We interviewed James Riordan, called Jim, who is supporting us in setting up the polypoly Foundation. We are very happy to have »the man, who is asking all the difficult questions«, on board.
Jim, what exactly do you do at polypoly?
I am helping to set-up the polypoly Foundation. This is a lot of work, as it includes getting a statement down what polypoly Foundation’s vision and mission should be, its core operational elements and its impact ambition. We need to decide on how we want to engage with external stake holders and figure out how we can create value through the work of the Foundation.
This set up phase is very exciting as it gives us the opportunity to shape the polypoly Foundation agenda and to harvest lots of different ideas. When we have done so, we can start engaging externally.
How does a typical day in your job look like?
I am faced with a lot of conceptual questions, which I am regularly testing in conversations with the polypoly team. When we have reached an agreement about certain topics, we have to get everything in writing to be able to present our vision to external stakeholders later on. It is important that we make it clear what aspects polypoly Foundation represents. It is kind of like a pitch deck for stakeholders.
How did you get to know polypoly?
Via my informal network, like it is most of the time. I know somebody who is very involved with polypoly and he asked me if I could help with setting up the polypoly Foundation. I met with Thorsten Dittmar and immediately decided to join polypoly.
And what convinced you to join polypoly?
Actually there are two reasons: people and topic. I not only met Thorsten and Laird, but also got to know many of the polypoly team during the last team event in June. I met interesting, knowledgeable and smart people and decided these are people I want to work with. I have reached a point in my life where I find this very important.
As for the topic: I am very interested in the economy, both the real and data economies, and I am an avid Financial Times reader. I see how personal data is harvested and monetised and which security issues arise. I want a better future for my children and grand children. So I want to help to figure out how we can make the solutions that polypoly offer work. I think I can contribute with my experience as a former COO and CFO and 7 years at the World Economic Forum.
We will get back to your experience in a few minutes, because it is very exciting. But first this question: What do you like most about your job?
There is a lot of freedom to innovate and to think broadly. I really enjoy that and I believe that my particular skill set is relevant for polypoly and that I can add value with it. And of course the team, I really like working with this team!
What do you see as the biggest challenge for polypoly?
Three things: Changing the mindset of people, the complex polypoly structure and the headwinds of the data oligarchs.
Changing the mindset of people is really difficult, because humans often do not think of the implications their behavior may have. Today’s data economy is unfortunately highly addictive. It is a huge challenge to get people’s attention. polypoly Foundation has an important role to play here.
The complex structure of polypoly with its three entities (Cooperative, Enterprise and Foundation) will draw lots of operational and collaborative challenges, because all three have to work individually and collectively well.
And, last but not least: as soon as polypoly has a visible enough impact, we will have lots of big data oligarchs against us. This will be very interesting times.
Let us get back to your experience as a COO / CFO and your time at the World Economic Forum. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Of course, happy to. I am a certified accountant and back in my early years I worked with big international companies and lived in multiple European and Asia countries. It was a very exciting time and I learned a lot about different cultures. My Japanese colleagues called me »the man who asks all the difficult questions« and I continued asking during my time as CFO and COO in multi-national companies where I worked for 20 years. In my last commercial role, I worked with smallholder farmers in Africa and Brazil, and beyond the purely buy-sell aspects of the commercial relationships, we initiated innovative programs to stabilise farmers incomes and provide the training and support they needed to earn more money. The experience I gained here brought me to the World Economic Forum where I worked for 7 years. They had the »Grow Africa« public-private-partnership program, which I helped to implement. This public-private model was subsequently extended to climate, bio-diversity, circular economy and other topics. We started with 2-3 million Euros of funding / year and when I left we had about 50 million Euros / year. That was quite an improvement … and a journey (smiles).
After 7 years I decided it was time for a change and started looking for a new project to invest myself in. Luckily, I found polypoly - in my opinion the perfect place to be for »the man who is asking all the difficult questions«.