Making a business succeed is hard enough on its own. So now you want entrepreneurs to also add in aspirations of social impact and other niceties that are ancillary and not directly tied to Profit? Nobel laureate Milton Friedman argued that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.” Maximizing profits and shareholder value has become conventional wisdom ever since.
But with the global economy brought to its knees by short-term profit maximization Millennials, who are our future, are getting more and more turned off by companies who focus only on profit. Saddled with student debt, they are unable to find work at twice the rate of those over 30 years old; twice as many live in poverty as in the 70s. The unstable nature of the world they are inheriting – and the knowledge that many of them will not share the opportunities their parents had – has led them towards an existential crisis. In the UK, millennials’ average disposable income is just a third of that of pensioners, with home ownership a distant dream.
As a result, millennials are making explicit their universal hunger and innate desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves. The most socially and environmentally conscious generation ever, they have become humanity’s conscience and self-correcting mechanism. They insist on a purposeful connection with companies they buy from, work for and invest in. They want to know why a business exists, what it does, how it treats people and the planet.
Nine out of ten believe that success should be measured by more than financial performance. For them, the idea of going to work with the singular goal of maximizing profits and shareholder value is pointless and abhorrent. They’re willing to put their money where their mouth is: more than half of millennials have ruled out working for an organization because of its values or standard of conduct. More than half have “chosen not to undertake a task at work because it went against their personal values or ethics”, according to a 2016 Deloitte survey. This is something to sit and take notice of as they’ve surpassed the baby boomer generation in size and are expected to own $41 trillion in transferred wealth.
It would be easy to dismiss this as the naivety of youth, were it not for the fact that many of the world’s most successful, admired and enduring companies are purpose-driven. Contrary to conventional wisdom that purpose is a tax on the bottom line, companies such as Patagonia, Virgin, Zenises, Starbucks and Southwest Airlines are demonstrating that purpose-driven enterprises have an inherent market and profit advantage giving them staying power.
The best entrepreneurs I know are the world’s greatest change agents precisely because they share a belief that the fundamental purpose of business is purpose. They view profit as essential oxygen to a company’s ability to survive and thrive, and the fuel that maximizes their impact. As Kickstarter co-founder and CEO Yancey Strickler puts it, “That’s so obvious, it’s not even a thought. It’s how you find long-term success.”
I also want to have considerable social impact and make money. These two goals are clearly complimentary. Social Impact and Purpose lead to greater value creation and that leads to more profit than trying to maximize profit as an endgame. Profit and purpose are force multipliers that reinforce each other. It’s strange that people see them as a dichotomy. I say, It’s best if you have both. It would never be satisfying to me to build something that was successful in either of those dimensions, but not both. Profit allows you to reinvest in purpose.
Great companies aren’t great just because they make lots of money. They make lots of money precisely because they’re great. Imagine a world that understands that purpose and profit are complementary. Imagine a world that unlocks our creativity because we are working toward a higher purpose that is worthy of our life effort. Imagine a world where businesses compete on being best for the world, and where that is precisely what makes them the best in the world.