Backing capitalism's B Team

LONGER VISION: Derek Handley.
Fairfax NZ
LONGER VISION: Derek Handley.

Expatriate Kiwi entrepreneur Derek Handley is founding a collective with Virgin's Sir Richard Branson and Puma chairman Jochen Zeitz to steer capitalism towards more socially and environmentally responsible goals.

Handley is co-founder of the Hyperfactory, a mobile application and marketing firm with a stellar lineup of global clients.

Two years ago the company was sold to United States media giant Meredith Corp for a rumoured US$16 million to $20 million (NZ$19m to $24.5m). Handley has reportedly left the chief executive role, although he remains chairman, and splits his time between New Zealand and the US.

The story goes that Handley's latest involvement, the B Team, came after telling Branson he wanted to donate a year of his life to a worthy cause. Speaking from New York, Handley said he had already realised beforehand that the future of business lay in being good for the planet.

"And that's the kind of business I want to build when I go back out".

The B Team is a reference to capitalism needing a plan B, "because the current plan A is driving us into the ground".

Business needed to move away from being "so myopically focused on short-term quarterly profits, to a much longer-term . . . vision, which is around what is best for society and the environment, while they make good money".

"That's the challenge of our generation to solve.

"It's actually the way capitalism started, was to solve problems. It was to make life better."

Handley said business was the right vehicle to make such changes because nonprofits and governments lacked the financial power or political courage.

"Nonprofits and the charity sector are just becoming less and less effective and they're looking more and more to business models and entrepreneurial solutions to try and solve the problems they're trying to tackle."

Business also had the advantage of being truly international where governments were not. In the case of large multinationals, "the reach and scale is much more significant".

But Handley stressed the B Team was no talkfest.

"It's focused purely on action . . . It's not about convening and having people speak and do conferences like the Clinton Global Initiative or the World Economic Forum.

"It's not about white papers and research, any of those things.

"What it is about is action, finding the biggest bang for its buck, in terms of what were the areas that if you successfully tackled them, you would move the dial."

Handley said Branson and Zeitz were the figureheads but wouldn't be the only influential figures when the B Team was officially launched next year. The "grand challenges" it settled on would be specific and each one would be championed by a prominent business person.

For the moment, Handley is concentrating on "starting a dialogue" on what its priorities should be.

He is seeking opinions through LinkedIn and social media and holding "gatherings" of young business people with Branson and Zeitz to get their ideas.

Many of the younger generation used business models that intrinsically included social and environmental purposes, Handley said.

"They wouldn't think of starting a business any other way."

But it was important not to leave the older generation behind. "You need both of those things to create real change."

Handley's other commitments this year include time with his newborn son, whose birth made the 34-year-old realise just who he was working for.

"It just makes it all make sense."

He's also involved with several start-ups, and writing a book, which is to be published next year.