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The Rollercoaster Story of Green & Black’s

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Leading entrepreneur and award-winning journalist Josephine Fairley recounted her “rollercoaster” journey as co-founder of Green & Black’s and shared some of the life lessons she learned along the way. She was introduced to a busy hall of pupils, staff and members of the local community by aspiring young entrepreneur Katie Riggs in Year 10.

Jo began by saying that she came to Green & Black’s as a chocolate-lover with a deep green streak, rather than as a businesswoman. Along with the challenges of entering unknown territory, she discussed her desire to “change the world one square of chocolate at a time”.

She talked at length about the “extraordinary” response to the Maya Gold bar, which on its release was the first product in the UK to receive the Fairtrade mark, and the huge difference that Green & Black’s has made to farming communities in the developing world through Fairtrade, in particular the changes she has seen in the number of children progressing through secondary education.

Green & Black’s also changed the wider chocolate market. Ultimately the company was purchased by Cadbury, which in turn was acquired by Mondelez International. However, the outgoing Director of Cadbury thanked Jo and her husband in his leaving speech for showing them the way with Fairtrade, and more recently in 2017 Mondelez announced the Cocoa Life programme, which was directly influenced by Green & Black’s and will work by helping to provide what farming communities need on a case by case basis.

Jo spoke about what drove her to co-found the company: the fact that the chocolate that would become Green & Black’s was the best she’d ever tasted, and the importance of that conviction in the rest of her journey. She believed that others would think so too if they could just taste it, so for the first nine years, no money was spent on traditional advertising. Instead, she focused on “getting chocolate on people’s taste buds” through tastings, trade shows, samplings, sending free bars of chocolate to chefs and journalists, and putting bars into luxury spaces such as airline and Eurostar First Class. She highlighted the “huge power in generosity” and said that giving the chocolate away gained them a loyal customer base.

However, it was not all smooth sailing, and Jo spoke honestly about the ‘downs’ on her rollercoaster as well. One of the main issues was Green & Black’s enormous growth and the problems they had with cash flow as a result, due to their money being tied up in stock and not having the talent needed to grow the business. However, she also mentioned the problems that arose through port blockades and hurricanes.

Her talk was peppered throughout with pieces of business wisdom, including her key factors for the success of a business. She brought her talk to a close by offering the young entrepreneurs in the audience her “golden rules for success”, all of which touched upon key moments in the Green & Black’s story.

She advised them to “be brave and daring” and take the leap of faith needed, be prepared to work hard and be open and willing throughout their whole career, and believe in doing good through business. She also said that being who you really are, being kind and having fun are equally important to success, as is finding a way to deal with stress. She recommended finding a mentor to help keep the passion blazing when things get tough, and finally revealed the best lesson she has learned: the importance of perspective.

Jo’s talk was followed by a lively question and answer sessions. She was of course asked about her favourite Green & Black’s flavour (Sea Salt) and for her chocolate recommendations (Sea Salt or the “amazing” Maya Gold bar with its blend of spices). In addition, the audience quizzed Jo about how Green & Black’s ensures that the money goes to the farmers, which led her to talk about the importance of external certification to prove that goods really are Fairtrade. Amongst other questions, she was also asked if she ever thought she would be selling chocolate as a child, to which she replied no, but she would have been very excited if she had known, though the thought of one day selling to Cadbury would have been daunting.

Two young members of the audience won stacks of Green & Black’s chocolate for asking the best questions of the evening, which were about the biggest challenges Jo had faced in her career and what the future looks like for Green & Black’s.

Jo’s talk is part of a series of Enrichment Lectures organised by the Girls’ Division. Details of forthcoming events in the series can be viewed here.

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