There are two quotes that define my approach to the business world. The first I’ve said for years, but is still true today: “It’s expensive to be poor.” The second is something Sir Richard Branson told me: “Those in a position to have an impact have a responsibility to do it.”
When I first entered the corporate world, doing good and making money were seen as separate and contradictory threads. Challenging that notion set my career—and life—on a new course. I’ve come to recognize that social purpose must be embedded into the core DNA of a company. The questions Why do we exist as a company and How do we make a difference need to have the same answer.
Building—or re-engineering—a company around a central mission isn’t easy. I’ve found, however, that leaders can overcome this challenge by clearly defining the mission and why it matters, demonstrating how it will inspire and guide your company’s everyday actions and detailing how it will create value and unlock growth opportunities. And when a company executes well with a clearly-defined social purpose, you will find employees more willing to rally around and advocate for your company’s mission, and shareholders and other constituents will accompany you on your journey.
At some point, your values—or, rather, your commitment to your values—are going to be tested. Even if a course of action seems clear, even if your values are showing you the path, are you ready to willingly invite controversy? Are your employees and your brand ready to be a beacon rather than a bystander? If you’ve done the work, if you’ve built the right foundation, then these decisions often end up making themselves. This transforms a challenge into an opportunity. The opportunity to prove to the world that your values aren’t just something written on a wall—that your mission is not opportunistic, it is the North Star. You will be tested. And if you—not only your company, but you—believe that your mission is important, then you will excel.
I believe that companies that have the opportunity to improve the lives of their customers and communities have the responsibility to do so. When you focus solely on valuation and market share, you win some and you lose some. When you focus on the needs of your customers and help them achieve their dreams, you win every time.