In his latest article for Harkness Screens the company’s CEO, Mark Ashcroft, discusses corporate and social responsibility. Having worked around the world, gaining a wealth of experience working alongside the world’s brightest business minds, Ashcroft explains why corporate and social responsibility is an important topic to him.
I first came across corporate and social responsibility some 30 years ago now. I was working in Melbourne, Australia, for a company called Applied Chemicals. The company was owned by Ian Hicks, a man who has invested heavily in his local community over the years and has had a major influence on my career.
Ian is a great philanthropist and in efforts to raise money for various multiple sclerosis charities, Ian hosted international cricket games. Of course, this would tie into Australia playing host to some of the world’s biggest cricketing nations, the likes of the West Indies, India and England coming to town. This charity game brought the biggest companies around Australia to Melbourne; they would co-sponsor the event and have hospitality tents around the ground.
Real legends of cricket would be lining up for the sides and although the sport was an important part of the event, more important still was the hope of raising money for charity. It was a finely tuned machine and churned out a tonne of money for those in need of that support and it is Ian’s efforts that have stuck with me throughout my career and encourages me to contribute to society as best I can.
Following my time in Australia I then worked for a company called Sola. We were launching a thin film optical coating that we licenced as the Teflon brand. I was working with Anthony Kelly, who is now with Harkness, a guy called Mike Pitello. Huan Toh and Karen Roberts. We had a new perspective on anti reflective coatings from a product design standpoint.
What was different to other examples in this article is that three years prior to Teflon, we did an ad campaign aimed at opticians with Des Lynam with the slogan; effortless, rather like me. This was in reference to the way that Des makes presenting on TV look so simple and I think he rather liked it too.
That was a massively successful campaign and part of the return we got off that went to charitable organisations. When launching Teflon, we were again looking for a medium to advertise the brand effectively on television and not have to pay out huge amounts. As a big cricket fan, I had heard about the Twenty20 competition being launched by the English Cricket Board.
So, we sponsored the umpires for the very first season and as the lead on Teflon, I was fortunate to present some awards at the final. The association with a global brand like the ECB allows you to give back to society and we helped aid a whole raft of grassroots community cricket programmes and sponsor various pieces of equipment.
Whilst working for Party City and Amscan in the United States, I had further lessons in corporate and social responsibility. Working alongside Jim Harrison and Gerry Rittenburg, it was an education in both sides of business. Jim is one of those businesspeople you marvel at when he is speaking and strategizing the next steps, whilst Gerry has this ability to understand every aspect of society in detail.
I will never forget Gerry taking me to one side, a man that has taken a $20m business to a $2bn business, and saying to me; make sure that you have voice recordings of your parents’ voices, because you will miss their voices more than anything once they are gone. That was the power of his character.
I feel very privileged in that a lot of employees at the company would not have had that exposure, seeing that side of them and it is important to take everything that they instilled in me and live up to their standards.
Working as International President for Gerry and Jim, I was given a huge insight into corporate responsibility. We were launching a range in Europe called Fan Zone, the idea being that fans of universities and colleges could access their team colours and create visual statements.That market had dropped dead in Europe, we were hoping to take the product global and it became apparent that the best way to do this was through sport.
Sports marketing is a huge market, with drinks groups like Heineken and Guinness having a huge share in the market, at the time sponsoring major rugby competitions. Our first adventure into this market was to enter a corporate cricket competition. We scraped through the first round and eventually went on to win the competition, largely aided by some new ‘employees’.
This was to be the foundations of a brand called Pride Passion Party. We went onto work with the Heineken Kinsale 7s rugby competition in Ireland and to support a number of charities. We even sponsored young athletes Josh Beaumont (Sale Sharks) and cricketer Simon Kerrigan (Lancashire and England). We had a talent ID programme and signed them up when they were about 19, gave then the obligatory care packages and took that Fan Zone concept to a much wider audience.
It was brilliant too that we managed to get legendary England goalkeeper Gordon Banks to come down and spend the day with the Amscan employees in Milton Keynes. An absolute gentleman.
Of course, he was a key figure in the 1966 World Cup win and his save of the century against Pele were big reasons that he was a boyhood idol of mine. To be able to be in his company was just inspiring.
That is a perk of the job, but it’s an example of how a guy can use his experiences to inspire other people. It’s great to see that.
As you can probably tell, cricket is my first sport. My second is rugby union. My son is a proficient player in the sport, and I have been able to be surrounded by many of the game’s biggest names. Whilst with Harkness Screens, in 2017 a wholly unique opportunity presented itself. As some may know World Rugby, the Six Nations and the British and Irish Lions are all housed in Dublin, a couple of those offices a five minute stroll from our base in Dublin 2.
It came to my attention that female players that had represented Ireland in the past had not actually received caps for their services. It was shocking in many respects as this country was going to be hosting the World Cup that autumn, the Black Ferns taking home the trophy in the end. Ireland’s rugby union was canvassed by a number of former players, including Rosie Foley, to retrospectively be given caps and in celebration would be playing a legends game against the English.
The players were in search of sponsorship and we took the opportunity to sponsor the shirts. It was an extremely enriching event to have been a part of and it was brilliant to see these pioneers of women’s rugby to have been recognised in such a way. Women’s rugby still has a huge amount of growth to come and I am sure it will reach its potential, with England already having an array of fully professional players.
The sponsoring of shirts is not a new thing to me. Recently, an employee at our Stevenage facility asked me if Harkness would sponsor a girl’s rugby team in London. The current crisis has slowed the process down, but we will find a way of doing that. Supporting your employees and their wider communities is an important part of what we want to do.
Whilst at Sola, we sponsored an array of sporting events and teams thanks to a brand called Optics by Sola. I was working with a guy called Gaetano Sciuto who has subsequently forged a massive career with Fendi and now Giorgio Armani. This branding was thought up by Gaetano and was hugely successful. We’d go on to sponsoring employees’ tennis tournaments, football teams, a baseball team, ice hockey teams. You name it.
Gaetano said to me once that the only way you know that your brand is successful when you see it on a shirt. Better yet, you would be walking through, driving through a street market in the furthest reaches of Asia and see a t-shirt that says, ‘Optics by Sola’ and it is a counterfeit. That’s when you know how successful a brand is. I have spent 25 years keeping an eye out for that t-shirt. Haven’t found it. Yet.
As I mentioned earlier, I have worked with Anthony Kelly before. He came to Harkness with a wealth of knowledge in the North American market, making him the perfect man to be SVP Americas. More recently, Anthony and his wife, Nancy, have been asked to sit on the organising committee on the east coast for Variety, raising money for their children’s charity. I asked Anthony to tell me about the work that he has been doing;
It’s a tremendous privilege to represent Harkness and to serve on the Board of Variety the Children’s Charity of the National Capital Region which raises much-needed funds for children with severe disabilities. Collaborating on running fund-raising events, often with other companies in the movie world, funds are raised that deliver vital equipment and services for mobility that are truly life-changing for children.
Last year we at Harkness were excited to sponsor a Variety Movie-Screening Event near our Headquarters and look forward to supporting similar Variety fund-raisers in Virginia as soon as possible. Meanwhile though, during this Covid-19 crisis, many parents of children with disabilities have been furloughed or laid-off, exacerbating the challenges they face.
To help, our Variety organization has set up a Covid-19 Emergency Grant Fund, to assist these parents and their children through these troubled times. So far, this emergency fund has aided 25 families and I hope more in the future.
We recognize these are extraordinarily difficult times for many people and businesses, but if you anyone or any business can give to this great cause, please do. And as soon as we are all back at the movies, look out for and come and support a Variety Children’s Charity movie fundraiser event, we at Harkness certainly will.
Over a number of years, Harkness’ Tony Dilley and Richard Mitchell have got us involved with a brilliant charity in the UK called MediCinema, a charity that builds, maintains and shows the latest films in medical facilities. Founded in 1996 by Christine Hill MBE, we have been able to provide screens free of charge and this has not just been done in the UK, we have donated a number of screens over the year for worthy causes.
We feel that MediCinema really fits in with what Harkness stands for as an organisation and the values that our employees have. The past three months or so of life have been pretty torrid with Covid-19, but we have to remember that there are always going to be people worse off than ourselves and we want to offer support and we want to help.
Lockdown measures obviously are in place for good reason, but it has created pressures on mental health, people being unable to receive potentially lifesaving treatment and we hope that in some way the power of the movies, the magic that it brings, can help.
Everything that we have done over this pretty grim period of time, has been to help. We have seen plenty of articles on Preetham Daniel, SVP Asia, and it was really him that kickstarted all of the protective equipment that we now offer. He got a call from one of our IT providers who was aware of someone looking for protective equipment that would be used by official Indian authorities.
It is the face shields that have really stolen the hearts of many. The product has received verification from independent laboratories in the United States, and is being sold on the streets of Bangalore, used in airports, hospitals and the military. That is really taking our social responsibility to a new level.
Our corporate responsibility in this scenario is that we want to help bring cinema back. Without fear or favour, with no ulterior motive; we just want cinemas open again. I understand that cinemas won’t want to be paying out for a screen at the moment, but we can still help provide barrier screens, aprons, face shields. All these products offer maximum protection for the movie going public and cinema patrons and their employees.
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