adult book business 297755 scaled

Written by Charles Wookey

Published by the CMI, this research from Charlie Ebert of Judge Business School Cambridge, Dr Victoria Hurth of the University of Plymouth, and Prof Jaideep Prabhu of Judge Business School Cambridge draws on research and interviews with leaders from 18 of the biggest UK and international brands, including BT, Unilever and Marks & Spencer, to discover WHY companies are becoming purpose-driven. 

Over the last two or three years, the idea of organisational purpose as being a key to both create better businesses and repair the fractured relationship between business and society has grown. Financial powerhouses like BlackRock have joined calls for companies to adopt purpose, to shape stronger cultures and deliver sustainable success. There’s an increasing body of evidence on the harm that can be done by a myopic focus on maximising shareholder value. Corporate social responsibility – the idea that a business can do whatever it wants within the law so long as it is doing some good somewhere – was an earlier attempt to address these challenges, but it feels increasingly outdated.

A lot of people are talking about the potential of purpose, and a lot remains to be done both to understand what the concept of purpose means and how it works in practice. Through our work, A Blueprint for Better Business has sought to contribute to this conversation and recognise the fundamental importance of this shift.

This report produced by the CMI and authored by, Victoria Hurth, Prof Jaideep Prabhu and Charlie Ebert, is a very helpful contribution to this, giving their own perspective and analysis on a series of in-depth interviews. This white paper aims to help leaders and managers cut through the noise. It combines insights from 18 new in-depth interviews among business pioneers in the field, with analysis from the latest research literature. It gives senior leaders, and indeed managers at all levels, a helping hand in thinking about purpose and what it might mean for their organisation.

What we are dealing with here is an ecosystem problem and a questioning of deep assumptions which continue to shape how businesses behave. We have seen that this movement is changing and maturing within the business community, and we look forward to seeing where it leads. As the interviews conducted during this research demonstrate every organisation is at a different stage, some may have not even started to consider purpose while others may have strategies for developing and integrating it within the organisation. We hope, this research and the author’s insights give confidence that exploring purpose seriously, even if not easy, offers clear, practical benefits.

We’d like to specifically thank interviewees who gave their time for this research at our request.

Participant List

BAM Nuttal – John Hutton (Head of Sustainability)

Brunswick Consulting – Meaghan Ramsey

BT – Richard Spencer (Strategy Director)

Chartered Management Institute – Ann Francke (CEO)

Contexis – John Rosling (Owner)

EasyJet – Paul Moore (Communications and Public Affairs Director)

Flood Re – Brendan McCafferty (CEO)

Unilever – Geoff McDonald (Formerly Unilever’s Global Vice President of HR)

Interserve – Tim Haywood (Group Finance Director)

Marks & Spencer – Mike Barry (Director of Sustainable Business)

Pearson – Amar Kumar (Senior Vice President, Office of the Chief Education Advisor)

PwC – Neil Sherlock (Head of Reputational Strategy) and Ally Sharpe (Director)

Vodafone – Matt Peacock (Group Director Corporate Affairs)

Walgreen Boots Alliance – Richard Ellis (Group Head of CSR)

Click here to download the full report The What, The Why And The How Of Purpose, A ‘need to know’ guide on purpose in business