It was a long journey to win accreditation, which required us to ask tough questions about ourselves and consider our place in the business world. It was an illuminating, educational experience that we would recommend other companies try.
Woolcool is a woman-led business, and one thing that struck us as we considered our approach to our work, our partnerships and the wider business world was that this makes us relatively unusual in the sectors we occupy.
Our company was founded by a woman, Angela Morris, and our management team is led by her daughters Josie and Jessica, while women fill management roles throughout the business, from team leaders to research and development.
That realisation set us to reflecting about how being female-led has informed our development as a business.
Before founding Woolcool in 2009, Angela had spent decades as a highly-respected packaging consultant, both freelance and as an employer, and has seen the business landscape change significantly when it comes to how women are perceived.
“Perhaps the most obvious example of how times have changed was when I approached my bank for finance to fund business development and growth. I went to see my bank manager to ask about financial support.
“He listened very intently, I gave him copies of my business plan and all the information that was required and shared my plans for the future – he then said that the bank may be able to help me, but would need my husband to come in and sign as a guarantor of any loan.
“This was not unusual even in the 80’s, it was just the way it was, and how the banks perceived women in business. There was an assumption that they needed male support or supervision.”
Before founding Woolcool, Angela had provided packaging expertise to a variety of sectors, from major UK high street stores such as BHS and Next, confectionery companies Nestlé and Cadbury’s, to manufacturers such as Royal Doulton and Fairey Industrial Ceramics.
Woolcool evolved from a ‘eureka’ moment she had in 2001 when the National Trust asked her to find a natural and sustainable chilled packaging solution to help their farmers deliver fresh produce to customers.
Angela discovered that wool – traditionally associated with keeping things warm – was just as good at keeping things cold. Not only that, wool offered a superior and genuinely sustainable alternative to man-made insulating materials.
The company was born in 2009, and in its first decade, Angela led it to constant growth, driven by its innovative approach to temperature-controlled packaging.
From the start, Angela was determined to create a business that was inclusive and supportive in its relationships with staff, partners and clients, drawing on female characteristics of organisation, nurturing talent, emotional intelligence and inner strength.
Yet Woolcool has always thrived on the diversity of its team, whether that’s in the boardroom, in our offices or on the production floor. Angela remembers how the arrival of Keith Spilsbury, as Strategic Director in July 2009, brought new strengths and skills to the company.
“When Keith joined us he brought not only years of experience but practical skillsets that complemented how I worked. That diversity of approach is what has made us a success.
“Certainly in the early years there were some individuals who would respond better to dealing with a man, and having Keith on the team helped in that sense, but really we realised that our skills fitted together to create a balance of what was needed.”
That perfect synergy blossomed into romance, and Angie and Keith married in 2015. With Angie’s daughters Josie and Jessica now Woolcool’s Managing Director and Finance Director, they have stepped into a more ambassadorial role. But the innovative Woolcool ethos of supportive and inclusive collaboration continues.
Josie believes that, as a woman-led business, the company has held onto the principles put in place by Angela while the world of commerce has changed and, in some respects, caught up.
“We are a women-led business,” she said, “and I think we benefit from that in terms of the strengths traditionally thought of as female.
“However, I think that today we tend to think less often in such black-and-white terms. We consider the balance of skills individuals bring to the team. Certainly, I think today’s younger people – Millennials, I suppose you would call them – think differently about male and female roles, and would struggle to recognise the challenges that women faced in the past.
“That’s not to say that sexism doesn’t exist in the workplace today, but if companies can look at individuals in terms of their own personal skills and attributes, then gender becomes less of a factor and everyone benefits.
“As we went through the process of applying for B Corp status, it made us realise that female-led businesses are still relatively unusual in some of the sectors we connect with – but it also made us reflect on how being female-led has shaped us to become the company we are today.
“When I look at today’s Woolcool, we have come a long way since we were founded but we still reflect the business that Angela wanted to create.
“What we have learned is that ultimately, it is about striking the right balance in terms of the skills and attributes of your team. Our woman-led business has always promoted inclusion, diversity and opportunity for all, no matter the gender, age, race, sexuality, background or religion. This ethos has allowed for a diverse range of ideas, experiences and views to be shared, which has been the key to our success.”