Name: Jeff Denby
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
Fun Fact About Yourself: I am undefeated at Scrabble.
Business School Degree Program: Full-time MBA Program, Berkeley Haas
1. What do you do, and how do you impact sustainability through your work?
I’m the co-founder and co-CEO of The Renewal Workshop (TRW). TRW is the leading provider of circular solutions for apparel and home textile brands. We offer brands white-labeled resale solutions managing the technology and operations behind the scenes for brands like The North Face and Tommy Hilfiger. In our facilities in both Portland, Oregon and Amsterdam, Netherlands, we restore damaged and returned product to a like-new condition, turning a waste stream into a revenue stream, allowing the brand to compete in the resale marketplace. We operate a zero-waste system and measure the positive environmental impact of product life extension for everything we do.
2. What does World Earth Day mean to you?
It’s an opportunity for us to highlight the impact of the work we do. Even as a mission driven company we are most often caught up in operations and margins and revenues, but Earth Day allows us to pause and acknowledge the great impact our team has accomplished over the past year. We also get to support our brands as they highlight how they are transitioning their businesses from linear to circular models.
3. What is your top tip for living a more sustainable life?
Buy nothing new! There are so many great options for buying refurbished or renewed or resale products in almost all consumer categories. Quick searches on google will turn up more options than ever before.
4. How has your business school experience helped your career in this area?
I came from the world of design and manufacturing and showed up at Haas never having managed a P&L before. My experience at Haas gave me the skills to understand finance, pricing, and venture deals and these new skills were all put to good use as I became the founder of multiple start-ups. More than anything though, the Haas network has been the most invaluable take-away. My classmates are lifelong sources of support — they are my connectors, investors, customers, mentors, and advisors. I truly believe that I would not be where I am today if it were not for Haas by my side.
5. What is the biggest/most important lesson you have learned during your studies?
Take the course on the subject that you are not good at! I hated accounting and I’m still terrible at it but those courses from my MBA allowed me to have intelligent conversations about the topic. The MBA is an opportunity to learn about a wide variety of topics that you may face in your career. I went into entrepreneurship pursuing a passion for a field but found myself needing to understand finance, legal, accounting, HR, pricing, and a host of other topics in a way I was not expecting. Use the time to develop a focus for your career but also gather knowledge to manage conversations with stakeholders across many disciplines.
6. Where do you see yourself in five years?
I think I’ve experienced everything you possibly can when it comes to start-ups and most of it has been lessons learned from mistakes. I’ve been deep in the trenches of fundraising, operations, investor relations, team-building, communications, and led an international business through the COVID crisis. I think entrepreneurship is incredibly hard and takes a toll on founders that is rarely well supported. I’d like to be in a role focused on coaching founders through the mental and emotional challenges of growing their businesses. (And in between that, tending to the grapes on my farm in Sonoma County…)
7. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the planet?
We are going through a crisis that has literally changed the course of human history. Not a single person’s life on planet Earth has been unaffected by the COVID crisis. My hope is that investors take this opportunity to assess the most effective use for the enormous amount of capital available for investment. I want investors of all stripes to channel their funding to ideas that actually address the challenges that we face today. There are thousands of entrepreneurs with world-changing ideas that need capital, mentorship, and patience and my hope for the future of the planet is that those entrepreneurs get the resources they need to make it happen.