In business as in education, innovation flows

A clear vision and distinct values can be found in the best businesses and also at Challenge Partners.

During the tenth anniversary celebrations of Challenge Partners, Chris Davidson, the recently elected chair, spoke about becoming a sponsor trustee.

Chris drew parallels with this role and his corporate career at an investment firm, highlighting the universal values shared by promising companies and Challenge Partners.  

In business, Chris works in innovation, an area we have focused on in our post.  We have published a large portion of his speech below, both as a reflection on the work of Challenge Partners and also to grow our understanding of how effective innovation works in industry. 

Chris said: “As to opportunity, when I was first introduced to Challenge Partners five years ago whilst doing some work with the Social Business Trust, it was a genuinely eye-opening moment and I jumped at the chance to get involved. What grabbed me was both the depth of commitment and ambition in the team but also that much of it seemed very familiar to me in my professional capacity. 

“The last 15 years of my career has been spent working at an investment firm, where we back companies for the long-term with the aim of helping them to grow faster and more sustainably. We only make a few investments a year and we have a very rigid set of criteria that we need to see before we are comfortable in committing. They include:

“We might not always use the same language here but these are all defining features of Challenge Partners. Today’s event is testament to all of this – success built on a great model, the dedication of the partners and the guidance of visionary leaders.

 “Back to work. When it comes to how we engage with the companies once we have invested, the essence of what we do is about collaborating with aligned management and sharing the knowledge we have built over many years of investing. We don’t want to start from the beginning every time we encounter an obstacle – we want to leverage the knowledge that is already in the system and bring it to bear with maximum impact. Again, that is Challenge Partners. It is incredibly hard to get it right, needs undimming attention and mutual respect, but it is hugely powerful when it works.

“Five years on and my admiration for what I see continues to grow. Everyone in and around CP is hardwired to seek ways to drive improvement, share and expand. They are relentlessly innovative. And no matter how demanding the operating environment, and it is hard to imagine one more demanding than the past 18 months, the organisation and its members have elevated themselves to prove their value and irrepressibility.

“Again, I spent some time reflecting from my professional perspective on what was done by CP and many of you during this period. Inevitably, most of our investee businesses were hit hard by lockdown and needed to adjust and adapt to what was almost unimagined. The very best of these were decisive, creative and courageous. There were no playbooks to go back to or management consultants who could sketch them a plan.  Instead, they improvised, reworked supply chains, found ways for their employees to work remotely, thought the unthinkable and upended years of business practice so they could stabilise and then rebuild. I saw exactly the same, often even more uplifting, across Challenge Partners. Kate Chhatwal referenced some examples. You will all have many.

“All that is to say that I think I know what good looks like in the world of business and if I can translate that into the world of Challenge Partners then what I see is great. This is a rare creature and I feel very privileged to have the chance to play a small part with CP. We have a lot to do but we are in good health, we have an outstanding team and dedicated partners, a strong sense of purpose and a great platform to build on. I look forward to doing everything I can to support its work in the years ahead.”


We would like to thank Chris for allowing us to use his speech.  We hope you found it as interesting as we did. We will return to the theme of innovation in future postings.

I was reminded only this week that we are not out of the Covid woods yet when a group of schools I have been working with had to cancel my visit due to a rapid increase in cases. 

Take care and stay safe