Kin + Carta Chairman John Kerr CA on becoming the first London-listed B-Corporation
Kin + Carta helps clients undergo digital transformation. But, crucially, its strong ethical underpinning means it’s set to become the first London-listed B-Corp. Chairman John Kerr CA explains why it’s blazing the trail.
Kin + Carta describes itself as a transformative business. At first glance, this refers to how the global digital consultancy seeks to improve its clients’ offering, which includes moving technology infrastructure to the cloud, using data differently to make better decisions, or even – as with one major financial services firm – building a bank and credit card from scratch.
On closer inspection, it is clear that transformation runs deep at Kin + Carta itself. In 2018, the company committed to becoming a certified B Corporation: a purpose-led business that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability.
“We felt this encompasses our role in society and our role with our clients, while being an enabler for our people to achieve their ambitions,” explains Kin + Carta Chairman John Kerr CA. The process has been complex, with the business assessed on how its operations impact workers, the wider community, the environment and its customers. But Kerr – who also sits on the ICAS Ethics Board – is optimistic certification will be achieved by the end of 2021 (its Americas and European divisions were certified earlier this year), making Kin + Carta the first B-Corp listed on the London Stock Exchange.
People would rather work for an organisation they are engaged with, that they believe in, and they believe is trying to do the right thing
And this has all been made possible, says Kerr, by “a number of highly motivated people” who are dedicated to the cause, from the CEO, J Schwan, who kickstarted the process, to the Head of Responsible Business, Nick Zinzan, who “committed his life” to it, right down to the employees who voted on which charities the company should support. And they got behind it with such zeal, says Kerr, because “the issues it deals with are things they have a passion about”.
This is no coincidence. “People coming into the workplace now are motivated by different things than my generation, or even the one after that,” says Kerr. “People would rather work for an organisation they are engaged with, that they believe in, and they believe is trying to do the right thing.”
Schwan recognised this some time ago, explains Kerr, and it was a key driving factor in Kin + Carta becoming a purpose-led organisation. But as well as attracting the best people, it is something the wider world wants and now expects. Indeed, when the company’s investors were balloted on the company changing its articles to support its B Corp certification, 99.9% answered yes.
“The investor base has already moved,” says Kerr. “One shareholder I spoke to described it as ‘a reassertion of long-term thinking and investing’, and I think that’s a really interesting way to look at it. So that level of support in pursuing certification was very gratifying, but also a very important endorsement that we were doing the right thing for the long-term benefit of the business.”
And while B-Corp has greater recognition in the US than here, Kerr hopes a higher level of awareness will reach UK shores soon. “You can see it coming into contracting processes, particularly with governments that are much more sensitive to performance in areas such as staff diversity,” he says. “I would expect, post-COP26, we will also see a shift in client buying habits towards companies that can demonstrate appropriate credentials. And B-Corp does that.”
Past, present and future
Digitalisation and ethics have not traditionally co-existed, so one of Kin + Carta’s challenges as a purpose-led organisation is to mitigate the risks that technology introduces to business. This translates as employing a data and ethics officer, as well as an ethical policy that informs the company’s use of data. “I hear noise that people think we should remove some of the GDPR constraints,” says Kerr. “But I would not like to us to be in a situation where we were opening people up to invasions of privacy.”
Measuring and implementing how technology improves inclusivity, accessibility and sustainability is a priority, both within Kin + Carta and in the offerings that it builds for its clients. Kerr is a firm believer in the theory that automation and technological progress don’t destroy jobs, but merely shift roles around.
“My experience with technology is that it allows people to be doing higher-level, higher-value tasks,” says Kerr, giving the example of data capturing. “We’ve got much more data than organisations were ever capable of capturing in the past. What we need now is for people to move from the more basic data gathering and analysis tasks to more sophisticated interpretation of what the data is telling us.”
In fact, says Kerr, “I think we are in a bit of a golden age right now. If I were embarking on a new career, it would be in technology, because that is where the opportunity is going to be for the foreseeable future.”
My experience with technology is that it allows people to be doing higher-level, higher-value tasks,” says Kerr, giving the example of data capturing
Kerr’s own career began at Arthur Andersen, where he undertook his ICAS training. That period was “an enormous privilege”, he says, and one that afforded him a solid grounding in business ethics. “It’s bigger than an MBA in terms of what it teaches you, and is a good combination of formal structure with the acquired knowledge from working with lots of people in different environments.”
A 15-year stint at Deloitte followed, during which he progressed to CEO, Global Consulting. “[Digital consulting] has always been a passion,” says Kerr. “Not only was it an exciting growth area of the market, but it was attracting some really bright people – and I love being around bright people. It makes your job an awful lot more interesting.”
This is one reason he was drawn to Kin + Carta. “J [Schwan] and I had good chemistry,” he says. “We’ve got different perspectives on various issues but the main theme is working with good people. And we have a really talented young leadership team, who are very ambitious. Hopefully somebody like me, who has seen good times and some difficult times, is helpful for them. I’m at a stage in my career where I don’t need the spotlight, but what I actually want to do is enable really talented people to realise their ambitions.”
Having become Chairman in December 2019, Kerr had only three months in his role before the first Covid-19 lockdown came into place. Any ideas he may have wanted to bring to his new position were quickly replaced by crisis management. “Scenario-planning has always been one of my philosophies on what you need to do in leadership, so we just ran through the playbook,” he says.
We’ve all got a responsibility in society
Fortunately, the predicted worst-case scenarios didn’t come to pass – in fact, once the company got through the difficult summer of 2020, there was an unexpected increase in investor interest.
“The pandemic forced clients to pivot their investment plans towards digital channels and our share price really took off,” says Kerr. Investors who may not have been paying a huge amount of attention to Kin + Carta began to realise the firm had undergone a radical transformation over the past decade, resulting in, says Kerr, “the recognition and shareholder support we had hoped for”.
Going forward, while it’s exciting to be at the vanguard of the ethical business movement, Kin + Carta “blazed a trail in order to demonstrate that it’s possible”, says Kerr. “We invite others to join us.”
Businesses globally are going to have to make a change, he adds, to protect the environment, to reverse the impact of global warming and to increase the level of diversity in our workforce. “We’ve all got a responsibility in society,” he says.
But, in today’s world of business, this is about more than doing the right thing. “If your interpretation of your greatest value to society is just to gouge profit out of the economy, no matter the consequences,’ says Kerr, “you’re not a particularly attractive long-term investment.”