Good Leaders Podcast Episode 10 – Charlie Dorman: ‘You can’t put tenacity into a spreadsheet’

What does it take to lead a pioneering organisation in the new impact economy? In our Good Leaders podcast, founding editor Tim West grills some of those balancing purpose, profit and personal challenges, as they navigate the ups and downs of mission-driven business. This month: Charlie Dorman, director of award-winning social enterprise Connection Crew.

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Founded in 2005, Connection Crew employs people with lived experience of homelessness as events and construction crew – from building stages at festivals to managing sets for TV and film.

Charlie Dorman joined the social enterprise after a career in music – at first as a musician in a band, then in events and stage management, and then a successful 10 years as a record producer. At the time, Connection Crew was still operating as a trading arm of London homelessness charity The Connection at St Martin’s, and had “a lot of energy but a deficit of experience”, Dorman recalls, speaking to Tim West in the latest episode of the Good Leaders podcast. 

Aware of the fierce competition in the events industry, Dorman knew Connection Crew would need to provide top-notch service if it wanted to be successful. With business partner and long-time friend Warren Rogers, he took the helm of the organisation to turn it into a community interest company just after the 2008 financial crisis – “in the worst market conditions in modern history”.

I've always resisted the label of ‘not for profit’, because I just don't think it's very helpful for a business to have that mindset

Despite that, the social enterprise went from strength to strength; Connection Crew was named among the UK’s top 100 social enterprises in the 2023 NatWest SE100 Index. The secret? “Focus on quality, stop getting wrapped up in the social enterprise narrative… and deliver the service.”

“I've always been quite vocal about social enterprises being very sharp, lean and effective businesses,” he says. “I've always resisted the label of ‘not for profit’, because I just don't think it's very helpful for a business to have that mindset.”

But, at the same time, what makes Connection Crew successful is that “the impact bit is not something we do on a Wednesday for two hours, it’s really embedded in day-to-day operations.”

Today, after a bumpy ride during Covid-19 – which the events industry still hasn’t recovered from – Connection Crew is reporting its best financial results ever. Listen to the full episode to hear Dorman talk about the ups and downs of the past 18 years, why the right business partner makes all the difference, and why social investment can be a bit tricky for social enterprises – because “you can’t put tenacity into a spreadsheet”.

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