At The Intersection of Profit and Purpose: The Audette Exel Story

Brian Roberts interviews Audette Exel, founder and chair of the Adara Group, at the 2017 EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Fo
Brian Roberts interviews Audette Exel, founder and chair of the Adara Group, at the 2017 EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Forum.

When you picture success in the corporate world, Audette Exel’s story is the one you probably visualize. After graduating college she worked as a corporate lawyer in Hong Kong before transitioning to a career in finance, where she became the Chairman of the Bermuda Stock Exchange, the only woman to ever do so.

“My story's been an incredibly lucky one” Audette said.

Yet, right when she reached the heights of her career in corporate finance―living and earning as comfortable as her job title would suggest―she walked away from it. “It was time to really step out and try to be an entrepreneur” she said. But her motivation wasn’t money, having ‘an itch to scratch’ or a feeling like she needed more control of her destiny. Her motives were far more altruistic than that.

“I was a social activist before I was in the financial business” she said. “My story is not really a story of a business woman who decides to give back, it's more a story of an activist who decided she better learn more about business and power to make a change in the world.” As her success in finance demonstrates, she took that learning seriously. But her desire to help the less fortunate was even more serious.

Thus, Adara Group was born. The group is part corporate advisory, part community outreach, with the former supporting the later. Thanks to her banking and financial acumen, the advisory side blossomed. That side of the business “was created for the sole purpose of generating revenue to fund development.”

And, as you can imagine, Audette puts that funding to good use. So far, her work has included everything from building a neonatal intensive care unit in a hospital in Uganda to freeing 136 trafficked children from an orphanage in Nepal, even negotiating with the human traffickers for their release.

She helps thousands of women and young children annually and is showing know signs of slowing down.

“After 19 years of making mistakes as well as having some successes, we find ourselves amongst the world's leading specialists in tertiary level medical care to preterm and low birth weight babies in very remote places. So, preemie babies. We see them as our tiniest clients!” she laughed.

Most recently, Audette and her team began working with residents on the Nepali-Tibetan border, which involved a 25 day walk from the nearest road. “It’s an amazing, beautiful part of the world.. But in huge need because it’s so hard to get up too. It’s hard for government to deliver services, hard for nonprofits to deliver services, so we do the work in remote places where other people find it difficult to go” said Audette.

Although it wasn’t on my initial list of questions, I felt so inspired by her story I had to ask: how can people, namely entrepreneurs, increase their bottom lines while serving the greater good? Here’s what she had to say:

“You know, one of the beautiful things about the last 20 years is watching the change in the way people think about the role of business. I love the Gen-y's and the millennials, the way they're coming out looking at business completely different. And once you imbed purpose in business, once you put your heart together with your head, anything is possible.”

Brian J. Roberts is a writer who’s been featured in Time, Inc., Entrepreneur, USA Today, CNBC, Huffington Post and many more. Over the next few weeks, Brian will be sharing insights from his interviews at the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Forum. Follow along for updates or grab one of his men’s gold chains here.

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