Five Insights from CEOs at the Third Annual Transformative CEO Summit
Purple Strategies is the thought leadership partner of The CEO Forum Group and Transformative CEO Summit series, featuring CEOs of leading companies discussing creative ways to solve today’s most pressing challenges.
Millennials and Gen Z are increasingly choosing to buy from companies that align with their values, just as employees seek meaning in their professions. These ideas both connect to the idea of companies’ purpose – and they are not new. But the new era of capitalism, in which companies prioritize many stakeholders (and not just shareholders), was on the minds of several top executives and CEOs at The CEO Forum Group’s third Annual Transformative CEO Summit in March.
Their conclusion? Prioritizing their purpose to serve multiple stakeholders in addition to making profits enables companies to survive challenging circumstances and thrive in changing conditions.
In our role as thought leadership and polling partner of the CEO Forum and the Summits, Purple Strategies identified five insights from CEO discussions during the Summit that explain how purpose plays a more vital role than ever in how executives lead their businesses.
1) Purpose is about more than creating a good—it’s about delivering stakeholders a greater good.
In a Summit poll, CEOs universally (97%) agreed that changes are needed to make capitalism work for all stakeholders.
Companies want to find ways to add value to all their stakeholders, including communities, Genpact CEO Tiger Tyagarajan said, adding that this stakeholder mindset attracts employees and adds long-term value to shareholders. Genpact helps global companies undergo transformation.
For shareholders, the primary purpose of a company certainly is profit. But to maintain long-term profitability and build an organization for the future, transformative CEOs maintain that companies must create a mission-driven culture, be empathetic and authentic with their employees, maintain open communication with suppliers, help communities through philanthropic initiatives, and communicate the intangible value of the goods and services they provide to customers.
For Ravi Saligram, CEO of Newell Brands, the company’s purpose isn’t just about manufacturing a new Sharpie color or Yankee Candle scent. It’s about bringing joy, confidence and peace of mind to customers. The purpose of GE Aviation Services is to invent the future of flight, lift people up and bring them home safely, its CEO Russell Stokes said. For business magnate Lynn Tilton, former CEO of MD Helicopters, the military helicopter manufacturing company’s purpose is to serve those who served for the love of country.
2) Purpose unlocks employees’ passion so that they become the company’s “secret sauce.”
When employees feel that they are going to more than a job and that they have a stake in the business, they will perform miracles and create long-term shareholder value. To affect this result, leaders must treat employees like they are the company’s “secret sauce,” Saligram said. Others agree on the need to prioritize employee belonging.
“I’d rather have B players that drive the right culture, the right attitude and the right leadership than a team of A players with their own selfish attitudes,” Xerox CEO Steven Bandrowczak said.
A simple but unifying purpose can galvanize these needle-movers within the company, which in turn turbocharges productivity and innovation.
3) Purpose is the “North Star” that guides leadership through change.
CEOs agree that they need to lean into the company’s “North Star” when external factors force them to change. For example, companies have been grappling with the benefits and drawbacks of artificial intelligence and machine learning. While it allows them to simplify their supply chains and processes, thereby reaching their goals faster, there are potential pitfalls such as losing human connection. When thinking about how to reckon with those tradeoffs, CEOs look to their purpose to guide them.
When leaders face issues, from the COVID-19 pandemic to inflation to the Russia-Ukraine War, companies must rely on their “North Star.”
4) To further the company’s purpose, leaders need to communicate with empathy, transparency and authenticity.
Empathy is understanding how people see the world, not just how they feel. That has widespread effects on how CEOs run their businesses. CEOs must keep this in mind when communicating, for example, the impact technology has on employees in their organizations and communities at large. While technology pushes organizations to operate more efficiently, human relationships keep them running like well-oiled machines.
To that end, leaders must communicate with empathy when explaining not only the purpose and goals of technological changes, but also how those changes will personally affect employees and benefit the team (and not create winners and losers). And because thinking about goals as opposed to thinking about people activates a different part of the brain, leaders must mindfully communicate their vision with understanding.
“CEOs must be real and not appear artificial because people respond to realness, which is underused in a time of crisis,” Dr. Stephen Klasko, former CEO of Jefferson Health, said.
5) Leaders must leave their ivory towers to understand how the public views their purpose.
Purpose weaves through the fabric of an organization, not just in the C-Suite. To understand how purpose is perceived and acted upon within companies, transformative CEOs say leaders need to seek out the view beyond the corner office.
In addition to reviewing numbers and spreadsheets, leaders must walk the halls and get out in communities to fully grasp how their business is doing. This qualitative information will help their businesses better align with their customers’ values and needs.
Often, executives will hear things on the ground that might not show up in reports. CEOs can gather feedback to see if they are fulfilling their purpose, and if there are any discrepancies or omissions, they can alter the company’s course. Xerox, for example, hosts small town halls to understand how they are doing. Bigelow Tea has a State of the Union with employees every three to four months where CEO Cindi Bigelow shares her appreciation for her employees, conveys the importance of community over self, and talks about the company’s success.
A company’s purpose affects how it operates: from hiring and retaining the best talent, to motivating younger employees, to fostering a hustle culture, to propelling through uncertainty. Prioritizing customers, unlocking employees’ passion, maintaining principles, communicating with empathy, and leaning into purpose during times of change will help companies be successful in the new era of stakeholder capitalism.
Explore more from Purple Strategies in the Transformative CEO Summit series: