As part of my series about the “How to Navigate and Succeed in the Modern World of Finance,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marga Hoek.
Marga Hoek is an award-winning CEO, TEDx speaker, author and advisor to the Bank of Montreal, Earth Capital and Green IT. Her most recent book “The Trillion Dollar Shift” is the first ever business book on how businesses can unlock $12 trillion-dollars in financial opportunities opened by UN Sustainable Development Goals.
She provides companies with profound research and concrete business case studies to demonstrate how sustainable companies can build stronger competitive market positions, unlock new markets and be more attractive to both employees and customers.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am businesswoman; a three-time CEO and it was through all these executive roles that I discovered how hugely important sustainability is and that business can make a huge difference. Therefore, I made it my core aim to make business a force for good. I also discovered business for good is good business; it unlocked new markets for the companies I led, whilst bringing solutions that were part of the solution for the world’s challenges. Due to my sustainability record as a business leader, I was asked subsequently by the government to set up The Sustainable Business Association in The Netherlands. In this role I collaborated with companies throughout all sectors and the EU government to accelerate the transition towards a sustainable economy, via real business cases.
Since, I have developed into a global thought leader, writing articles and delivering keynote speeches around the world to share all the lessons I’ve learnt about sustainable business. This led to me writing my book The Trillion Dollar Shift on the business opportunities the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals present. I’m on several non-executive Boards throughout Europe and am a Board Advisor for companies throughout all business sectors.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I like Michael Porter’s Creating Shared Value literature in which he reinvented himself regarding former theories. His thinking is very much in line with mine: it is about combining profit and impact not one or the other or one at the expense of the other. I also very much appreciate Jim Snabe’s work — he’s a true business leader yet he also writes interesting books on leadership.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now for (Business for Good) ? How do you think that will help people?
A new book! It’s called Tech for Good and I hope it will be out later this year. The 2020s will be the decade of sustainability but also the decade of tech. Tech is a powerful accelerator of sustainability and thus we should use it for good. The book explores the ways we can do this.
Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
When I started out as a CEO it was completely unknown that purpose-driven businesses were more successful. To be honest it was just common business sense that drove me. I did realize that if all stakeholders were in support of my company, it’s aims and goals, I would thrive and so would the company. And thus, I prioritized that.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Yes: business for good is good business. This principle guides me through everything I do. Let’s make this the norm, rather than the exception.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads in sales?
The book is a means to an end. Of course, I hope that as many people read it as possible, since the ‘end’ is transformation at scale to sustainable business. People need to know about the book in order to know they must read it. In my case it helps to do a lot with the media and to speak about the book on stage in keynotes. Companies buy my book for their employees and I offer to tailor make the book to them. This is a great success — companies really like this.
If a fellow CEO would ask you for advice about whether to bootstrap or to look for VC capital, how would you help them weigh the pros and cons of that decision? What measure do you use to determine the value of a company?
we combined these questions a bit for a well-rounded response
I get these questions a lot. I think it’s important to make the effort to really get all the information on the table and of course fully understand the needs of the company. Then I can advise them with all the facts.
What would you advise to a founder who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Reinvent yourself. It will be essential over the next decade to put sustainability at the core of your business. Engage with the new markets the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are opening. Adapt and thrive or deny and die. Often this will begin a new lifecycle for your product or company!
What are the most common finance mistakes you have seen other businesses make? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Only taking incremental steps, which lead to short term profits or savings. That is great, yet radical innovation is needed to really find breakthrough solutions.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to succeed in the modern finance industry? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Embrace forward thinking
- Engage with the next generation
- Create a shared value business model
- Lead boldly
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stay the course, stay authentic
How can our readers follow you online?