How Amanda Mackenzie, CEO of Business in the Community, aims to support 10,000 people into work

Amanda Mackenzie, the chief executive officer of Business in the Community, is proud of her supporters in the region, reports Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.

It takes tact, patience and skill to persuade a workforce to part company with a name which has been synonymous with a city’s civic pride for more than 200 years.

When Amanda Mackenzie joined Norwich Union in 2008 she was given the apparently thankless task of changing the company’s name without losing the goodwill of staff and customers.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Sign up to our Business newsletter

The company’s new title – Aviva – is now widely recognised. But there was a lot of affection for Norwich Union, an insurance brand which dated from 1797.

When Amanda Mackenzie joined Norwich Union in 2008 she was given the apparently thankless task of changing the company’s name without losing the goodwill of staff and customers

Ms Mackenzie recalled: “There was a strategic rationale behind it and a logic to the company having one name around the world. Aviva was a name that could travel.

“We got people together and explained the rationale, including external stakeholders in Norwich who attended a roundtable to hear our explanation for the name change.

“In the end, even if somebody doesn’t like the decision you’ve made, it’s still important to explain the rationale behind it.”

In her current role as chief executive of Business in the Community (BITC), she is using her powers of persuasion to highlight how the corporate world can do heavy lifting for good causes and humanitarian concerns.

Founded by The Prince of Wales 40 years ago, BITC is the largest and longest established business-led membership organisation dedicated to responsible business.

Ms Mackenzie, who has more than 25 years of commercial experience, which has included holding director level roles at British Airways Air Miles, BT and British Gas, is full of praise for BITC’s “vibrant and growing” membership in Yorkshire.

BITC has more than 600 members in the region, including 24 large enterprises such as the supermarket giant Asda, TransUnion, law firm Irwin Mitchell and Sheffield Hallam University.

She added: “We have brought on board a lot of new members in the region this year. People join BITC for a number of reasons; they want to more broadly engage in responsible business and they want to learn from their peers. You get a compound of experience and a compound of impacts.”

BITC will soon be launching a job coaching programme in Yorkshire, with a national ambition of supporting 10,000 people into work in the next two years.

It is looking for Yorkshire businesses to join the programme and offer volunteer job coaches to support local people into work. It is also working in partnership with NatWest to deliver support to female led and BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) led businesses in Bradford to understand why many of them are not using support services and to help them connect with other businesses and support intermediaries.

In September, BITC held a climate change roundtable in Yorkshire, which attracted more than 40 business leaders from the region.

Ms Mackenzie believes big corporate names should always strive to do more for their local communities.

She added: “Businesses, on the whole, do not do the engagement piece sufficiently well. But I believe businesses are more aware than ever of their power to effect change.

“In the long term, the compound actions of businesses could help humanity stay alive by tackling climate change.”

One of the practical measures which BITC has helped to promote could also ensure people with criminal convictions have the chance to leave their past behind.

She said: “In general, one of the first questions an applicant is asked, is if they have any criminal convictions.

“We suggest asking the question further down the interview process. You mustn’t judge a person by the worst thing they’ve ever done. Somebody should be able to present themselves and be considered for a job despite their convictions.”

She is clearly proud of the many ways in which BITC members have protected vulnerable people over the last 18 months.

“During the pandemic, BITC instigated 5,000 connections which helped around 1.6m people,” she said. “Greggs (the bakery chain), for example provided containers of frozen food, which were sent to food banks.”

Companies can also play a major role in combatting climate change.

“It’s obvious that the planet can be the beneficiary of business doing the right thing,’’ she said.

“There are still laggards who have to get on board, but they will find that their investors are concerned by the risk in not having or executing a thorough, responsible business strategy.

“If every business was the best it could be at responsible business practise we would not need to exist.”

“We have had the best quarter for new members in the best part of 20 years,” she said. “The more members we have, the more impact we have. We would like to see all our members get to net zero by 2030.

“Throughout my career, I have been motivated by interesting adventures.”

During her time at Aviva, she was seconded to a project devised by Richard Curtis, the film-maker and founder of Comic Relief.

Project Everyone works with the UN to help launch Sustainable Development Goals. These global goals aim to create a fairer world by 2030, by eradicating extreme poverty and tackling the challenges caused by climate change head on.

She said: “The pandemic showed us all that you can’t have a healthy business without a healthy thriving community around it. It’s important that we have a just transition in response to climate change.

“Let’s not leave anyone behind as we rush to net zero and let’s not accidentally level down as we all want to level up.”

Creative thinking can also lead to environmental benefits.

She said: “A great example of thinking about the whole system is Anglian Water; when they recycle their water, heat is produced. Two enormous greenhouses reuse this heat.

“They grow 12 per cent of the country’s tomatoes and have created 500 full and part-time jobs on the back of it. It’s so vital that we think about opportunities in the circular economy.”