Purpose Matters in Business

“Lean in to Purpose”  – Jonathan Mildenhall

I was recently at a conference where Jonathan Mildenhall was a key note speaker. For those of you who don’t know Jonathan (and I don’t expect you to), he was previously the Chief Marketing Officer at Coca Cola and is now the Chief Marketing Officer at AirBnB. His marketing pedigree is not the topic of this message, but his passion for building “purpose driven companies” is.

His presentation was fantastic. In fact, as he took us through a journey of his career and some of the hallmark marketing campaigns he has overseen with Coca Cola and AirBnB, you could clearly see the impact that purpose has on those two organizations. And its not that these two companies are charities – far from that. But their commitment to purpose helped drive both to notable growth and brand success. Consider the following elements of Purpose from each of these companies:

• Coca Cola: To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…
• AirBnB: Creating real connections/friendships between likeminded people

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The Meaning of Life

“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”  – Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve always thought Nietzsche was an interesting study. A German (Prussian) philosopher born in the mid 1800s, his writings are both profound and controversial. His beliefs centered around the concept of good and evil, struggle and survival, an assessment of humanity as incomplete, and its need to evolve to a new set of values (as knowledge destabilizes old values). And to be clear, I don’t necessarily agree with all his writings or his beliefs. But taken in parts, his writings can often be very thought provoking.

Such is the case with this quote. I heard it recited by an American veteran recently in a documentary on the causes and outcomes of the Vietnam war. For those of you who are students of history, you know that war was one of tremendous suffering – for all sides involved. And the trauma it left for those involved has taken decades to heal (if at all). But this is not a story on the lessons of Vietnam. Rather, it’s a testament to the profound nature of the words of Nietzsche. Continue reading

Persist and Overcome

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it” – Margaret Thatcher

How does that saying go? “Two steps forward and one step back”, or something like that. If only it were true. Problem is, the adage implies a measure of progress. Two forward, one back – that means you have at least seen a net movement forward of one step, right? For most of us this just isn’t true. “Two steps forward, two steps back” is more appropriate. Or maybe even “One step forward, two steps back”. Either way, we all face this challenge from time to time, where every measure of progress forward seems to be met with setbacks, and we find ourselves back to square one working to regain ground we previously held, then lost.

I recall a humorous story I’ve told before about my time building a global contingent workforce management (otherwise known as MSP) business at TAPFIN. At the time, we had developed a fantastic business model in North America and in key countries in Northern Europe, and the mandate was to expand in to other key markets – in this case, France. The growth of the MSP model was just beginning to take shape, and Europe was the new frontier. We had a base of business in the UK, Belgium, and The Netherlands, but France was by far the largest staffing market in Europe. And we wanted our piece of the pie. Continue reading

Hardship and Duress

“Hardship can turn out to be a great blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Humans don’t mind duress; in fact, they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary or valued for their contribution…”  – Sebastian Junger

A good friend of mine shared this quote with me last week, and for some reason it really struck a cord. Not that I am dealing with more hardship or duress than anyone else. Then again, it seems challenges lurk in every corner and at every turn.

Some of my fondest memories come from times in my youth when such challenges existed. The soccer games we lost against our biggest rivals in our run for state, only after months of grueling practice. The many car wrecks I had (yes, I was a horrible driver), and working two jobs to pay off the damages. Continue reading

A Purposeful Brand

“Authentic brands don’t emerge from marketing cubicles or advertising agencies. They emanate from everything the company does…” – Howard Schultz

I was sharing dinner earlier this week with several of my colleagues, and the conversation turned to the topic of work, motivation, and ambitions. One of the more rewarding aspects of my job is to understand what motivates my fellow team members – and to make sure we honor those elements as we build our business.

“To be honest, I just love helping people find work”, one of our recruiters said. “The beauty of working in staffing is that you get the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life every day”. Prophetic words that spoke volumes about what motivated her behavior.

And I can tell you this statement was a genuine as the day is long. I know this because I saw it in action. Earlier that day we met several of our consultants during a client visit. One of those consultants pulled our recruiter aside to inform her his assignment would be ending prematurely. I wasn’t part of that conversation, but I did witness the follow up. Continue reading

Riding Out the Storm

“A Smooth Sea NEVER made a Skilled Sailor” – English Proverb

“Times of great calamity and confusion have been productive for the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace. The brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm.“ – Charles Caleb Colton

“To reach a port we must set sail – Sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift.”  – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“However bad the storm you are in, there is still sun somewhere over your horizon” – Ken Nutt

I’ve been thinking a lot about storms and turbulent times these days. Figuratively speaking, it seems the warm glow of the sun and light breeze has been replaced with a gathering storm. The building clouds of economic uncertainty are on the horizon. An undercurrent of change is already moving below us and a cold sharp wind is already blowing in our face. Whether its macro challenges or specific ones we face in our private lives, there is no doubt storm winds are blowing.

I used the storm metaphor specifically as I’d like to share a relevant story from my past. I had the fortune of growing up living near the water. Our house was a block away from the bay, and as fate would have it, my step-father owned a boat repair business. That combination meant a childhood spent on the water, and in time boating became my passion. Sailing, skiing, fishing – you name it. I literally worked two part time jobs through high school to fund my boating habit.

My step-father was also smitten by the sea. At times it felt as if he managed the business not only to keep the lights on and support the family, but to allow maximum flexibility for boating. As a result, any time good weather allowed we were on the water. Continue reading

Opportunity or Difficulty – You Decide

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” – Winston Churchill

Those who know me recognize my affinity for Sir Winston Churchill. His leadership, while cantankerous and arguably self-serving, may well be the very reason the allies were victorious during World War II. What’s most interesting about Winston Churchill is to understand the history that forged both his style and his philosophies on leadership. Bear with me as I share highlights of his life and the connection to the quote above.

Born of nobility in Great Britain in the late 1800’s, one could argue he was given all the opportunity necessary for success. Despite this privileged status, he had an interesting and somewhat rocky childhood. Raised largely by his nanny, his interaction with his parents was fairly removed and arguably of limited influence.

Churchill struggled mightily during his formative years. A young, stocky red headed boy (I can relate to that), he spoke with both a stutter and a lisp (something that plagued him most his life). In and out of 3 different schools, Churchill’s early academic record was quite poor. And while excelling in certain subjects (Mathematics, History, and English), he was generally thought of as “a poor student”.  Continue reading

It’s Time to Think of Yourself as a Leader

We’ve made leadership in to something bigger than us. Something beyond us. We’ve taken this title of leader and we treat it as something that one day we are going to deserve. But to give it to ourselves now is a level of arrogance that we are not comfortable with.”  – Drew Dudley

A few weekends ago I was catching up on my ‘white space’ activities, one of which is to watch TED Talks on business, leadership, and innovation. As much as I might think I know about leadership I still spend countless hours researching and gaining insight from others who offer a new and different perspective.

On this particular day I was watching a clip from a speaker named Drew Dudley. In this clip Drew opens his speech with the question “How many of you are completely comfortable calling yourself a leader”? Only a handful of people raise their hands. Perhaps not surprising, but most of those in the audience were uncomfortable recognizing they are leaders in their own right today. And what’s amazing is that the audience for a Ted Talk is generally individuals who are enamored with the topic of leadership. Of all people you would think they would overwhelmingly be ‘leaders’. Continue reading