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15 March 2016

Women Series at Charles Russell Speechlys: An evening with Josephine Fairley

To celebrate International Women’s Week Charles Russell Speechlys hosted an evening with Josephine Fairley, the co-founder of the famous ethical chocolate brand, Green & Black's. We invited Jo to discuss the risks and rewards of identifying a niche market and building a successful business. Jo kindly agreed to offer our guests her unique personal insight into the power of branding and why you should never underestimate the intelligence of the consumer.

One woman’s business adventure

From a troublesome school girl who was told by her teacher that her career prospects are bleak, Jo soon developed into a formidable journalist scoring a prestigious accolade of being the UK’s youngest ever women’s magazine editor at the age of 23. Inspired by a close friend and mentor, the late Dame Anita Roddick, Jo embraced the motto: Doing good is good for business.

Jo’s entrepreneurial flair first manifested itself when she came across a bar of dark chocolate made with 70% cocoa on her husband’s desk. The remarkable taste combined with an ethical origin inspired Jo and her husband Craig to launch the world’s first organic chocolate brand called Green & Black’s. The name captures the essence of the enterprise: green symbolises the organic principles and the black represents the intensity of the first sample. The couple travelled to Belize to establish long-term trade links with the local farmers in order to buy best quality cocoa at a fair price as well as to offer the growers association economic security and protection from crop price fluctuations.

Sweet success

Green & Black’s iconic household brand was born in their small flat on Portobello Road. Thanks to Jo’s savvy PR endeavours the brand galvanised the nation resulting in extensive media coverage and a flurry of orders. The Methodist Church (as well as vicars up and down the country) were among the unlikely brand ambassadors, lobbying UK’s leading grocery retailers to stock the product which has gone on to offer children in the Third World countries, such as Belize, a chance of a better future.

Good as Gold

In 1994, the flagship product inspired by a traditional Mayan drink of coca and spice – Maya Gold, became the first-ever chocolate bar to be awarded the Fairtrade Mark by the Fairtrade Foundation UK. The product’s sweeping popularity is rooted in its provenance and the ancient tradition; its commercial success enabled Jo to put a lot back into the Belizean Maya community, establishing a positive cycle: the chocolate company gets great beans, while the farmers and their families are able to enjoy a better quality of life.

22 years since the launch of Maya Gold, 80 percent of Maya village children can now benefit from secondary education. This is the ultimate reward for Jo’s hard work, ethical commitment and entrepreneurial tour de force.

The future’s bright

Maya Gold became a trailblazer inspiring other brands worldwide to embrace the socially responsible trading principles. Subsequently, Green & Black's has picked up awards for entrepreneurial and ethical achievement, such as being voted as one of the coolest food brands in the UK for nine consecutive years by CoolBrands.

Jo Fairley describes herself as an entrepreneur for life. Since selling her breakthrough company to Cadbury’s in 2005, she has launched an organic bakery, a wellbeing centre and The Perfume Society, which also offers an online and print title, The Scented Letter magazine. We anticipate more exciting new ventures from this inspirational business woman who developed the first organic chocolate brand whilst highlighting the social responsibility of food producers.

At Charles Russell Speechlys, we have the pleasure of working with a number of successful, entrepreneurial, private business owners like Jo and know just how much determination and commercial insight is required to build a successful business.

Jo Fairley’s secrets of success:

  • Work hard
  • Do good as you do business
  • Have fun with it
  • Don’t be afraid to network
  • Find a mentor – and when you achieve a certain level of success, pay it forward by mentoring others