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Is Purpose More Important than Profit?

November 13, 2015, 8:09 PM UTC
Charles Koch
Dana Point, CA - August 3: Charles Koch and Dr. Michael Lomax, president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, speak during an interview with the Washington Post at the Freedom Partners Summit on Monday, August 3, 2015 in Dana Point, CA. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Is purpose more important than profit in business?

That’s been a consistent theme of conversations over the last three days at the EY Strategic Growth Summit in Palm Springs. Leaders of companies big and small say that having a clear purpose is critical to attracting talent, creating a productive workplace, and keeping businesses focused through times of disruptive change.

The theme may sound a bit like the kind of new age political correctness you often hear at conferences rather than something that’s actually put into practice. But it was echoed by CEOs of two iconic American family companies: H. Fisk Johnson of SC Johnson and Charles Koch of Koch Industries.

Johnson, who is the fifth generation of his family to run the company that makes Windex and Ziploc bags, quoted his great-great grandfather, who said, “the good will of the people is the only enduring thing in any business.” And Koch said he has never been guided by “how do I maximize my profit?” but rather “how do I create value for others?”

Koch said if that “if you don’t create value for your customers, they will leave you. And if you don’t create value for employees, they will leave as well.”