Interviews

Xavier Rees: Meet The CEO Calling on The Creative Industry to Clean Up Its Act

Xavier Rees is the CEO of Havas London, part of the largest communication group worldwide, and the first major agency to certify as a B Corp.

 For Xavier, B Corp has provided a framework to achieve his vision of business as a force for good. He says:

 “Quite frankly, this is about businesses taking responsibility for what they do and who they are. Yes, governments have a key role to play in improving society, but so too does the private sector.”

However Xavier is clear that this new status is not about being non-profit, it’s about putting profit on equal footing with people and the planet.

“I believe in running a profitable business, but equally, I want to give back to society and leave a positive impact.”

In practical terms, becoming a B Corp means that, legally, the agency has now made a commitment to promote social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability. 

The journey hasn’t all been smooth sailing. The first time Havas applied for the status it got rejected, taking another two years to meet 80/200 requirements. Now, like all B Corps, Havas has to work to improve its scoring to become reaccredited each and every two years.

On this journey to become certified, a few key issues tackled were:

  • Diversity & Wellbeing. Previously Havas had 85% male leadership, now it has only 47% men on the management team. It has also appointed a team of mental-health ambassadors and is making greater steps to help young people from diverse backgrounds entire the industry.  
  • Environmental Footprint: The company reduced its environmental footprint by 6% per person by, among other things, eliminating plastic and food waste from its cafe for staff.
  • Transparency. The agency assessed its benefits packages to ensure there’s not, as Xavier put it “a horrific discrepancy.”

Like many that fall in love with the creative industry, formerly, Xavier’s mission was to generate positive impact through his work.

“I used to think that I could achieve positive impact through client work; for example with Dove on their ‘Real beauty’ campaign or Ella’s Kitchen, giving children a healthy start in life. But the truth is: we are also a businesses in our own right."

"When you’re responsible for tens of millions of pounds of revenue, as I am, this presents both an opportunity and a responsibility.”

B Corp Certification doesn’t just evaluate a product or service; it assesses the overall positive impact of the company that stands behind it. It all sounds great in theory, but in practice? But what about the shareholders? The bottom line? And driving profit?

“Don’t get me wrong," Xavier responds. "We’re a big business and I have targets to hit. But I truly believe that we can enhance our positive impact whilst also driving our profit."

"Many of the initiatives we've implemented haven't cost money; they require a new perspective and a sense of urgency to make change.”

Xavier is not only leading the world's first agency into this space, but has also become an official ambassador for the movement. Does he accept the term ‘changemaker'? He “I know my own values and feel a strong connection to society, but nothing more than that." He says:

"We should all be worried about the social and environmental state of the world, and this is why BCorp is so exciting; imagine if we can inspire the entire advertising sector to join us on this journey?” 

He concludes:

“I really believe that business leaders today have an opportunity to drive a new economy which balances people, profit and the planet. I'm not perfect, and nor is anybody else, but all anyone can be ashamed of is failure to try."

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