Stephen Lambert is a partner at EY, one of the ‘big four’ audit firms, working in the energy sector. As he puts it himself, he helps companies in that field “get better”.
It was EY’s UK chairman, Steve Varley who switched him onto working with SBT after he let Varley know that he was looking to do something a bit different. “I went to see the force of nature that is Adele (Blakebrough, SBT’s CEO) and 24 hours later she came back to me with Shakespeare Schools Festival (SSF).”
SSF trains teachers to direct casts of mixed ability kids to perform abridged version of Shakespeare plays. They make the bard relevant, as well as improving literacy and confidence in the kids. Lambert had volunteered previously through CSR schemes and found himself painting walls “which was fine but it obviously wasn’t using our business skills to the maximum and giving value for money. This was something a bit different.”
The role that Blakebrough offered was as investment director, overseeing SBT’s support for SSF. SBT hadn’t partnered with SSF at that point but was considering taking the team on as one of a select group of the social enterprises they work with.
Lambert says the time required to get them fit for purpose at the peak of the project was “about a day a week above the day job – evenings and weekends”. To help, he drafted in another colleague from EY. How did the company feel about it?
“Did I treat SSF and SBT as a proper client? Yes. Did I work a bit longer? Yes, I probably did. It wasn’t always easy. But the environment at EY… they always encourage people to do stuff like this so I always felt like I had the cover, that this was a good thing to do.”
Lambert is senior in the hierarchy, so manages his own time and thinks that part of the reason EY supports staff who devote time in this way is that its employees feel good about working for the organisation: “That makes me quite proud of EY. If I’m talking in my leadership role or recruiting, it’s another great story for me to tell about the sort of organisation prospective employees might be joining.”
Other corporate executives who have worked with SBT are on record as saying that the social enterprises get the same service as any client they would work with. Lambert is especially convincing because of his obvious passion for what SSF do: “As well as anything logical you could say about it, it’s about impacting children’s lives and I’m a father so it hits you at quite a personal level. I see the performances. I see these kids doing extraordinary things.”
He emphasises that he was taking the project seriously: “We weren’t fiddling around the edges with SSF. It was looking to grow and thrive so it was pretty fundamental stuff. If it had gone wrong it could have broken the organisation up so you needed to concentrate. You have to be fully ‘in’ is my experience. You can’t just be a tourist.”
Lambert’s commitment will be long term and he says that is important: “I’m in it for as long as the team want me. That makes a difference in respect of how much they will listen to me.”
This interview first appeared in Pioneers Post