Conversations about beauty with Konrad Brits of Falcon Coffees

Konrad is the founder and CEO of Falcon Coffees who source green coffee from eighteen producing countries, and work with coffee roasting companies all over the world. Konrad talks about purpose before profit, which means creating a resilient supply chain benefiting the growers over the long term. In this interview Konrad touches upon the theme of the shift in the values of young people who want to buy ethical goods with traceability, who want to work for companies that are purpose driven.


Conversations about Beauty – Konrad Brits from Alan Moore on Vimeo.


As philosopher Emmerson said beauty gets us out of surfaces and into the foundation of things, down into the roots, deep into the DNA, this is my view of the potential of beauty. For me beauty is all about purpose, it is about supply chains, of what we take, what we make and what we waste. As well as the experience of joy that we can bring to the world, through the products and services we create. It is why I am in Lewes today to meet a man called Konrad Britts. Konrad is the CEO and Founder of Falcon Coffees.

A          Konrad, can you tell me a little bit about Falcon Coffees and why you created that company.

K          As a business we are essentially a coffee trading company and what that means is that we source coffee beans in their raw form from farmers around the world, about 20 producing countries, and we ship those coffees and sell those coffees to coffee roasting companies around the world. My history in coffee goes back to 1993, so 25 years. I fell in love with it very quickly, I accidentally landed up in it. Living in Africa it gave me a chance to regularly visit coffee producing regions and very quickly see that the people I was sourcing the product from were extremely poor, came from a very poor country, very poor countries, very poor communities and by and large the companies who were buying the coffee, or who do by the coffee from me are very wealthy companies. So I’ve kind of looked back on my white apartheid background and felt a sense of guilt and regret that I have been guilty of apathy during that period and not really taking notice of peoples oppression during that system. So I felt that in coffee here I was making my living from a group of people who were equally oppressed, this time through poverty, so those two things collided and melded into me thinking there has to be another way to do this. There surely, is a way that we could drive change.

A          It seems to me that this idea that business has a responsibility and that this idea of legacy and being a good ancestor which perhaps even from a South African perspective has more resonance, I don’t know perhaps it is something we have lost in the West, in the idea that how businesses operate.

K          Combining the other piece, the self interest with caring for others, is not there has not really been part of our education in how to conduct ourselves in business whether it is through formal education or in business culture. And yet what I have found is that by speaking internally and externally about a desire beyond profit generation to really positively impact the lives of the people that we work with the smaller farmers it has had a phenomenal impact on the business, nearly 30 people who primarily have approached Falcon, many of the and asked for work because of the dual purpose of that business. That they can work in a job that they love and make a decent living, but that this vocalised intention, no claim, just intention, endeavour exists inside of that business. So that has been very affirming.

A          Do you sense that there is a sense of people coming to a realisation that the way they are being asked to work, the way they are working in the types of organisations that they are in where it is profit at any cost, is causing great anxiety for them.

K          Yes, the average age of people in my office is somewhere between 28 and 30. So a young team and I have been really impressed when they have approached Falcon, or responded to an advert to fill a position, is that I am being interviewed, around our purpose and our intent or the things that we claim on our website how do we make those true and I have loved the fact that those people have brought those values into the conversation. There is a generational recognition that the way that our generation has behaved is not sustainable, it continues to not be sustainable. While they are being drawn into the same roadmap to happiness of having to pay your way and be aspirational it has come, it has other dimensions to it, and these dimensions are, I think we have spoken about that before, global citizenship is what is our responsibility, how are we behaving as a business in terms of our global responsibility to the people and resources that are affected by our behaviour. So I think it is really refreshing.

A          I am reminded of this really lovely African proverb, which is there are two hungers in the world the greater hunger and the lesser hunger. The lesser hunger is actually having a roof over my head and enough food to feed myself and my family, the greater hunger is why am I here and what role do I serve. I bring that up because in a sense what you are describing to me is people actually saying we need meaning in the work that we do that creates values for us in ways that is beyond just seeing how much money I am being paid on a monthly basis.

K          The quality of people that you draw and hold as their loyalty to business and brand is something far greater than people who are simply there for the salary cheque. Your ability to survive social media scrutiny when you build a comets tail of endeavour. I am not talking about collecting prizes and getting certifications and having plaques on the wall, just the everyday transactional executive when the culture of your business is positive intent it is very, very good for business.

A          You also talk about transparency and traceability which is something which is now becoming something which is a fundamental need of people that buy products and services.

K          Yes. Sustainability has become a very overused and diluted word and it has been treated as a destination. You can go through a checklist and tick enough boxes and you are a sustainable business and I always think that it is more like treading water. It requires constant activity because we like in a dynamic environment and things are changing all the time from the weather to people, to the economy, to the availability of resources. When I look at the world of sustainability and look at all the conversations that are taking place, certainly in coffee, the very first building block that is common to any initiative is traceability and that is really exciting because traceability is about the point of origin of that resource and in coffee that traceability is about the people who grow the coffee, the people as stewards of the land – the farmers. This drive for traceability is what is de-commoditising coffee it is driving the de-commoditisation of coffee as an agricultural product with the bulk of them very much treated as commodities and without the traceability you can’t drive impact, if you don’t know where precisely your product is coming from you can’t really interconnect with those people as stewards of the land and resources.

A          Funnily enough I was talking to a lady called Geanne van Arkel, who is the head of sustainable development at a company called Interface, which is a company that makes carpet tiles. Ray Anderson, their founder, had this idea many years ago that they would be a sustainable business by 2020, but when I met Geanne recently she said we have changed the mountain. We are now a restorative business and I think what you have just been describing is also the practice of how one becomes a restorative business and it brings me back to this idea which is about beauty being foundational to life, beauty is about life being restorative, life being fertile. We were talking about having children and saying you wouldn’t want to bring a child into this world unless you were an optimist and of course therefore you have a desire to want to see these things grow.

K          Yes, I think beauty is the antidote to anxiety. We were talking about anxiety and anxiety and depression are probably the two greatest sicknesses of developed society and beauty and being involved in the creation of beauty through your work, no matter what it may be, is good for yourself esteem it is good for the larger hunger, your sense of purpose, so to be able to frame that in your life in a sincere and truthful way and it doesn’t need to be enormous, everyone should endeavour to change the world, but not only in the Calvinist view of taking responsibility, but about really enjoying what you do and thinking about how people will enjoy it.

A          Well, yes because it should be. It is important to make that point which is beauty is as much as being joyful and having experience in the world which delivers that as well as this idea, as you say, about being Calvinist, about being earnest. Konrad, thank you very much.

K          Thank you very much.

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