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Sustainable wealth? Jeff Lynn says wealth has very little to do with money, much more to do with opp

In these two weeks we are offering the opportunity for you to use ideas and inspiration and then interact around the first of the themes we will be covering between now and the ebbf annual conference #ebbf2013.

The theme of this week asks you: “What does sustainable wealth mean, in your own life?”To stimulate our thinking we interviewed ebbf friend, Jeff Lynn, intrigued both by his life choice and specially by the thinking behind his decision:  Jeff describes himself as “a person who works to live“.

Some three years ago he made a drastic switch from a financially rewarding corporate  job to a totally different approach to work: setting up, in partnership with his wife, their own company Two Wings Partnership. Working strictly a total of 40 hours per week between the two, offering quality support services to the kinds of clients who usually cannot afford them.

ebbf question: you have a clear view of what wealth and sustainable wealth is and what we should be aiming for, could you share it? Jeff’s answer: not sure I have a great view; for me wealth has very little to do with money, much more to do with opportunity. I love being able to use my time by growing my own vegetables, spending time with my youngest daughter, living a that accommodates my spiritual side. Living a life that is consistent and with “integrity”: by this I mean making sure that all parts of my life are in agreement and in balance.

ebbf question: you made the brave decision to move from a work environment that did not work for you, into a totally different life style. What drove your decision?

Jeff: I enjoyed my life working in the corporate world and did reasonably well but I was increasingly enjoying more what I did outside work. I was looking forward to after-work interfaith activities, working on various charitable fronts, offering my experience pro-bono to non profits.

There was a magic moment in January 2012 when I was in a transition, contemplating a move back to the corporate to fund my increasing interest in non-profit work. We were living in an environment in which my then year and a half daughter was surrounded by an unhealthy housing estate environment.

We wanted to move away from there and that’s where my wife and I sat down and asked what are we trying to do? What are we aiming to achieve? It was all about living with that “integrity” and decided to make a move without knowing how.

Within three weeks a solution came up and we found ourselves moving to a 400 year old cottage in the middle of nowhere, or better said, in the middle of beautiful British countryside with three quarters of an acre of garden surrounded by a sheep farm.

Going back to the very basic of our values, stopping to really think what is important made everything fall into place

You decided to move from a corporate workplace to running your own company, but do you think it is worth to stay within the corporate world and make positive change happen from within the corporation? How?

Jeff: I do believe that things can and do and should change within the working environment of multinationals and corporations. In my previous comfortable corporate job, with the apparent luxury of driving my BMW company car etc, my argument was that you can make more of a difference in a less than satisfactory environment.

I based my work on a set of values and it did not start from being profit-driven, instead focusing on building happy teams caring about what they were doing and appreciated for what they were doing. Because of the intent and of my actions a kind of “reputation” followed me: people knew I would not do something I did not believe in, nor that I would behave dishonestly. I was therefore relatively good at building relationships based on trust and mutual respect and that was noticed and had an effect.

In a generally more aggressive and competitive environment those behaviors are less expected and therefore make a bigger impact. When I moved into the charity sector, everyone was nice, doing good things and, in a sense, I could make less of an impact.

So no harm at all in staying the corporate world as long as you don’t lose your way.

ebbf question: What is different between the way you are working  now and how your work was before?

Jeff: In some ways it is entirely different; in others there is very little difference at all: I think it goes back to our tag line “doing good things with good people“. In my corporate job I used to do reasonably good things with reasonably good people. Actually, in the 20 years I was in the corporate sector, very rarely was the bottom-line mentioned. Having worked at BMW, AT&T, British Telecom all major multinational corporations, the key message underpinning most of what we did every day ways quality and company reputation.

Of course we had to keep an eye on bottom-line but driver for most of what we did on a daily basis was efficiency and effectiveness not just cash. That is one of my main reasons for making the move as I could see many in the NGO world seeing efficiency and effectiveness as almost negative words and not strong priorities. I thought that they could do much more good with a slightly more business-like approach.

ebbf: You mentioned I have never been so financially poor yet with such a high quality of life.

Jeff: I was earning good money, dreamt of a beautiful cottage in the country, In the flat we started to make our own yoghurt, bread, wanted to extend that but did not have the means. In order to recycle our food waste, we collect it in a small bucket, transferred it daily to a bigger container and then drove weekly to a friend’s allotment.

view from the office

Now we are growing our own vegetables and have a very healthy compost heap of our own.

I now earn a third of what I did, I have no commute, I used to sit for an hour and a half in the car morning and evening, nice car but still sitting in it for fifteen hours each week.

I job share with my wife – 40 hours between us. She works two days per week in our home office while I household and take care of our daughter. We then swap over for the other days.

As you could now decide the key values of your own company, what are the driving principles of your current business?

Jeff: Doing good things with good people …. in a good way. Our website starts with our values – it is sometimes useful to go to my website and remind me of them ….

Integrity is very important, it goes beyond honest.  That approach got me into trouble and gave me unexpected credit in the corporate job I had. One example was when I took over the Customer Information Centre for BMW UK. The first thing I told them was, “I want to tell you the whole truth not just what you want we think that you want to hear. It will make us look bad initially but I want you to know the whole situation so that together we can improve it.” This lead to a very positive, constructive working relationship.

ebbf: Are you selective in your choice of customers?

Jeff: We are selective in our choice of our clients. We do not have a fixed definition but we do, as far as possible, take on customers that exhibit the same kinds of values and are trying to make a positive contribution to the world. If anything they do jars with our values we try and correct it. If we can not, we stop.

We attract customers who put value before money. Almost by default they are poor but just in terms of financial resources. We don’t start off looking for the highest paying, instead we go for the “lower paying” that others cannot serve.

ebbf: Do you see more people stopping, asking themselves what is important and then taking coherent decisions?

Jeff: Yes absolutely.  From Richard Branson and Team B to an increasing number of our friends who have left behind the corporate life. One of the issues we have in this cottage is keeping it warm, we have a wood burning stove 8 tons of wood per year. This can be very expensive. Through a friend who was once a graphic designer but is now a chainsaw sculptor, we were introduced to a tree surgeon. He now delivers to us, what to him is waste material from his labours, but to us is valuable fuel.

I mention this for two reasons. Firstly, we are becoming more involved in bartering – in this case we will take the tree surgeon and his wife to a Chinese Vegetarian restaurant that he particularly likes. With another friend we have exchanged an hour’s consultation for an hour’s drumming lesson.

An important factor in our life and in many more people is looking at value instead of money.

The second reason is that the tree surgeon was a director at an insurance company before he left. He did not like the unethical way that the company was doing business, he told them repeatedly then decided to do what we wanted to do instead.

How do you see the future or work evolving to?

I now have no idea why people travel long distances to sit in an office, even though I did it myself for 25 years.

I have no idea why people start at 9 and finish at 5 every day. Our moods, our productivity, our lives are not shaped that way. We can try to modify our lives to fit but that causes unnecessary stress and wasted effort.

When I was in the corporate world I would be very strict with anyone coming in even one minute past the starting time or not being ready to work at starting time. Now if I had a particularly bad night with my our young daughter not sleeping, I am not effective at 8 am. If I was employing someone now, I would not want them sitting exhausted at 8 am. I would rather that they start at 10 am and are effective.

jeff and the team at two wings partnership

I now wonder how people with a normal working pattern manage to fit in family requirements, calls to the bank, visits from the plumber etc.

We do 30 hours chargeable each week, the rest is business admin, pro-bono work, family admin. I am mud more interested in what has been achieved than in how many hours are spent in the office.

You have three daughters and are about to adopt a fourth child, what would you like your children to achieve in their working life?

Jeff: What I told my oldest daughter was “do what you really enjoy or what makes you really rich”. Thankfully she is now doing what she really enjoys after graduating from Oxford. My second daughter is in her first year at Oxford and is taking the summer to teach English in a village in the mountains of Thailand. This fills me with joy and pride. Our youngest daughter is attending a Waldorf school where the emphasis is on learning and not exams. We are very happy with this approach to education. She will decide what to do with it; going to university if she wants or living in the woods growing her own food.

What I want for my children is … “happy” is not quite the word, I think it is all we talked about before … balance. Not feeling that they have to do anything for anyone else’s reasons, but do what brings them fulfillment.

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