Defining purpose and running with it

Nov 29, 2010

Purpose. Now, that can be a difficult concept to nail down. All three panelists at a The Zweig Letter 2010 Hot Firm Conference session in late October had different views about what purpose means and how their firms define it. Purpose, said forum moderator Kit Miyamoto, president and CEO of Miyamoto International, a West Coast 100-person structural, geological, earthquake, and risk engineering services firm, is the why for what you do— what drives your vision. Miyamoto International’s purpose is to “make the world a better place,” as demonstrated by Kit Miyamoto’s intense volunteer work in efforts to rebuild Haiti after January’s devastating quake. “As engineers, we can have so much impact on society,” Miyamoto said. Narrowing down the concept Panelists during the session titled “Instilling Purpose in Your Firm” explored several concepts en route to narrowing down what the purpose of their firms is exactly. Arthur Mabbett, president of Mabbett and Associates (Bedford, MA), an environmental consulting firm, said that “a purpose-driven firm is a firm with a mission.” Mabbett said his firm’s mission is to become a leading provider of integrated environmental, health and safety, and energy consulting and engineering design services to the Veterans Administration. For Rick Powers, president and CEO of BCI Engineers and Scientists, Inc. (Lakeland, FL), a 200-person multi-disciplinary engineering consulting firm, culture is what makes an organization tick. “I think it’s more than purpose. I think it’s culture driven,” he said. “You have to build a culture, and it takes a long way to do that.” Nevertheless, culture is defined by purpose, others argued, bringing the discussion back to its synthesis. “A purpose-driven company is why you are in business,” said Todd Williams, president and CEO of Cardno ENTRIX (Houston, TX), a 615-person environmental consulting firm. “It’s the why, not the what.” Williams said purpose drives the company vision (the “why”), its culture, its business model, business development and marketing, strategic development, and all the other areas of the organization. “The why is where it starts, and you can start to build an organization around that why,” he said. By the way, Cardno ENTRIX’s purpose is solving water issues. “For us, society has defined our purpose,” he said. “We formed the company to respond to the need of that purpose.” Purpose is profitable Miyamoto said that while he “never, never, never put profit and growth in the first line,” running a purpose-driven organization ultimately leads to financial reward. While Miyamoto International’s goal is to “save the world,” Miyamoto said, the company still grows at 20% annually. “If the purpose is right, there’s financial reward,” he said. “Purpose-driven companies have a history of growth,” Williams said, pointing to the example of Apple, a company with a clearly defined “why.” Powers said that purpose-driven organizations make quicker decisions because of a clear mission and vision, and that in turn leads to faster growth. “No time to fool around with people that aren’t in the train,” he said. Purpose creates passion Another explanation for the success of purpose-driven organizations is that purpose creates passion. Miyamoto said non-governmental organizations are the perfect example of purpose driving passion— giving the example of such organizations involved in Haiti’s rebuilding efforts. “You need to have clear lines of sight in your organization,” Williams said. “Your purpose is the foundation of your business plan.” For 12 weekly pages of content like this, subscribe to The Zweig Letter here.

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