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FEATURES/Third Anniversary Special | May 14, 2012 | 7170 views

John Mackey & Raj Sisodia: The Purpose of Business

Great companies have great purposes at their core. Into which of these categories does your company fit in?
John Mackey & Raj Sisodia: The Purpose of Business

John Mackey & Raj Sisodia
The Men:
Mackey, founder of Whole Foods, is a college dropout; fan of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman; vegan, yoga practitioner; made eating organic and natural cool. Sisodia, professor of marketing, Bentley University, infused the academic rigour to Mackey’s ideas on conscious capitalism. The two say that great purposes in business take precedence over all else.

The Oeuvre: An avid blogger, Mackey has been vocal about ideas close to his heart—libertarianism, conscious capitalism and organic food. Sisodia has co-authored several books like The Rule of Three: Surviving and Thriving in Competitive Markets. The duo is writing a book Conscious Capitalism.

X-Factor: Idealism meets pragmatism. The Message: A heroic company takes risks, perseveres in the face of enormous odds, and maintains and deepens its human qualities while doing so.

The Hypothesis
Just as certain humans set great purposes for themselves and eventually achieve greatness, the best companies in the world have great purposes too. They could choose to be good, true, beautiful or heroic.

So What?
You’ve got to figure out what you want your business to be. It could have one, or all of these purposes. Businesses that choose to be good are often found offering exemplary services that make the lives of their customers better. Those that choose truth, seek to improve the quality of people’s lives. For companies that seek to deliver beauty, they pursue perfection that it may eventually delight their customers. And finally, there are the heroic ones that aspire to change the world completely. To do that though, they have to demonstrate unusual moral courage and intent.


Business is no different than any other human endeavour. The same ideals that animate art, science, education, and politics can and should also animate business

There is no “right” purpose for every business. Each business must strive to fulfill the purpose that is within its own collective DNA. There are as many potential purposes as there are enterprises or organisations. Just as certain humans set great purposes for themselves and eventually achieve greatness, we believe that the best companies in the world have great purposes too.

Great purposes are more transcendent than others. They are highly energising and inspiring for all stakeholders. While great purposes have unique expressions at each business, we find it helpful to group them into a set of well-known and timeless categories. Business is no different than any other human endeavour. The same enduring ideals that animate art, science, education, and politics can and should also animate business. These were articulated by Plato as the transcendental ideals of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Humankind has been seeking to create, discover, and express these transcendent ideals for thousands of years. To these, we have added “The Heroic” to complete a framework of higher ideals that we find most great businesses seek to express.

THE GOOD
We define this purpose as “businesses or enterprises that are motivated by service and care of others.” Authentic service is based on genuine empathy with the needs and desires of others. Genuine empathy leads to the development, growth, and expression of love, care and compassion. Great businesses dedicated to The Good raise the emotional intelligence of their organisations so they nourish and encourage love, care, and compassion towards customers, team members, and the larger community.

While any category of business can be motivated by the deeper purpose of service to others, we find that service businesses that rely heavily on the goodwill of their customers are most likely to devote themselves wholeheartedly to this purpose. An excellent example is The Container Store, a US retail chain that sells a broad range of products and services to help customers better organise every aspect of their lives. The company uses the tagline “Get Organised, Be Happy.” Other companies that exemplify this great purpose include Amazon.com, Nordstrom, Jet Blue, Wegmans, Starbucks, Marico and Trader Joe’s.

This article appeared in the Forbes India magazine issue of 25 May, 2012
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