BraveGoose founder CJ Green on working at Servest and becoming chair of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership
No two days are the same for CJ Green. She spent the morning of our interview on tasks relating to her new role as chair of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership; the afternoon will be spent working on BraveGoose, the technology-driven human resources company she co-founded and is executive director of.
“I have always really enjoyed being busy,” she says, a trait which must come as a super power considering the number of positions she holds.
The 41-year-old is a married mother-of-three, a trustee for Pepal, and is involved with ThinkHuman and B Lab. While some of her roles require less time than others, it is still quite an undertaking.
“When you do work you enjoy, it does not feel like work, so I find time because I do stuff I feel passionate about,” says CJ, who is also a keen runner.
“I never feel like I don’t have time. I am lucky enough to be involved with some unique organisations and one of them happens to be mine.
“There is no typical day, which absolutely suits me down to the ground,” she adds, “I would go bonkers if there was a typical day!”
CJ succeeded Doug Field in becoming chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in September. It was the latest step in an inspiring career, which began with an interest in how businesses could perform better by ‘maximising people potential’. If ever there was someone suited to HR, it was her, but after graduating from university she was underwhelmed.
“When I went out into the real world I was so disappointed with HR. It was a bit administrative and transactional, it did not really make the change in business I thought it could. I got quickly disillusioned.”
Changing direction, she spent time as a support worker, working with the Prince’s Trust with young people who were transitioning out of prison. But her degree did prove useful, as she returned to HR in a number of roles. She began work with Servest UK when the international organisation had 2,000 people. She worked her way up to chief people officer, and then chief executive – by which time 27,000 people were attached. She feels her HR background gave her an advantage in becoming CEO.
“Coming from a people background, when you are the chief exec, it is still about people,” she says. “It’s about how you can empower and leverage and get the best out of the people working around you.”
At this point, CJ describes facing a decision between continuing in ‘comfortable corporate life’ or going into ‘start-up land’ to pursue her dream. She chose to dream.
CJ was joined on the project by her former Servest colleague Lisa Hamill, and their leap of faith is reflected in the company’s name: BraveGoose.
The small size of the company allows the pair’s values and humour to shine through. A statement on the website reads:
“The complexities of HR negotiations can make your eyeballs rattle. Our CleverGoose HR software tech tool is a pathfinder through the nightmarish labyrinth of real live, in-your face, veins-throbbing-in-the- forehead, HR problems.”
“I am lucky enough that whatever work I do, I do at 100mph and I embrace it.”
The small operation also allows the pair to react to latest trends quickly, and use new technology to push for innovative solutions. It is exactly the smart HR that CJ dreamed of.
“I took the view that I always wanted to do it one day, and now felt like a good time to do it,” she says. “I am lucky enough that whatever work I do, I do at 100mph and I embrace it.”
Was it not quite the change from Servest?
“It has been a massive transition and probably the most exciting thing I have done in my life. There has never been one moment where I have thought I have made the wrong call.”
Born in Dorset, CJ now lives in Diss. She has spent the best part of two decades in East Anglia, a region she is drawn to because of the natural beauty, the sense of community, but also the innovation and opportunity in business.
When stepping out from Servest, one of the first tasks she completed was to begin networking, or rather having ‘interesting conversations with interesting people’. She was struck by the ‘extraordinary work and passion’ in the region, and was inspired to get stuck into the wider community, branching out of her own industry.
This led her to approach the LEP, an organisation which works with businesses, local authority partners, and education institutions to drive enterprise in Norfolk and Suffolk.
After a few more conversations, and guidance from New Anglia LEP chief executive Chris Starkie, she decided to ‘throw her hat into the ring’ for the role of chair. A few months later, the pandemic has meant she has not even met all of the board members – but technology has allowed her to form some knowledge.
Her first thought, confronted by an ‘eclectic mix’ of councils, businesses, and education leaders, was the well-ingrained thought of an HR professional: How does anything get done?
“I was struck by how dedicated they are to actually executing positive economic impact. The team is incredibly strong and there is incredible feedback about their impact in the region and they are well thought of in Whitehall.”
The LEP’s top priorities are currently supporting businesses through the pandemic and equipping young people, a group hit by Covid-19, for employment or further training.
CJ is not someone who sees business as numbers and figures, but more as a collection of individuals pushing for their dreams – as she has been herself. She feels the joined-up approach of the LEP suits her and can be helpful to everyone involved.
“The LEP can’t deliver any of this activity in isolation, it needs to connect businesses, local partnerships, governments and local establishments to bring maximum economic impact.
“That is what is really inspiring, it demonstrates the power and potential of bringing the right people together, I think that is an exciting value to be around and it draws me to the work they do.”