Many companies in 2019 claim to take their business purpose seriously. Not many, though, have a chief purpose officer at board level whose role is to ensure the business meets its objectives in areas beyond sales and profits – including diversity and inclusion.
Step forward adventure travel operator Intrepid Group – the self-proclaimed biggest adventure operator on the planet – and its Melbourne-based CPO, Leigh Barnes.
After joining Peregrine Adventures, one of the Intrepid Group brands, in 2010, Barnes has had a stellar rise through the business, eventually running Intrepid’s Americas operation from Toronto for four years, growing it by 60% in the last two.
It was during this period that the company’s joint venture with Tui as the Peak Adventure Travel Group came to an end, giving Intrepid a whole new focus. “We had people focusing on profit, but we needed to give the same focus to our purpose – we wanted to make sure we did the right thing for our people, our planet and the communities we engage with,” remembers Barnes.
Chief executive James Thornton created the chief purpose officer position as a result, with Barnes taking on the role in early 2018.
Barnes cites the example of Intrepid’s Namaste Nepal campaign – where all profits from Nepal trips went back to local communities after the earthquake – as something that never would have happened without the focus on purpose.
Intrepid’s work on its environmental impact is a huge factor in its B-Corp status – a certification that proves businesses are meeting the highest standards in balancing purpose and profit.
The business is committed to being carbon positive in 2020 – it’s been carbon neutral since 2010 – and its commitment extends to practical areas such as a crowdfunding campaign to develop a seaweed farm in Tasmania.
But its approach to its people is also vital, says Barnes. “Under B-Corp, we signed up to the Inclusive Economy Challenge, and we are now very clear where we sit on diversity and inclusion, what needs to get better and how we will be tackling those issues over the next 18 months, among both our employees and our supply chain.”
Barnes says a key focus has been empowering women in the business. “We’re ahead of schedule on our goal to double female leaders,” he explains. “We’ve had really good buy-in in India and Morocco from our leaders and we’ve been changing how we recruit female tour leaders.
“We had to change the advertising around the jobs, then we had to have conversations with applicants’ families.”
Conversations also took place at government level in Morocco to ensure women were able to apply for the appropriate work permits.
“There are areas we can improve on – we are OK on gender splits, but are we diverse enough from an age point of view, employing refugees or people of differing abilities?” adds Barnes.
“We’ve been shifting from trying to be the best travel company in the world to being the best travel company for the world.”
What better purpose can there be to aim for than that?
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Intrepid Travel is a global adventure travel company that has been taking travellers off the beaten track to discover the world's most amazing places for 29 years.