,” says Meyer zu Natrup, “and they want to make sure it is principally good, principally harm-free, and helps, for example, the women in Bangladesh or the child labour in east Africa. So they need to work with NGOs who know and have been working in these areas for the last 40 years. The higher value your product is, the more important this becomes.”
MzN International facilitates these partnerships, joining up, for example, a UK corporate struggling with labour shortages with an NGO that works with rehabilitating offenders. Now, the private company hires from the former prison population. “It gives them access to a unique set of highly motivated people who are grateful to have a job,” says Meyer zu Natrup. “And obviously now with more labour, they sell more.”
MzN International’s record of success stories helps to drive Meyer zu Natrup forward. But what really fuels his optimism that transformation is happening on a macro scale is the changing perception towards him personally. “I used to talk to the marketing manager, now I talk to the CEO,” he says. “And that’s what’s changed – a big move from the appendix to the front page.”
Accountancy has a major role to play in driving this change still further. “If we want to manage companies to do good, we have to first turn them transparent. And the major transparency initiative of the 20th century was accountancy,” says Meyer zu Natrup.
But now, there is a greater sense of urgency. “The formalisation of financial transparency that has happened over 150 years, we now need to do this [for sustainability] in just 10 years,” he says. “We need to be able to rank and list companies working on their purpose.”
Using financial competence to achieve social good was always part of his plan. “I saw money and finance as the ultimate backstage pass, career-wise,” he says. So after joining EY in 2002, and studying for his CA qualification from 2004, he gained a master’s in international relations and development at the University of Bristol. “BDO and EY were brilliant in letting me do a master’s concurrent to my CA, allowing me to take lectures in the morning and work later, for instance,” he says.
The skills he learned were as invaluable as he had hoped, offering him a pass to the career he was looking for. “Some of the truths I learned in the CA qualification I still use every day, not least in the management of my own company,” he says. “I would describe the CA qualification as the tools of the handyman… it’s absolutely essential to your work.”
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