What does 2023 hold for Poppy’s?

Clare Montagu, Poppy's CEO, and Poppy Mardall, Poppy's founder

Four minute read

Poppy Mardall founded Poppy’s ten years ago from her spare bedroom. Since then, the business has grown and flourished and, in 2022, Clare Montagu took on the role of CEO.

Together, Poppy and Clare explain some crucial legal and financial changes we’ve made over the last year to ensure that Poppy’s remains true to its values and is ready for the future.

When you build and grow a company from scratch, you don’t have to make do with how things are. Instead, you can hard-bake meaningful values into every aspect of the organisation from the get-go. It’s an enormous privilege.

‘What matters most?’

You can start — as Poppy’s did back in 2012 — with a central question, ‘what matters most?’ and go from there. Our founding vision at Poppy’s was outstanding care for our living and dead clients — as well as for our team, for our community and for the planet. That vision hasn’t changed.

We want to grow in 2023. We want to offer our beautiful care to many more people. We want to raise expectations and standards across the board, so that everyone’s experience of death care improves whether or not they use Poppy’s. Most crucially, we want to nurture the values at the heart of our work, so that the service we grow remains outstanding.

To do this, we keep returning to our foundational values — our growth needs to be underpinned by the right motives.

Using the B Corp process to grow with integrity

In the early years, being guided by gut feelings was enough. The team was small and we all sat next to each other. Our values and culture were expressed and held in how we talked and worked together.

However, as we grow in size and scale, team members will be based in different places. We need a more formal framework to steer our ethical approach and to ensure we deliver on it. The B Corp process has given us exactly that.

An accredited B Corp (short for ‘benefit corporation’) is a business that seeks to be a force for good in the world. We are finding that working towards B Corp accreditation is a great way to ensure sustainability and integrity as we grow. It has led to some exciting developments for Poppy’s over the last few months.

Team members share in the ownership of Poppy’s

In October 2022, we invited the Poppy’s team to share in the ownership of the company. We launched an EMI (Enterprise Management Initiative) scheme which enables Poppy’s employees, who work over a certain number of hours a week, to have share options in the business.

Poppy’s has always been a team effort, but this has to be expressed in actions as well as words. The shared reality of the challenge we have ahead — growing Poppy’s with all the risk and struggle that will entail — had to be reflected in real terms. It needed a change in how we are owned.

In the long term, it means team members will share in any financial benefits if Poppy’s is sold. In the short term, it’s a clear sign that we’re building something together.

The hard work we’re putting in now will pay back to all of us. Most funeral directors are not structured like this. In fact, we think Poppy’s might be the only one.

Changing the legal purpose of Poppy’s

In the last year, we also changed our company articles of association. These are the written rules about how a company is run. They now reflect our belief that Poppy’s as a business has to benefit people and the planet.

Our objects as a company are now equally to benefit our members/shareholders and to have a material positive benefit on society and the environment. Articles of association aren’t the most exciting aspects of any business! But they are vital for safeguarding and enforcing our purpose.

Whatever happens in the future — for example, if we widen shareholding in the business, introduce new governance arrangements or the current management team moves on — this change means that Poppy’s will remain a force for good in the world. That's energising and, yes, exciting too.

Walking side by side

Maintaining strong working relationships and a shared vision matters just as much as legal and financial changes.

We take a weekly walk together around Tooting Common and, as we walk, we discuss issues big and small. Being outside, in all weathers, walking side by side, enables us to think more freely about how to keep our founding values alive and well as we grow.

In 2023, we want to grow. There’s no question about that. But we’re not interested in growth for the sake of it. We know how detrimental that mindset has been, and continues to be, for people and for the planet.

So many great little services lose what makes them special as they grow. Obsession with profit over everything else can destroy the value of a service in an instant.

To Poppy’s, being an ethical funeral director means more than just selling sustainable coffins and using electric vehicles, although that’s important too. It means making your values the foundation on which everything else is built — making legal and financial decisions which benefit our team, our community and the wider world.

We hope you will be walking by our side in 2023, as we seek to transform people’s expectations of great death care and to create something which is worth growing.

Read more opinion pieces on our Talking Death blog — why a cemetery is a great home for an ethical funeral director and why we don’t use euphemisms to talk about death.

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