Business leaders insist their purpose isn't to make shareholders richer

 
Lucy White
Around a third of business leaders said their purpose was to bring value to customers, while 15 per cent wanted to create value for shareholders EY survey
Around a third of business leaders said their purpose was to bring value to customers, while 15 per cent wanted to create value for shareholders (Source: Getty)

Keen to dispel their profit-hungry reputation, the majority of business leaders in a new survey have insisted their company's main purpose is not to maximise shareholder value.

Instead, 73 per cent said their main mission is to create a “strong corporate purpose” – although the respondents were divided on what exactly this meant.

In the survey, by EY, around a third of business leaders said their raison d'être was to bring value to customers, while just 15 per cent prioritised boosting their share price. A mere 11 per cent wanted to put employees first.

Yet other business leaders appear to class themselves in a more charitable bracket, as 40 per cent wanted to create value for multiple stakeholders or had an “aspirational reason for being”.

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Despite the variations in what “purpose” actually meant, most business leaders did agree on one thing – that they find (jargon-tastic) value in “deeply integrating a broader sense of purpose into their DNA”.

“Our research shows the real advantages companies gain when going on an authentic purpose journey,” trilled Valerie Keller, EY's global leader of the Beacon Institute and global markets team.

“The data also busts the myth of purpose versus profit – 75 per cent of purposeful companies involved in our survey tell us that the integration of purpose creates value in the short-term, as well as over the long run.”

Just over half of respondents said their business had something called an “aspirational and human-centric definition of purpose”, which apparently helped them build customer loyalty. Another 51 per cent reported it preserves brand value and reputation.

Slightly fewer (42 per cent) believed it allowed them to attract and retain staff while 40 per cent credit it with helping them develop new and innovative products.

Although many business leaders surveyed may have cited the so-called aspirational purpose as their key aim rather than creating profit, it seems that the purpose may happen to have that consequence.

Despite all of these benefits, EY found that 66 per cent of business leaders were profoundly rethinking their company's purpose as a result of global uncertainty.

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