From founder leadership to growth leadership
Five years ago, in 2013, I took a massive leap of faith: I decided to transform the Fairphone campaign into a company. At that point, I had no experience running a company, and I had certainly never made a phone before. But what I did have was a clear vision – I wanted to dig deeper into the electronics supply chain and help people understand how the industry works. I wanted to change the way people think about the products they bought and owned. And I wanted to make a direct contribution to creating fair electronics.
By training and by nature, I’m a designer, maker and instigator. All of these qualities were essential to getting Fairphone off the ground. We were creating something out of nothing: “building the plane and flying it at the same time”, as I like to say. Our small but mighty team slowly grew, and our accomplishments grew along with it. We made two different phones, sourced conflict-free minerals, collected e-waste and introduced worker welfare programs. What we were doing struck a chord. We not only got attention from the press and our peers, but more importantly, our movement started to take off. We had a fiercely loyal community who believed in what we were doing, while constantly challenging us to go the extra mile.
From product innovations to supply chain improvements, the team was achieving amazing things, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. As the company began to move beyond the initial start-up phase, we were undergoing some growing pains, which affected everything from our cash flow and production schedules to my personal health. So we started to make some major changes to prepare Fairphone for successful, sustainable growth.
Over the past two years, we’ve been focused on creating a stronger foundation to scale up our company. For example, we’ve improved our financial position by attracting new impact investors, and recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign. These investments will help reach new markets and further professionalize our supply chain operations to improve the availability and quality of our products. In addition, we’ve strengthened our governance by establishing a supervisory board and building a more experienced management team.
In September 2017, we hired Eva Gouwens as our managing director. With a more practical, operations-driven background, we recruited Eva specifically for her experience in running a growing business with social and environmental goals. At Tony’s Chocolonely, Eva led an impact-driven social enterprise through a crucial transition and helped them achieve their next wave of success. Her skills complement my own, and personally, I was very enthusiastic about having her on the executive team to share the responsibility of leading our company.
Over the past year, Eva and I have been working closely together to define areas for improvement and develop a shared vision for the future of Fairphone. We’re aligned on our mission to establish a market for ethical products and motivate the industry to act more responsibly. And we know that to achieve it, we have to keep scaling up. That brings me to our next transition as we prepare for successful growth: it’s time for me to pass the torch on to Eva, and allow her to lead Fairphone through this exciting new era as the company’s CEO.
This is not a decision I have taken lightly. But as our company transitions from the start-up to scale-up phase, our leadership has to transition along with it. The type of leadership required to create a company is not the same type of leadership required to help a company mature. Therefore, the next logical step for Fairphone’s success is to move from founder leadership to growth leadership. Eva is the right person to do this, and she’ll officially be guiding the company forward in her new role from 1 November.
I’m excited about what this transition means for Fairphone, and I’m happy to share that I’ll still be part of the company in the years ahead. After a short sabbatical, I’ll be returning to take up a founder position in the supervisory board. This will allow me to have more distance from the operational aspects of the company, while still being able to anchor Fairphone’s creative and strategic vision throughout this next phase.
I’d like to be the first to warmly congratulate Eva on her new role, and I’m looking forward to being part of Fairphone’s next era of growth, albeit from a slightly different vantage point.