What does the man who built a babyfood brand with a global turnover of £67m have in common with a young Sheffield woman who turned her life around after it spiralled into homelessness and drug-taking?
Ella’s Kitchen founder Paul Lindley is also a Sheffielder. But the link is about far more than roots. Both have a passion for helping others - and use the businesses they run to cause a positive impact on society.
Sophie Maxwell runs the Wicker-based Really NEET College for young people who slipped through the net and found themselves in neither education or employment, a situation she lived through in her troubled teens.
The winner of numerous awards, one of her most powerful mentors is Paul. The man behind the multi-million pound brand met her four years ago, when his home city invited him to speak at the MADE Festival.
“I had been asked to meet with 20 entrepreneurs to discuss ways of addressing the nation’s NEET problem, sent out a tweet asking for advice and met Sophie. Ever since, I’ve been helping to raise her profile and create sustainability in her business,” he says.
The son of a tax office worker, Paul lived in the city to the age of six, moving to Zambia when his dad was sent to assist in the country’s economic recovery by the ministry for finance. He came back to Mount St Mary’s boarding school at 12 and his parents moved back to Sheffield some years later. Sophie is one of only two people the 2011 and 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year mentors; the other is a boy in Kenya he is helping to become a human rights lawyer by putting him through university.
“They hit the right button with me; My passion is about helping children and fighting for their rights,” he explains.
Former KPMG chartered accountant Lindley fostered awareness of the issues the next generation face while a senior manager at the UK operation of children’s TV channel Nickelodeon. He says: “TV was being blamed for the rise in childhood obesity; we held lots of focus groups to learn more about the issue and I became very involved.”
When his daughter Ella was born, he learned more about the relationship children have with food. “We injected games and silliness to get her to eat different things. I realised there was a gap in the market and left my job to create babyfood which was organic, healthy and fun in unusual combinations and packaged brightly. ”
After two years of slog, the brand became the UK market leader in less than nine years. In 2013, with copycat brands in America at his heels, Paul sold out to US food company Hain Celestial for £66m.
He retained his role, mainly to ensure the brand sticks to its social purpose, and also finds time to focus on his commitment to impact social change through a new model of business: one which applies entrepreneurial ambition to tackle real and genuine social challenges - just like Sophie Maxwell does.
Lindley, whose parents now live in Fulwood, wants to see free breakfasts for all pre-school children, compulsory cooking lessons in schools and the food industry donating one per cent of the money it spends on advertising donated instead to a public health campaign. “A quarter of our children are obese, yet tens of thousands of UK kids are permanently hungry. We are the sixth richest country in the world; that is disgusting,” he says.
Africa, his home in childhood, is the benefactor of his latest social enterprise, The Key is E. Launched with Emmanuel Jal, a Sudanese musician and former child solider, it aims to connect the wealth of British social entrepreneurs with those in Africa. “It’s never been done before and it is giving access to funding, business mentoring and training opportunities,” says Paul, who arranged for Emmanuel to stage a gig at Sheffield’s Lantern Theatre last month.
In March Paul also launched baby and toddler toiletries brand Paddy’s Bathroom. Named after his son, Paddy’s runs a Drop Buy Drop program, giving a drop of clean water to children in Rwanda for every drop of water used by customers washing with its products.
He is urging all businesses to see the importance of having a social conscience - for their good as well as for community and environment.
“Businesses who see making money as their only goal are very short-sighted,” he says. “Consumers demand social awareness from the brands they buy, especially younger ones who have been given more awareness of worldwide issues by the internet. And transparency means it is now so obvious if companies don’t have it.”