Young people are at the core of Geoff Smith’s work. His Manchester-based management consultancy, Grayce, hires between 20 and 40 graduates every month, currently employs more than 700 people, and is hoping that figure will pass 1,500 in the next two years. Smith says building the capacity to tackle the country’s underutilisation of graduate talent is what spurs him to grow the company.

“Everybody loves to talk about the digital skills gap, but it’s really simple,” he says. “You just have to train these individuals, give them the guardrails, and they’ll learn faster than an AI bot could. Invest in our individuals young and early. Our future as a digital economic power really depends on it.”

Smith talks proudly of the company’s diversity and inclusion: the company is 42 per cent female, a third are Black, Asian or from ethnic minorities, and 8 per cent identify as LGBTQ+. “We have to empower young people who know more about this stuff than a middle-aged white guy like me,” he says.

Others are taking innovative steps to ensure this happens. Over at digital marketing agency Incubeta, Sally Laycock is focused on nurturing talent from within. “You have to get the right people in the right roles playing their A-game,” she says. “One of my strengths is being able to identify rising stars and putting them in the best positions.”

Diversity is a big part of this. Incubeta has been partnering with Brixton Finishing School to support minorities in the digital space.

Laycock has also introduced a recruitment platform designed to remove unconscious bias. “To ensure we don’t hire carbon copies of each other, we have rules like you can’t look a candidate up online, or see their CV,” she says. “You don’t even see people’s names. The interviews are standardised, and very much about the ability to do the job. It’s been quite a shake-up.”

For Anna Sutton, co-founder and CEO of The Data Shed, the idea of breaking down barriers lies at the very core of the company. She too wants to ensure the right people are being brought to the table, for the benefit of the greater good. “In tech and data, you’re building things for people,” she says. “And if your people aren’t representative of the world out there, you end up with the wrong people building the wrong things.”

Sutton launched an academy in March, working with a number of boot camps in and around Leeds – such as Code First Girls and Northcoders – to provide opportunities to people who haven’t taken the university route. Next year, the academy is looking to extend this to ex-servicemen and women.

“As one of the few women in tech, I’m getting into rooms that I wouldn’t if I was a man,” she says. “We need to make sure we’re laying the pathway for the people coming behind us. The more diversity we can attract, the best our outcomes are going to be.”

Making a difference to communities and society

Philanthropy features heavily in The Top 50, with leaders keen to help vulnerable members of society and ‘distribute wealth to the people who really need it’. 

As well as driving diversity within their organisations and industries, many of The LDC Top 50 business leaders have been setting up foundations, making meaningful donations and significant contributions to society.

Nuraz Zamal says he founded iMS Technologies to “build a business that generates enough revenue to distribute wealth to the people who really need it”. He set up the iMS Foundation in 2019 to receive 10 per cent of the company’s earnings every year. It recently funded a well in a remote village in Uganda and now has planning permission to build a school there. “We want to give a better chance to the next generation,” says Zamal.

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I’m Sikh, so I was always taught about the concept of sewa, which is the selfless service of others unconditionally – without seeking any reward or recognition.”

Gush Mundae, Founder

Gush Mundae, founder of Bulletproof, says philanthropic principles were drummed into him at a young age. “I’m Sikh, so I was always taught about the concept of sewa,” he says, “which is the selfless service of others unconditionally – without seeking any reward or recognition.”

Bulletproof gives all its pitch fees to charities. Donations last year totalled £113,000. A portion also goes to Saavan’s Trust, a project set up to build schools in impoverished areas and rural regions around the world, as well as work with various charities, many of which focus on the support of children.

Meanwhile, CEO of technology-enabled care company Appello, Tim Barclay, is driven by a desire to support the most vulnerable in our society. His company installs smart living solutions that harness digital technology to improve the lives of older people who need extra support. “I’m driven by the fact that the elderly and vulnerable have not been well served by technology, because there’s a preconception that they can’t use it,” says Barclay. “Actually, if you build things well, and you make it value-added enough for them, then absolutely elderly people will engage with them.”

A recent survey of residents using Appello’s systems found that 90 per cent felt safer and more than half felt their wellbeing had improved. “It’s inspiring for us as an organisation because you know you’re not just doing me-too work,” he says. “You are actually changing the game for the way people feel about themselves and the world.”