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Purpose Beyond Profit

The best companies have the passion to change the world in some way—even if their mission is unpopular.

David Hieatt saw the power of purpose come to life when he and his wife, Clare, launched Hiut Denim Co. in 2012. The company brought hope (and work) back to his hometown of Cardigan, Wales: Ten years earlier, a jeans company closed its factory there, laying off 400 skilled workers in a town of 4,000 people. Suddenly, these world-class jeans makers had nothing to make, Hieatt says.

Hiut Denim operates from that same factory today. Its workforce is smaller, but the Hieatts have big dreams. “Our aim is to get 400 people their jobs back,” Hieatt says. “Purpose, when it is at its most powerful, serves something much bigger than yourself.” For Hieatt, Hiut Denim was about bringing manufacturing back to his hometown and growing a new business.

As co-founder of The Do Lectures and author of Do Purpose: Why Brands With a Purpose Do Better and Matter More, he believes that every company needs motivation beyond turning a profit. 

Q: Why is it important for companies to have a purpose? 

A: Purpose gives meaning to what we do each day. I recently came across a figure that said 13% of workers are actively engaged in their work—which means 87% are on autopilot. Autopilot does not build a business. 

Most companies don’t know why they are in business. That shows in how much their customers care about them and in the quality of people they attract to come work for them. To get the best people to work for you, you have to show them why they will be doing the work. 

The best companies want to change something. Think of Apple and their old “Think Different” ads. Steve Jobs told you why Apple exists. He appealed to the heart and not the head. It’s why even today, Apple has fans and its rivals have customers

Q: What are the first steps to finding a purpose? 

A: Make a list of all the key people you’ll need to devise your purpose. Block off at least two full days to be together. Ask everyone to write down what they want the company to do and why. This doesn’t have to be a one-liner. It can be a series of statements. But you do need all members of the leadership team. You can’t do this alone.  

The two most important questions to ask are: When it comes to the company, what matters to me? And why does it matter?

Q: How does a company know when it has found its true purpose? 

A: If you’re building a company to make money, you’ll quit when times get tough. But if it deeply matters to you, when times get tough you’ll stick to your beliefs, keep going and stay in business. 

Your true purpose goes beyond numbers. It won’t just be wanting to sell something, make a profit or hit your targets. It will answer questions like: What will make me proud of what I’ve built? How did I find a better way to do something, even if it wasn’t the easy way?

Q: What is an example of a great purpose-driven company?

A: One shining example is the clothing company Patagonia. They are using their business to highlight the environmental impact people have on the planet—even if that loses them customers or sales. 

We need more Patagonias in this world. Purpose-driven companies need strong founders. They must be willing to not be for everybody. They have to be willing to be viewed as crazy, even for decades, until popular opinion catches up with them. That takes a strong set of beliefs; this is where your purpose will serve you well.

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