Kimberley Abbott, founder of Vested Impact, on how to lead with integrity

·5-min read
Photo credit: Oliver Holms
Photo credit: Oliver Holms

"I wrote on my wall one day: what is holding us back from solving the world's biggest problems?" said Kimberley Abbott, on stage at the Bazaar At Work Summit 2021."I wasn't naive enough to think I could solve them all, but I thought: there's something I can do. I picked a problem so important that I thought; even if it fails, the world will be better for having tried."

Abbott is the definition of an entrepreneur who blends business savvy and engineering know-how with real ethical intent. Solving the worlds biggest problems has, from her early start-ups and even on-campus initiatives as a student, been at the heart of everything she does.

Now, she is the CEO and founder of Vested Impact, a ground-breaking FinTech start-up with a mission to 'redefine millionaire to be a person who impact millions of lives'. Her algorithm enables people to make decisions on where to invest their money based where it makes the best impact on society, and her data is informed by her role as an expert consultant for the United Nations. It is therefore unsurprising that, for her work at Vested Impact, she has just won the inaugural UBS Female Founder award.

Here, she shares with us what she has learnt from her years of leadership.

The three most important qualities for a good leader are…

"Vision, empathy and humility. A good leader needs to have a vision and be passionate to inspire, but have the humility to admit when they are wrong, and the authenticity and empathy to create that space for the team."

My personal strength as a leader is…

"Of all the things that have worked for me and contributed to my successes thus far, integrity is the biggest one. And leading a company focused on impact means my integrity defines the entire company, not just me as a leader or a person."

The biggest priority for my business right now is…

"I say all the time at Vested that: 'Money doesn’t change the World. The people who spend it do.' So for me, scaling our customers and fundraising for investment are the key priorities, because the more people that use Vested to allocate financial contributions towards companies that are best contributing to helping the world; the greatest chance the world has to solve the problems that matter most."

The economic outlook may be uncertain, but I’m mitigating risk by…

"Being flexible and adaptable. The vision doesn’t change, but how we get there might need to, and when things are uncertain there is often a tendency to hyper focus on what we know, but actually I think being more open minded and aware helps identify risks, and opportunities, that can appear where we least expect."

Photo credit: Oliver Holms
Photo credit: Oliver Holms

I keep my team motivated by…

"Making sure they always feel connected to why Vested exists and the change we are creating. The benefit of running an impact-driven business is most people feel like the work they do matters, but impact is a long journey, and what is harder is for them to see how the little tasks everyday contribute to that bigger impact. So I work hard to help them understand how their everyday contributions are what will help Vested, and them, achieve any of the impact."

The hardest decision I’ve had to make as a leader was…

"When I was 21, I founded a social enterprise in India and after running that for three years I had to make the decision to step-away and hand it over to be merged into another organisation. It was absolutely the right decision, and actually one I should have made sooner. But, just because it was right didn’t make it easy, and I had to reconcile that it was ultimately about making the right decision to ensure the impact of the organisation; and that walking away isn’t always a failure; in fact sometimes it’s the most courageous thing we can do."

The worst mistake I’ve ever made as a leader (and the lessons I learnt from it)

"Almost all major mistakes I’ve made have been because I didn’t say ‘No’ when the answer was no, and most often because I usually tried to avoid difficult conversations. I’ve learnt saying no to the wrong things is as important as saying yes to the right ones, and as a leader it’s literally your job to not shy away and have hard conversations, and you need to have them before they become harder."

An effective leader will always…

"Listen. The best leaders I know are incredible listeners – they listen to their customers, their team and their own instinct."

An effective leader will never…

"Think they know it all. Being a leader is a never-ending lesson in humility. If you are an effective CEO, you end up hiring people smarter than you are in every function. You also end up reporting to a board smarter than you are, filled with people who have been there before, and finally, you end up serving consumers who are way smarter than you in knowing exactly what they want. But I’ve learnt an effective leader will recognise and utilise the brilliance around them to get to the best solutions."

My role model for leadership is…

"I have been so incredibly fortunate to have had amazing mentors and leaders around me most of my life who have all been amazing role models and influences. But the common thing in all the role models I am always inspired by is their authenticity and ‘humanness’ – it’s not their titles or accolades that inspire me, but their passion and drive, the way they handle tough situations, and how the teat themselves and others."

The one piece of advice I’d give to a new leader is…

"Your title doesn’t earn you respect, your actions do. And the only ‘qualification’ that really matters is your motivation, your humility to listen to others and learn and adapt, and your confidence to back yourself and those around you."

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