Case Study: The creation of a social entrepreneur
This case study focuses on an individual leader, and charts his interactions with Wavelength and leadership journey.
Angel Perez is the former Senior Director, Marketing, Capabilities and Commercial Operations (Europe, Australia, Canada) at Eli Lilly, an American pharmaceutical company with an annual turnover in excess of $24 billion. In 2017, Angel founded Transcendent, focused on leveraging social impact to improve clients’ core business or activity.
Bespoke immersive learning to drive change
Back in 2014 Angel Perez felt that the marketing function at Eli Lilly would benefit from some external stimulus. He feared that their introspection could negatively impact the creativity and innovative output needed to drive the company forward, at a time when disruption and increased competition was ubiquitous.
To counter these concerns Angel made contact with Wavelength, who proposed a bespoke set of immersive learning opportunities at some of the most aspirational and inspirational businesses on the planet. Product design disruptors, IDEO, the masters of consistent customer service excellence, Pret A Manger, and a number of serial disruptors and innovators Apple, LEGO, Yahoo, and Livity, a highly successful social enterprise media business.
Angel takes up the story.
“There was a perfectly matched expectation for us working with Wavelength. They totally understood our needs as a business and suggested a roster of companies to visit that was in tune with our objectives.
It helped us! So we ran the programme in 2014, 2015, and 2016 with the same purpose in mind, adjusting the mix of companies to visit as our needs evolved. It enabled us to elicit curiosity amongst our marketing teams and to show them what excellence looked like in other sectors, about lean product development, rapid prototyping, creating minimum viable product, agile methodologies. It opened up a whole new world of thought for us.”
The trips were keenly contested by potential attendees, not solely from Angel’s base in Spain but from around the whole region, and participants were chosen based on their achievements during the year.
“Wavelength leadership tours were something that people competed for, that they aspired to do. The best were chosen,” added Angel.
Knowledge was cascaded down through the organisation by the attendees, who took responsibility for sharing what they had learned on the trip once they returned to their own offices.
“The impact of the work we did with Wavelength was outstanding in changing the mindset of the team and the way they approached their work,” says Angel.
The trips also had a huge impact on Angel due to the presence of Livity on the trip roster. “In 2014 I had no idea about social enterprise. I knew about running a business but I didn’t think that it could coexist with doing good in society. I didn’t know or believe that succeeding in business could be used as a force for doing good,” says Angel.
“Livity showed me that social impact and business could not only co-exist but that business could have such a strong impact on the community. I realised that my own curiosity about social enterprise went beyond the study tour and what we could do at Eli Lilly.
After the first visit in 2014 I came back to Spain and started to familiarise myself with Spain’s ecosystem of social impact. At the time in Spain CSR activities were in my view very immature and traditional. Some volunteering, some social work. But nothing that related to a company’s core competencies. It just wasn’t mainstream five years ago.”
The effect of Wavelength USA 2016
In 2016 Angel went on the USA tour and had a moment of realisation: “Adrian said that of the assembled people 20-25% would leave their current jobs and I knew that was me. The trip itself was outstanding - to see the speed at which innovation was becoming a reality for the companies we visited and how systemic it was,” comments Angel.
When he returned to Spain and his role at Eli Lilly Angel instigated a Wavelength Bespoke four day trip for General Managers to inspire them, focused on innovation in health. As a result, a new role was established in the region which was ‘Leader of Innovation.’ Crucially this new role sat on the commercial side of the business.
“In 2016 I also put together Emprende In Health, the first social accelerator in Spain with the aim of encouraging social entrepreneurship in healthcare, in partnership with UnLtd Spain. This had a profound effect on me in charting my next move - and the realisation that it would be in the social impact arena.
I liked Michael Porter’s concept of shared value, the thought that there could be a link between competitive advantage and corporate social responsibility and I held onto that thought as the basis for my new business,” says Angel.
Starting Transcendent and finding a new purpose
Back in 2014 Angel was amazed to see competitive, professional people running successful businesses that also made a difference to people in society at the same time. They were not just taking time out of the business to do social projects but aligning their business so that it had a positive impact on society.
Angel’s original inspiration was Livity, a company built around fulfilling its social purpose. And it started Angel thinking about his leadership role at Eli Lilly.
“This was the Aha! moment for me,” says Angel, “and the magic recipe was leaving Lilly to start Transcendent. I felt there was an opportunity to help companies accelerate their social impact journey, using all that I had seen and learnt through my Wavelength interactions.”
Angel’s new company, Transcendent, focuses on leveraging social impact to improve clients’ core business or activity.
Angel comments: “Those business people who want to be good citizens have been doing the basics. The next territory to discover is what happens when they put social impact at the core of their business. I want to show them that having social impact doesn’t have to be a cost centre in a business - in fact the opposite is possible - it can be a profit centre.”
At first finding clients for Transcendent was tough for Angel. Spain was behind the curve and so much of the first year was spent building up proof points and case studies - analysis and research - to show business owners that it could be done and was being done by other companies.
“We accumulated an archive of stories of people across different industries - building evidence. It helped us earn the right to operate in this field - to build our credibility,” says Angel.
Things really started to change in early 2019 when Spain was hit by a tailwind of climate activism and fall out from Larry Fink (CEO of Blackrock) saying that companies really needed to start monitoring their social impact and the way in which to do this was to connect core business with social impact.
“After that the clients came; we now work with companies from the Spanish stock exchange, big Spanish family businesses, companies in pharma, retail, telecoms, finance, or FMCG,”says Angel.
Social impact - the next revolution
What is next for Angel and his Madrid-based company, Transcendent? Angel’s belief in the importance of social impact through business is driven in part by predictions that the business social impact will indeed form the next revolution, supported by a recent Deloitte study on human capital trends that found 77% of more than 11,000 business leaders rated “citizenship and social impact” as critical or important. And it seems that this recent mind shift extends beyond leadership to the investment community who are moving from simply considering the risk and returns of investments to thinking about the risk, return and social impact.
Angel comments: “Those that can be flexible, open-minded and have the drive for sustainability, impact on the climate and positive social change will be the winners - in business and society. Understanding and leveraging this purpose is the number one most important thing.
Companies have started to say - ‘sooner or later we need the Board to take responsibility, to look at the impact that the company has, and to report on our purpose.’
At Transcendent, we’re talking to the C-suite because leveraging social impact is a good business decision. We see a lot of similarities with the digital revolution. Twenty years ago everyone had a website - but not many people knew what it was for, or the extent of its potential. Now, purpose is far more important to help drive the change that business and society needs.”