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The Five Principles Of Ethical Entrepreneurship

December, 2023

Written by: Steven N. Adjei, Executive Contributor
Holly Bradshaw had finally done it. After 9 major global championships, the 29-year-old British Olympian had finally done it, winning an Olympic bronze medal, Britain’s first, in the pole vault in Tokyo 2020.

"Who is an ethical entrepreneur? ‘’There’s evidence that more ethical companies have happier employees and do better in the market’’. ‒ Maryam Kouchaki ‒ Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management.

For a decade, she had endured the tag of the ‘nearly woman’ of British athletics finishing fourth, fifth and sixth in previous competitions, overcoming Covid, losing her sponsorship by Nike, injury after injury, and depression to finally make the cut. Her live sessions of filming stretching sessions for the followers had even been hijacked by hackers who replaced her class with pornographic imagery. So, what changed this time?

What did she credit her success to?

In an interview in Britain’s broadsheet, The Telegraph in August 2021 she reiterated:

‘I was picking up on traits I didn’t like, she said. ‘Someone would jump well in America, and I’d be gutted. It would hurt me, and I’d feel sick to my stomach. I didn’t like that in myself, so I wanted to change that. I researched it, spoke to my psychologist, and wanted to change myself.

I had to change a lot of my inner values, work on myself and change stuff to enjoy it more. Since then, I just felt like I love what I'm doing. Whether I come sixth, fourth, or first in any competition, it doesn’t matter. It's about me jumping, building, enjoying, and building in the last four years.

Inner values. Core strength. Two sides of the same coin.

The perseverance of Holly Bradshaw, even practicing by running in her garden during the first lockdown, (months after Nike had cut her sponsorship, by the way) with a baked bean can strapped to a washing pole as well as doing regular weights to build her core physical strength and regular visits to a psychologist to build her core inner value strengths for 4 whole years after her disappointment in Rio 2016 is what this book is all about.

You cannot build outer real success without building inner real success. This is what Gordon MacDonald, in his bestseller, ‘Ordering your private World’ calls ‘’The Private Garden” which I have adapted to draw out the principles of the ethical entrepreneur I list below.

In 2003, when I had my first managerial job as a manager in a small pharmacy in Plymouth, England, a memo from head office was circulated about what a well-stocked community pharmacy should look like. It had charts, pictures, and diagrams, but the title stuck in my head. It was the first time I had seen it.

The title was: WGLL

WGLL stood for ‘what good looks like’.

The precept was simple. You led the revamp of your shop from top to bottom until it approximated what the diagrams, charts, and pictures in the memo looked like. The closer the resemblance, the better your retail pharmacy was.

So, in the same vein, we must nail down what an ethical entrepreneur is.

I have always been dead against the traditional ‘rags-to-riches’ definition of what an entrepreneur is - the term has been romanticised, and fantasised, for generations. The lone ranger or young team who defeats all the odds, disrupts the markets, and builds a business that makes millions of dollars, headway, and defies all the odds. It’s been popularised through TV programs such as Dragons Den and The Apprentice in the UK, and Shark Tank in the US.

From my point of view, one of the best definitions of an entrepreneur from the hundreds of books, articles, blogs, and reports on the subject I have read (and experienced) comes from Eric Ries in his runaway best-seller ‘The Lean Startup

‘A start-up is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty’ He goes on to say:

‘Anyone who is creating a new product or business under such conditions is an entrepreneur whether she knows it or not, and whether working in a government agency, a venture-backed company, a non-profit, or a decidedly for-profit company with financial investors’.

And within this concept, I believe that the Ethical Entrepreneur is defined by FIVE main principles:

1. The Ethical Entrepreneur understands the Principle of Stewardship.

The principle of stewardship means that you have something under your care for a fixed period. Even though you invented that product or service, cared for it, nurtured it, and brought it to fruition, you only have a fixed period to which you oversee that product, and eventually, like a baton in a relay race, the time, and relinquish control. So, a big part of your ‘calling,’ if I can call it that, is managing that process and bearing in mind, that you have control on how you pass that baton. If you bring this principle to bear on your day-to-day routines, you will be taking a significant step toward what Dr Henry Cloud calls the ‘Transcendent Leader’ in his book, Integrity - the Courage to meet the demands of reality:

‘’The transcendent leader realises that there are things much bigger than her, and her existence is not just about her and her interests, but ultimately, about the things larger than she is. Her life is about fitting into those things, joining them, serving them, obeying them, and finding her role in the big picture. Then, as a result, she ultimately becomes a part of them and finds meaning much larger than a life that is just about her. Life is about things that transcend her’’

This dovetails nicely into the second principle of the ethical entrepreneur:

2. The Ethical entrepreneur understands the Principle of Identity.

Yeah,

Don’t take opinions from people that won’t listen to yours If money’s where you find happiness, you’ll always be poor If you don’t like the job you have then what do you do if for? The cure to pain isn’t something you buy at liquor stores The real you is not defined by the size of your office The real you is who you are when ain’t nobody watching You send your whole life worried about what’s in your wallet For what? That money won’t show up in your coffin, woo!!

‒ NF, Remember This, Perception, 2017.

The principle of identity means that there is a separation between who you are and what you do.

This is opposed to being gratified and preoccupied with accomplishment and its corresponding symbols: status, titles, office location, and material objects.

This is what Holly Bradshaw learnt in the four years after Rio, (which paradoxically gave her the success she craved) and what many leaders, dictators, and people of great influence have failed to learn.

And it is why people who have enjoyed great power and enjoyed great privileges find it almost impossible to give it up after their time of stewardship has passed and will fight to the death to retain what they have had.

And that is why leaders like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Sir Alex Ferguson are almost universally acclaimed. They gave it up voluntarily when it was time to go when their period of stewardship was ending. They refused to allow a ‘messianic fantasy’ to infect their leadership style and to remember that they have the same biological composition as ‘the average Joe’ down the road. Journaling, reflection, and personal meditation are crucial for cultivating this standpoint

It is this very same principle that gave them the strength to resist destructive behaviours towards other people when things don’t go their way, or they sense disloyalty, criticism, or opposition. They spent their time concentrating on building, not tearing down. They spent time reflecting, reinforcing, and refining their internal values, their true north, and their identity.

But that’s not all.

Identity also reflects your true beliefs ‒ who you are as a person. That will feed into every decision you take as an entrepreneur.

Climate change? Women’s rights? Racial and sexual discrimination? Eradication of poverty? You can gimmick these things for so long, but if making people and the planet better isn’t a core of what you really believe in, it will show up, and show your company up. It all starts with your core identity - what you really believe deep down.

And what you believe should lead to a deep, deep reservoir of self-belief, that you belong, and that you deserve a seat at the table. Not because you're better than anybody else, or that you're the best thing since sliced bread, but that what you have to offer fits into a grand purpose that will benefit humanity in some positive way…

3. The Ethical Entrepreneur understands the Principle of Purpose.

I always smile when I see on TV in the UK the advert showing ‘The Barclaycard Sidekicks’.

The sidekick understands his role: ‘as a sidekick to a hero, my role is to help whenever I can’

I was privileged to serve as the best man for one of my closest and long-time friends, Brian Martin.

My purpose then was to make sure that all the attention belonged to him, and his newlywed, Anna, and not to me. I had to remind myself of this throughout the wedding ceremony.

We look at more at purpose later in this book, but the idea is that what we commit to ourselves should be something that benefits humanity, and that fills us with a sense of destiny, without allowing ourselves, our pride, or our egos to get in the way.

I was reminded of this when our parent firm, The Emerald Group was working towards financing a multimillion deal in Ghana, West Africa. This deal had the potential to preserve thousands of jobs and continue to maintain Ghana as one of the premier producers of cocoa in the world. The deal involved working with professionals from four continents who came together just to close this deal.

There were continuous clashes: egos, pride, insults, time zones, different cultural experiences language barriers. The deal was in constant danger of being derailed. All parties said things and did regrettable things; me included. The biggest difficulty was not in closing the deal, but in getting people to look beyond their narrow self-interests and focusing on the result.

Extremely tough, especially in this world of me, me, me.

Eventually, the egos of all parties got in the way, and a potential deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars was lost at the last hurdle despite our best efforts.

Because they keep their eyes on the purpose, ethical entrepreneurs tend to be highly collaborative, specialise in harnessing people’s strengths, and concentrating on win-win situations to achieve results that are beneficial for everybody ‒

4. The Ethical Entrepreneur understands the Principle of the Trail.

I am my own father But that wasn’t always clear I had to learn my duties fast It wasn’t easy I got some lines on my face I got a battle with the booze I look prettier than I am But there’s a talent to that.

‒ Yrsa Daley-Ward, ‘’Skill’’ Bone, 2017.

What is the Principle of the Trail?

Wherever we go, work or live, we leave a trail behind us. And that trail is made up of two things, Our compassion, and our competence. And these are the two things that we will always be judged by.

Our compassion is how we treat the people we work with, our board, employees, shareholders, partners, and customers.

This extends to a crucial trait of the ethical entrepreneur: They love people, are sensitive to their needs, and are committed to creating environments where people who work and live with them can thrive and where those people can fulfil their dreams and enjoy their jobs and life.

Sadly, this is becoming more infrequent. You only need to look at the many powerful leaders in our world and the destructive trail of bodies they leave in their wake as they climb the ladder of success.

One of my favourite quotes about this is from Guy Raz’s How I built this:

Fundamentally, I don’t believe a company can stand the test of time if people will not stand for the company. And I find one of the most reliable ways most entrepreneurs inspire people is to do with kindness… they treat their people well. They do the little things and the big things. They pay their success forward.

He continues:

And with rare exceptions, they are also highly ethical. They act with an integrity that seems to come from a place of deep morality… they are compassionate. There is empathy present in their decisions that often extends out to the customer.

However, loving people must also be balanced by loving the job we do and being damn good at it. At the end of the day, we are hired to do a job, whether as an entrepreneur, an employee, board member, or a partner. And that job must be done to the highest standard possible.

You must be good at what you do.

This is summarised in one word:

Competence.

The Trail= Compassion + Competence.

It's funny, but one of my proudest moments is also possibly one of my most mundane and least headline-grabbing.

I was hired as a consultant community pharmacist during the first lockdown in the UK in a community pharmacy that had just got through an inspection and had nearly failed 6 months.

A small team of 6 staff, working to deliver 500 Covid tests, 7,500 monthly prescriptions, and numerous other services including emergency contraception, mobility services and over the counter services, as well as thousands of vaccines for the flu, and Covid every month.

But what’s different about this team?

Its diversity.

A devout fashion-crazy fragile young Muslim who came to the UK as a refugee from Kurdistan.

A vivacious impulsive white openly gay young millennial with a passion for people, cars, and her pimped-up Audi A3.

A Christian disorganised black British of African origin who loves hip-hop and grime.

A compassionate sensitive single mother who loves to ride horses ‒ and build people up.

A bisexual Yorkshire 25-year-old woman with a master's degree in Oceanography.

Two British Asians of Indian origin.

A middle-aged single quintessential British white woman.

As diverse as diverse could be. But united in one quest.

To transform a 40-year-old pharmacy that nearly got shut down into one that delivers great pharmaceutical service in a city that is almost 99% white in a year where doom and gloom filled the country and businesses all around us were closing daily.

And I was privileged to lead this team. To start from the bottom up. And to invest my time personally into every one of them. Pay them well. Secure their future. Goad, persuade, and coach to build a united diverse team that concentrated on the one thing that unites us, celebrating our differences, harnessing our strengths, with a steely determination to keep things moving during unbelievably hard times.

Supporting when a member had to fast during Ramadan. When another had to keep her horse-riding passion going during the week and support another who just endured a painful breakup with her partner.

18 months later, the turnaround is complete. 60% increase in revenue, a glowing inspection from the UK pharmacy regulator, a happy team, and most of all, glowing praise and a retail pharmacy packed to the rafters with returning customers.

But sadly, tough decisions regarding persistently lacking work ethic of employees also had to be made.

So, people matter, but the job also matters.

And it’s a difficult balance act, which author Ben Horowitz, in his best-selling book, ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ aptly calls ‘The Struggle’

5. The Ethical Entrepreneur Understands the Principle of Stickability

The whale is your unwritten book, your unsung song, your calling… you die grappling with this thing, lashed to it, battling it even as it takes you under…

‒ Steven Pressfield, The White Whale…

This last principle depends on and is mastered by the other four. Purpose, The Trail, Identity, and Stewardship are not enough. If you believe these, you must be prepared to live (and die) by them.

It is not enough to know who you are, understand that you are just a steward, and be convinced of your purpose, and your mission.

Stickability = Commitment + Perseverance

In my own life, I have had to live out this. It is a decision, a commitment, something that you ‘pitch your tent’ on.

Plain grit. Doing the work.

It's why I have stuck with my venture despite 2 car accidents where the cars were destroyed beyond reasonable repair, near bankruptcy, sleeping rough, incredible betrayal, loneliness, severe health problems, legal threats, severe financial and resource challenges, and a whole decade without any meaningful paycheck.

That is why I am always inspired by stories such as Holly Bradshaw’s and countless others who have blazed the trail before us.

And like Holly, these can only be forged in your private world. Where nobody else is, but just you.

So, this is WGLL.

Our true north, Our compass, Our ideal.

And the raison d’etre for being an ethical entrepreneur.

NOTE: (This is an excerpt from Steven’s multi-best-selling book, Pay The Price: Creating Ethical Entrepreneurial Success Through Passion, Pain, and Purpose which was Number 1 on Amazon in 18 different categories on ITS FIRST DAY. It is now available from Amazon, from all good bookstores, or www.stevenadjei.com )

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Steven N. Adjei, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine


Steven N. Adjei is a British-Ghanaian author, poet, healthcare consultant, entrepreneur, and pharmacist. He is the founding partner of BlueCloud Health (part of the Emerald Group), an advisory and consulting firm with offices in London, Dubai, and Delhi with clients all over the world. He has an MBA from Warwick Business School, and his first book, Pay The Price, is set for release on 30 August 2022.