The Challenge Of Ethical Profit
There are a lot of buzzwords that bounce around in business, and companies are
increasingly jumping on descriptions like ethical, sustainable, and inclusive to position
themselves favourably. Today Michael’s Business Conversation is with someone whose
business truly had to walk the ethical walk, while still making a profit. His guest, Sarah
Hawke has a fascinating story to tell.
- An unusual business and unique challenges
- Partners in business and life
- Other challenges
- How to Sell your Business: Exit plan
An unusual business and unique challenges
The business that Sarah ran, together with her partner, is an independent school and care
home for children, many of whom had multiple challenges and a history of trauma to deal
with. Sarah and her organisation view these young people as extremely resilient humans,
with a wealth of skills and talents available, if they are given the opportunity to shine. It’s an
unusual business and so it brought with it a unique set of hurdles.
The couple bought the business as a going concern and had to take on major financial
commitments to do so. This meant that right from the outset they had to ensure it was
profitable enough to keep going. They have faced questions and criticisms around making
a profit from such an enterprise, and accusations of profiting from vulnerable young people.
They have dealt with incomprehension regarding the unsustainability of an organisation that
doesn’t make a substantial enough level of profit to pay the staff, provide facilities that cater
for a range of needs, and reward the owners for their investment of time, money, and
Partners in business and life
On top of these ethical questions, the couple faced the additional challenge of working
together. Many couples dream of running a business together, and Sarah has some words of
advice. While Sarah and her partner made a success of their venture, it wasn’t all plain
sailing, especially in the early days. She is very honest about decisions that would have
been different with the benefit of hindsight, particularly about how greater clarity was
required regarding their separate leadership roles.
In addition to the challenges mentioned above, this business runs 24 / 7 / 365. It’s a
residential home, providing a secure and stable environment for young people who have
already experienced more than their fair share of disruption in life. There is no opportunity to
switch off the lights and close the doors and go home for the weekend. While the majority of
the day-to-day work is delegated to members of staff, when the team are working the
leadership team have to be available to support them as needed.
In addition to the residents and the staff team, Sarah and her partner had two other groups
of stakeholders to satisfy: the parents or legal guardians of the young people, and the
commissioning authorities who were paying for the placements. There was also a very tight
regulatory framework to operate within because the young people in their care are very
How to sell your business: Exit plan
Sarah and her partner learnt much from the experience of owning and running a business
together. They acquired the business as a going concern, being on the receiving end of the
previous owners’ exit plan. At the beginning of last year, they chose to sell the business as
an improved venture, benefitting from the same process. Sarah talks about the sale and
everything that is involved. It is maybe not quite as straightforward as people might imagine.
Sarah has an MBA, is a member of Women on Boards and the Institute of Leadership and
Management. She is currently looking at her next business venture, and in the meantime is
available for a business consultancy which includes creating an exit strategy or guiding
business owners through the sales process.
Michael CraneEntrepreneur, Business Owner, Presenter
Michael has built and runs a successful business for the last twenty years. He’s learned many lessons—some of them the hard way—and he’s met and talked with many other businesspeople. He’s sold thousands of products and learnt the one hundred and one things needed to run a thriving business. Now he’s bringing this knowledge and experience to educate, motivate and inspire other entrepreneurs.
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