Building a movement of entrepreneurs for the benefit of society: Q&A with Michael Denham
Michael Denham is the CEO of BDC, Canada’s first certified B Corp bank.
He is a seasoned business leader with more than 30 years of senior management experience in companies such as McKinsey, Bombardier, Accenture and AquaTerra.
I sat down with Michael to talk about what B Corp certification means to him and what it can bring to Canadian entrepreneurs.
What does it means to be a B Corp
Carla: How does BDC benefit from being a B Corp?
Michael: First, it speaks directly to who we are as a bank. Remember, the only reason we’re eligible to seek certification is because we have a purpose that’s bigger than money. In our case, the purpose is to support people who are entrepreneurs.
Second, it attracts a particular kind of businesspeople: Those who are proud of how their companies enrich the lives of others—their employees, their communities and Canada. There are lots of entrepreneurs who think and act like this. We like it when they come to us!
And of course, our employees love it. It makes them rightly proud to work at BDC.
What are B Corps?
B Corps are businesses that act in ways that benefit society as a whole rather than focusing solely on making profits. B Corps are recognized for creating greater economic opportunity, strengthening local communities and preserving the environment.
The certification is granted by a non-profit organization called B Lab and is similar to Fair Trade certification for coffee and LEED certification for green buildings. To be certified, companies must meet high standards of purpose, social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.
B Corp certification is proof of our purpose.
Working in a B Corp bank
Carla: How do BDC employees benefit from BDC being a B Corp? How do they use it in daily life?
Michael: Beyond the motivational power of working at a bank that’s not just chasing dollars, but actually has a purpose that they consider meaningful, the big benefit is that it differentiates us from other banks.
Also, because the B Corp assessment holds us to very high standards of accountability and transparency, we can confidently say that we’re dedicated exclusively to entrepreneurs; we’re not just saying it because it looks good.
Having such a strong purpose gives us a lot of credibility with clients. For example, we’ve recently done surveys showing we’re the most trusted bank in Canada. Our purpose—and the actions that are driven by that purpose—are the basis of that.
Also, while it isn’t immediately attractive to all of our prospective clients, being the B Corp bank does attract many entrepreneurs of a particular kind. When we’re talking with prospective clients, we try to see whether they might be the “B Corp-ish type,” by which I mean that they’re proud that their company is creating jobs and contributing to the community, or helping the environment.
If they are “B Corp-ish,” the B Corp certification will likely interest them. As will the movement, which we’re helping build across Canada.
Building a movement
Carla: What have you learned about BDC via the certification?
Michael: I’ve learned that our corporate governance standards are among the highest in the world, which makes me very proud.
Carla: BDC is the national partner for B Lab, the non-profit organization behind the B Corp certification. Why is the partnership valuable?
Michael: Movements like the B Corp movement are more likely to succeed when they have organizations dedicated to their success.
This is an entrepreneurial movement that we want to see grow. That’s why we invest in it. That we’d do so in collaboration with B Lab goes without saying.
A regular check-up for businesses
Carla: Would you recommend that entrepreneurs use the B Impact Assessment for their business?
Michael: Totally. As bankers, we see that B Corp companies tend to be well managed. It’s hard to get through such a comprehensive, bracing assessment if you’re not well organized with processes in place to ensure performance.
People tell us they see the assessment as a sort of “health check” for their company—like the annual physical check-ups we get from a doctor. It’s always helpful to have regular check-ups!
Lately, we’ve seen leading organizations like Optel Group (a Quebec City-based traceability leader) and Danone Canada certifying as B Corps. This movement is growing and entrepreneurs of all sizes can learn a lot from assessing their business.
It’s also a great source of inspiration. B Corps are reinventing industries by making sure their activities are positive for communities and the people living in them. I would advise every entrepreneur to at least attend a B Corp event to discover the full range of innovations that’s on display there.