A few years back, I met Pat Dwyer, founder of The Purpose Business, at a friend’s conference in Singapore. We were on the same panel, and we had a BLAST sharing our experiences and insights to the crowd, and given neither of us were invited back to speak again it is safe to say that we left a lasting impression on the crowd.
This interview is no different. It is a pretty raw discussion about entrepreneurship, starting with Pat’s decision to leave her role as Sustainability Director at one of the leading hospitality groups and covering a range of topics that flowed.
It is a high energy discussion, and one that I am comfortable will leave a lasting impression on those viewers who are aspire to enter this space or are already in it and looking to be inspired to get through their day by seeing how Pat is developing an organization that brings a lasting impact to the challenges that she sees faced in the Asia region.
This interview is about finding purpose, scaling impact, and believing in the tools and capacity of entrepreneurs to change the world
About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series
Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.
It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.
About Pat Dwyer
Pat Dwyer has fifteen years sustainability leadership experience, most recently as Global head of CSR & Sustainability for ShangriLa Hotels & Resorts.
She holds a BA in European Studies from Ateneo de Manila University and an MA in Globalisation and Governance from the University of Birmingham. She just completed a Certificate for Transformational Leadership, at the University of Oxford SaÏd Business School under the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Programme.
Pat brought ShangriLa to the forefront of responsible tourism operations, making it the only Asian hotel group to be recognized in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. She developed programmes across 89 hotels in 22 countries covering a broad spectrum including carbon management, diversity, environment stewardship and employee engagement. She equipped over 40,000 colleagues to understand sustainability issues through a training module and worked with local organisations to benefit more than 30,000 children globally. Previously, Pat was the first CSR head of Ayala Land, Inc. in the Philippines.
Follow Pat and The Purpose Business:
Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.
Full Interview Transcript
RICH: I’m here today with Pat Dwyer who is with the Purpose Business. She’s come out of corporate 2.5 years ago. Jumped into her own thing. Didn’t have plan, but definitely has attacked the world. This is a fantastic interview. You will…you don’t have to, you will like, share and comment. So thank you very much Pat. This has been fantastic. We hope you, we know you will, so stay tuned.
RICH: So do tell us about yourself. What you do and why you love doing it in the city.
PAT : So the last time I saw you was when I did that job that was 7.5 years with Shangri-La. Then started my own business. Why did I do it? Why didn’t I do it sooner I guess, is a bigger thing. The premise is really if I could do it with one with a massive team of people, imagine doing it for so many more. Basically said right. We need more Asian stories in sustainability and that’s what we are as a team that works in Asia-Pacific. We are lucky enough o have landed some iconic brands, mostly in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Would I change anything of what we did? I am not an entrepreneur, so I guess the biggest thing or like if there are students listening, go get your entrepreneurial degree. I never had myself as a business owner. I’m used to working in big organizations, whatever they may be, nonprofits and all that.
RICH: So how did that feel. You used to I need to do computer.
PAT : Yeah, it’s nuts. There’s no chart for this. There is no kind of manual for it. For constant learning, but I think the number one thing I’ve learned is to surround yourself with people who are experts, who are much better than you. There is a professional heads I’m selling anyway.
TAKING THE LEAP
RICH: Why did you choose 2.5 years ago to make the jump? What was your catalyst to leave? What was probably a really cushy job, why would you jump out of that and into something you knew nothing about in a sense a product you have to develop, fine-tune it….what made you….
PAT : Go through the trouble of…..I guess I called my company the reason why I did it, which is purpose. It sounds trite, but we’re lucky to have landed that website then. But, you feel like you’ve done all that you could changing the mother ship isn’t always easy and I’ve been blessed with an amazing support top down, sideways, and all that, but it was time to kind of do more of this with a bigger set of team and beneficiaries and you know the real change you wanted to see. You can say you’ve probably done all that you could at the time you could and it was the perfect time to leave. If I didn’t leave then, I think I would have spiraled in a different way, and that’s, you know, that’s not good for you. And you know what they say about failing fast and failing cheap, I think that was the part….
RICH: Failing cheap in Hong Kong?
PAT : Well, there are ways! Next up. No, but there are ways to kind of do that in the most minimal ways possible. I was not going to wait any longer to kind of go and try that. So trying that at that time was perfect.
RICH: Did you start with partners? Did you start by yourself? Did you have your first client in hand? Or was it really like…I’ve gone as far as I can with this organization. I’ve gone as far as I can with sustainability. I know I have to go and chart a new path. Like how much had you done in advance and looking back, was it enough?
PAT : I think the market is ready. Was ready then. Any earlier I would have been starving. So, if I did it now, there’s too many, too many consultant in this space and too many good ones like expertise and all that. Did I start with partners? Lets say, not being an entrepreneur, you surround yourself with people who are better than you in certain aspects. I knew what I could do, but I knew who I needed to go to for help. So there were people who helped me think through what that was going to look like. I used my notice period to kind of set all that up. Most people would say, why don’t you moonlight and keep your day job and stay sane and pay the bills and then shift it once you’ve already got a market for it. I didn’t have that luxury and I guess what I’ve done it differently, sure. But nothing has failed fast and cheap since then. So, we’ve learned our lessons in a fairly cost-efficient way I would say.
RICH: And just immediate, when you made the jump, what did you think it would be and how different was it?
PAT : I have no idea. . I think I had no expectations of what it would look like. The only expectations were are you going to open a hot desk or you going to be co-working? All the physical expectations were there so I guess in a good way, that was easy to handle. Anything you did was more than what was expected. There are certain things that you don’t expect, like the way clients behave, good and bad. The way decisions are being made, how fast, how slow.
I guess, I’ve never lived the life of a consultant, so I didn’t know what it was like to be a consultant. But I do know what it’s like to be in-house and a lot of us in our team knew how it is to be in-house. You know exactly the excuses or the bureaucracy that you need to navigate. The length of decision making. I would like to think that makes it a little bit more accepting on their side to work with people like us.
RICH: People like us. Are we all crazy?
PAT : Yeah, kind of. I don’t know why we do what we do.
RICH: Part of the challenge, and I’ve found this out with my own agency, you could be like be asked to do everything. What has your focus been and how have you developed that over time?
PAT : So, the tactic in year one was suck it up for what the market is ready for. It may not be what you want to do. It could be reporting. It could be anything that is basic, but that’s what the market is about. But, over time, kind of build out, there’s a center line of the product. There is an MVP, youre most valuable product that you want to go for and if there are no buyers, make the buyers. Because they don’t know what they are looking for and this is the beauty of sustainability. I think because it could go into meaningful products or services. It could go strategy, government.
Yes, we have said no to certain clients who have asked for..Oh, can you do this? Can you do this? They tend to kind of, if they like you, they want a one-stop shop. We’re very, I guess we’ve set ourselves up to be a very humble brand and we know what we could be good at. But the way we set up the purpose business is a network of experts as well. So if we don’t have it in-house, there actually a second layer. I know everyone says partnerships and all that, but they are within the team. So there is expertise that we know we can pass on and you front that best kind of team to the client.
We are now working on frame works that are branded, or IP hopefully under our name and all that and that could not have happened if we tried to do that in the beginning. So you can prototype and you can test, which is what we did the first two years. Very exciting times in the next year. I would think something that is on brand it’s gonna come out.
BUILDING A BUSINESS
RICH: As an entrepreneur you can have big aspirations. You want to build a team in six offices in six countries, da da da. Some are like no no. I want a lifestyle business. I want to be able to work out. I want to be able to have the family, like how are you and the business and how does it effect how you make decisions on how to build, hire, cash flow? All these things can add pressure. How do you building your business? What is your mindset? What are you really focused on doing?
PAT : There is a vision that we all share. So, working towards the vision, but I think one thing that has made us really different is the setup with the people. So every single one of us has a life and sustainability. Once a marine biologist. One is an ethics professor. One does mushroom farming on rooftops. Another on is a carbon manager. So we don’t want to take that away from them because that’s what makes them relevant. The last thing you want to be is, I used to do that and therefore hire me and because I know what I’m doing. I know what I’m advising you of. That is what everyone does. We are active in that space, hands dirty. But we can tell you if you are going in that direction, we are actually in there. You know like we are pushing regulation or we are figuring out what the price of the next resource is and we’ll figure it out with you.
In that sense, there’s a bit more balance. The way we hire people, if you wanted a secure full-time job, 9 hours, 10 hours in an office, you’re not going to work with us. In fact, we’ve had prospects who’ve said to us, you are too disruptive. We’re not ready for that yet. I take that as a good thing. Because then you filter out who it is you can work with and not. That said, we’re not being flippant about setups and minimum compliance and things and such. Everyone got a life in sustainability and everyone pursues that while being on the team. I think that’s the reason why we attract the people we are working with right now.
RICH: Now, when you have so many players in the market, I’ll talk about sustainability, how do you differentiate yourself? How do you create definitions that are engaging to clients, just at a product level? How have you found that problem?
PAT : Well, I think that’s two questions there. Once, is how do you differentiate yourself from all the others. I think our model is very, very different. The way we work is very different. Having that setup allows us to be cost efficient with the highest level of expertise. So we’d like to think we’re not up here with a you know whose are most expensive number of zeros and down here with interns kind of thing. So that’s one.
Two, the specialization and sustainability is away from just the technical environment assessment or just what are my community programs going to be. Let’s bring it back to purpose so that is what is very, very distinct with us because we know…oh, profit is not my purpose. There is still that kind of enlightenment with some businesses. But when you link it to what is the legacy air China create. What was your business there in the first place? It then becomes unnecessary to do a materiality assessment sometimes. Because if you stick to that, then you know exactly what you should be focusing on.
When we work with SMEs, it’s really encouraging because everyone says what, they have no money startups. They have no money for sustainability, but actually it’s a café or chain of restaurants..bang, it’s food safety, it’s packaging, it’s sourcing. They know their issue. That is such a joy to work with because the worse thing is when a prospect just wants to do everything and doesn’t know which one and wants you to figure it out and you kind of…your job is to show could you do this, could you do that, and yea.
RICH: How do you feel now that you are on your own? You get to pick and choose. You don’t have to appease the masses. You don’t have to appease your boss. Does that bring you personally, a very different feeling about how you go to work everyday?
PAT : First of all, we do not get to pick and choose all the time. I mean, you’re still beholding to clients, right. There are still clients you love, love, love, to work with. Clients that are not ready for you yet. But yes, you get to pick and choose your battles the kind of work sometimes. Every day is a different day. There is no…I think in the first week or maybe even the first month, there was…I began to realize there was no weekday and a weekend. Sunday is proposal day, but what you all I am running on Tuesday. You’re all miserable in your 9’oclock work hour. You’re still there, right?
That is fun. We look forward to that. I think again, with our setup, there’s a lot of us who do virtual offices. I have three or four mother who have got two or three kids a piece and they run a program on GHG emission training with a baby in had. That’s just you, know it’s good. It’s cool. It’s very cool to s see a client that you didn’t think would be okay with that, to be hundred percent all over it.
WORDS OF WISDOM
RICH: What advice would you give to them? Being inside the machine, having a comfortable life, maybe the kids and the package and the blah, blah blah. What advice would you give to them if they are considering making that jump?
PAT : Again, I’m not an entrepreneur so it’s not as if one day I’m gonna go sell this room and I didn’t even think of it like that. But in hindsight, intrepreneurial thinking, why, why this all that when you’ve got all the perks right? If you can do, be the change agent internally absolutely do it. I think my advice is to speak up and find the kindred spirits that can make that happen for you. If that doesn’t work and you’ve tried relentlessly and you’ve found you know the c-suite that will give you the blessing to go and do it and there is still none. Then you gotta think about the practical stuff. Paying the bills, balancing the family and all that. I don’t think I really thought let me go and set up my own thing in fact, I probably even said is there someone who I could just join and help that girl because that’s the easy route.
RICH: Now, a lot of people they romanticize the idea of being entrepreneurs, owning their own time, okay. What are some of the things that you may have romanticized about to start off with that have become reality?
PAT : I guess you’ve got an image of your day in your head, squeezing a bit of running I here, I can go catch up with a friends and you can do the work in between and that’s enough. When you’re setting up your own, whether you’re alone or with partners, you’ve gotta accept that there is no you outside of that. That this is consuming even when you’re on the treadmill, or swimming in my case, that’s the time you kind of you know recover but that’s also your creative side so there is no switching off I guess. You can’t have, you shouldn’t afford that luxury, but then again if you don’t work it’s not going to get built. So you can have the four hour day and ya know sixteen hours on the side that you’re doing whatever and it will only grow that space.
So I guess if you romanticize, oh in two years you’re going to do a series and in five years I’m gonna be bought out aint gonna happen if you’re not going talk in the hour. But like I said, I had no expectations. I think for me it was more the reverse which was, oh my God where is it going now? Like what are my options and everyone saying go this way, go this way, go this way. There’s no one way in fact we should take that offline and have the okay what do I do now? Its year three.
GETTING GOOD ADVICE
RICH: Ok, then that’s a different question then. Who do you trust to give you advice that’s useful? Everyone will give you advice, everyone will say what you should do, but how do you, how do you find the people to trust? Are there people you absolutely trust? Like people who’ve gone through it? Are there people who are entrepreneurs? Like who do you go to?
PAT : I deliberately created a circle of entrepreneurs, ex-entrepreneurs, semi VCs and people who are just really good at shit I’m not good at. So whether it’s super hardcore finance, or if it’s you know, it’s certain aspects. I have them in like a panel in my head and I can go phone them up. They’re not on the board, they’re not, they’re not necessarily with a discipline on how they speak to me, but they are my biggest critics. These are the people you know we’ll just call it what it is and tell you to stop. Or if you’re, you know flip flopping on a decision they’re just gonna call my bluff out and force me to do it.
I actually have one who is on the finance base kind of advising me, and I’ve known him since before Uni. He is serial, he is lethal, he says and I quote, “my job is to take you to hell, but make you want to go for it before I even ask you.” It’s just that. Or take you to heaven and make you wanna go before I even ask you. They’re very, very spot on like that. I’m lucky to have circles like the World Economic Forum, YGL who have all done this who are all amazing. I kind of feel like I’m this teeny, tiny brownie making businesswoman and you’re all these tech and everyone is going through the same thing.
COMPLAINING & FEAR
RICH: What room in your life do you have for complaining about your situation? How much thought do you give to failure and maybe the lessons from…like if this doesn’t work out I have this. Or if this project doesn’t, do you like to learn from failure? Do you fear failure? Are you someone whose little hesitant? How does that fit in your life?
PAT : I think its breathed in and out every day because again, this isn’t my comfort zone. The fact that that if all goes apes and this isn’t working then I gotta go plan B, plan C. I think it helps to have that attitude. I didn’t do that deliberately. This is kind of the way that these things have fallen for me, but do I embrace failure? yes. Do I seek it? I try to avoid it of course, but you know, let’s say that every scenario you know how its going to fail. That’s here’s kind of sense check of whether you’re ready for it to succeed or not. Has it failed in certain respects, yes. Sometimes its just a genuine failure. Let the wind blow as it says. Let the wind blow and then you know life moves on. It’s not as if you could belabor that and say I’m never gonna try that service again or that system again. I’m not gonna do it this way because it really depends on the way your clients and you’re people want to work with you. so.
RICH: I like it though. Embrace failure, but don’t seek it.
PAT : Don’t seek it. Fail fast.
RICH: Fail fast, but learn faster.
For more interviews from the “Entrepreneurs for Good” series, check out the playlist here.
Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.