Looking to the future of business, an interview with Bobby Kerr

Interviews, Thought Leadership | Thu 7 Apr | Author – Business & Finance

Entrepreneur and businessman Bobby Kerr spoke with Business & Finance to offer his perspectives on the rapidly-evolving business landscape and sustainability. Kerr previously held the positions of Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Insomnia Coffee Company until 2017, and Director of Development at Campbell Bewley Group. Written by Alex Mulhare. 

Note: This piece was originally published in Business & Finance magazine, vol. 59, no. 1, available to read, with compliments, here.

Business-ownership in a pandemic 

Having vast experience in the Irish entrepreneurial landscape, Kerr has seen that business-owners often develop an emotional attachment to their venture. “It’s a natural thing to get emotionally involved with your business. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because it’s another way of articulating your passion, to be emotionally involved.”

As the conversation slides towards the hardships of Brexit and Covid-19 restrictions, as seems to be the fated route of all business discussions of late, Kerr thinks of advice he would give to those who feel trapped by their business amidst the current economic landscape. “If you’re in a business that’s failing or affected badly by Covid and all the rest of it, what I would say to people is leave – don’t stay too long there.”

“Try and find a new business,” Kerr continues. “Try and find a new enterprise, try and repurpose what assets you have, be it equipment in the warehouse. Look at your situation, and see if you can create a new business out of what you have. And if you can’t, get out of that business. Don’t stay too long there.”

However, Kerr points out that investors might sometimes take the form of a Trojan Horse. He  refers to this in the sense that our economy is a lot wealthier now than ever before, and there are more opportunities to secure funding, whether it be through venture capital or investors. “That concerns me because it means some businesses are taking on investment that they don’t need or that they shouldn’t.”

“Really, they’re taking in an equity partner, which might have a different agenda to the business owner,” Kerr explains. “So I think you need to be very careful about taking equity and taking investment into your business if the new shareholder isn’t aligned with your own vision.”

Kerr admits that moving on from your investments or your business is often easier said than done due to the various familial or emotional involvements that tend to be forged during the lifespan of a business, however, he believes that this illustrates commitment on behalf of the business-owner rather than weakness. 

He insists that moving on when the time is right is a natural part of the process, and encourages others to consider it as an option, especially considering the turbulent business landscape. “Given the change that there’s been over the last number of years, it might be time for you to change too.”

Building a sustainable business

Kerr is a passionate advocate for sustainability and is an ambassador for Repak’s Green Team. 

“I think the amount of packaging that’s associated with online shopping is absolutely breath-taking. Look at the amount of cardboard boxes within boxes,” Kerr says of the online-shopping boom triggered by the pandemic. 

He accepts the need for goods to be protected and to ensure that product isn’t damaged. 

“But I’m somewhat staggered by the amount of packaging that actually goes into something small, maybe a watch, or a piece of jewellery, put in a huge big box… just the packaging involved is eye-watering.”

He believes that enabling businesses to recycle is key to reducing this type of waste. 

“No matter what your business is, if it’s an office, if it’s a warehouse, make sure that you provide the bins, make sure that it’s easy for people to recycle, and people will recycle.”

He notes the importance of sincerity and says he has little tolerance for businesses that enact recycling or sustainability goals as a marketing gimmick, saying that the public will eventually see through the facade. 

“But if there’s no bins, if there’s no encouragement from the business to facilitate recycling, people won’t do it.”

With sustainable business practises developing into a bona fide issue since lockdowns forced the general public to reflect upon their consumption habits, Kerr touches on the importance of staying local. “Even if you’re shopping and using the convenience of online, you can still help local Irish business,” he says. “I think people have really realised the value that small and indigenous business is, how precarious it is.”