Q & A with Andrew Thornton, former owner of Thornton’s Budgens
Following the recent publication of his book ‘Putting the Heart Back into Business: How to place
people, planet and purpose at the core of what you do’, Retail Insider put some questions to Andrew
Thornton, co- founder of Heart in Business and former MD of Thornton’s Budgens.
In a nutshell, can you describe what putting the heart into business is about?
A heart-centered business is one where people are allowed to be authentically themselves by
creating a psychologically safe working environment and aligning all the energy that this creates
behind a purpose that is meaningful for the organisation’s stakeholders. These stakeholders are the
employees, customers, community, suppliers and the planet – this all delivers far superior returns
for the final stakeholder, the shareholders. I believe that businesses need to be more heart (and less
head) centred in order to thrive in today’s world of turmoil; and that this approach is far and away
the best way to address the climate and inequality crises the world faces.
How many businesses work on this basis?
That’s a hard question to answer! My colleagues and I developed this approach over eight years in
Thornton’s Budgens, the award-winning supermarket business I owned in London (and that I sold
last year). We used the store as a laboratory to develop an approach that works in practise, rather
than in theory. Having proven our approach works, we now work with other organisations who are
keen to take this direction and I recently co-authored the book, ‘Putting the heart back into
Business’ with Eudora Pascall about how to implement these practices.
We have defined the 10 components of a heartful business which includes such things as having a
clear purpose, being psychologically safe, having high self awareness and defined ways of being that
supports this. I am sure there are many, many businesses around the world that operate elements of
this, and the opportunity is to fully embrace this approach. We have a measurement tool that allows
us to assess how heartful a business is and then help leaders make the changes needed to be more
Which are the best examples of companies?
I would say the best example was Thornton’s Budgens! Seriously, Patagonia is an extraordinary
organisation that is driven by a very powerful and meaningful purpose and makes an amazing
contribution to society while delivering a great return for its shareholders. In Ireland, Musgrave have
been on a journey to the heart and their former CEO Chris Martin shares more about his journey
with his colleagues in our book.
What are the key obstacles for businesses adopting this approach?
It requires the leaders of the business to have courage, to be vulnerable, to be authentic and to be
humble – these are not leadership characteristics that have traditionally been rewarded in the
stereotypical Alpha Male approach to leadership that has become dominant in the business world. It
also takes extraordinary persistence, as this approach goes against much of what has become the
norm in business.
What will be the key drivers for a wholesale change in the business world?Leaders becoming more vulnerable, authentic and humble!
Which individuals do you think are the biggest advocates for change?
Our experience is that crises tend to cause leaders to examine how they are and what they want to
change – it doesn’t matter whether this is a business or personal crisis. After all, if everything in your
life is going well, why change?
I believe that Covid-19 has been (and still is) a global crisis that caused so many of us to re-consider
how we want to live our lives – people are fed up with working for organisations who seem to have
little purpose beyond making money, they are fed up with commuting, long hours and the seemingly
endless stress of life today. This has led to the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ and most business
leaders report to me that recruitment and retention is one of their biggest challenges – yet the heart
centred organisations I speak to don’t have this issue. I believe that the time for being more heart
centred is now!
What would be the first step you’d recommend companies take?
Being cheeky, I’d recommend reading our book! Before that, if you lead a business, you could ask
yourself some key questions: you need to be really honest in how you answer them! How authentic
can you be at work – can you be fully open, or do you have hold yourself back? How open are you to
receive feedback from colleagues and really really listen to what they have to say? How clear and
unique is your purpose – does it drive everything you do? Do you and your fellow leaders always live
the values you claim for your company? By answering these, you’ll start to get a sense of the areas
you need to focus on.
Retail Insider first featured Andrew and his Thornton’s Budgens business in our Innovative Retailer
column back in September 13, 2012. You can revisit the post here.