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3 global leading companies. 3 different purpose journeys.


In June 2023, CEO of SYPartners, US-based consulting firm, sat down with executives of three leading global companies: Ralph Lauren, Prudential Financial, and Danone. In the session, the three purpose-driven leaders share their company's purpose journey and their experience in activating the purpose.


In a series of articles, I hope to share with you insights, key points, and best practices from this valuable conversation.


In this article, we begin by taking a look at the shape of each company's purpose journey through the perspective of defining purpose.


Ralph Lauren's Purpose Journey

Ralph Lauren, an iconic apparel company, was founded 56 years ago. The company had a purpose, but it hadn't been articulated formally. Around six years ago, the leadership team felt the organization has grew to a size where the purpose itself could not propagate effectively throughout the organization organically. As a result, they formally defined and articulated their purpose: to inspire the dream of a better life. As we will see in the next article, Ralph Lauren used this purpose to guide their actions.


Danone's Purpose Journey

For Danone, the food and beverage company founded in 1919, their purpose journey began around 50 years ago. At that time, the then CEO declared Danone had a bigger role in society; their mission was both a commercial and societal one. This declaration became a cornerstone of Danone's culture.


Since then, Danone's purpose has been "reborn" multiple times. In 2022, they went through another re-codification in a process they called "Danone Impact Journey." Their current purpose is: bringing health through food to as many people as possible.


We should note that Danone started out making yogurt to help children with intestinal infections. For Danone, the purpose has always been there since founding although it was implicit. It started taking on a more "explicit" role for the past fifty years where the purpose has been reborn and re-codified over time.


Danone's purpose journey gives us a key insight. Purpose for a company evolves. The essence does not change, but how it is framed and expressed evolves to respond to the business environment.


Prudential’s Purpose Journey

Prudential, one of the largest life insurance and asset management companies in the world, was founded 150 years ago with an innovative product at the time. It introduced life insurance for blue collar workers.


About 6 years ago, the company went through a management transition. During this transition, the leadership team did a "modern codification" of their purpose. What we observe here again is, similar to Danone's case, that the core of the purpose is timeless, but, when necessary, it can be "modernized" so it maintains its relevance.


This "modern codification" enables two things:

  1. It allowed the company to reaffirm their foundations.

  2. It enabled the leadership team to charter a vision and strategy that is rooted in the company's purpose. This is because the "modern codification" process naturally creates a profound understanding of the company's purpose.


Takeaway

What we've seen above are three global companies with different purpose journeys.

  • Ralph Lauren made their purpose explicit because the organization was growing too big.

  • Danone's articulation of purpose involved reiterations showing that purpose can evolve according to the business environment.

  • Prudential re-codified their purpose during a management transition, which enabled them to reflect and reaffirm their core while they develop the vision and strategy.


There are companies that incorporate a new purpose because purpose is the trend. For many, these efforts are likely to be short lived because of a lack of true motivation. The companies above are different. They have demonstrated that there is a compelling reason that prompted a re-articulation of their purpose. The takeaway is as follows.


For companies serious about redefining purpose and embarking on the purpose journey, it is important to answer the question: why now? It is important to be clear why the organization truly needs to redefine their purpose at this moment. Not only does this prove that it is an authentic act, but it also serves as intrinsic motivation needed to ignite and sustain the purpose journey.

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