Modern companies need a purpose. Execs share advice

Consumers want the companies they support to have a purpose; employees want the companies they work for to have a purpose. 

But defining what your company stands for can be complicated. Executives from Deloitte, Google, Pfizer, Estée Lauder, and EeroQ shared their advice during a panel discussion on Tuesday at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. 

Pfizer employees rose to the occasion

Angela Hwang, Pfizer’s chief commercial officer and president of the global biopharmaceuticals business, began by explaining that a company’s purpose gives its employees the motivation and energy to do impossible things, and she’s clearly speaking from experience given her company’s role in developing its COVID-19 vaccine in the midst of the pandemic.  

“When you think about an industry like the pharmaceutical industry, where our entire reason to be in this is about bringing breakthroughs that can change patient’s lives—that actually is our purpose, it’s easy to wake up every single day and say what am I doing?” Hwang said. “It’s so incredibly powerful [to] have a very clear sense of your objectives.” 

Pfizer’s purpose, and purpose-driven strategies, were set in place before it really had to rise to the occasion, but when it came time, its employees were ready. Her overarching message seems to be: give people a reason to want to fulfill the company’s purpose through meaningful work.

Hwang also stressed that a company’s purpose and philosophy should be enduring, despite the fact that we live in an ever-evolving society. What should change, or evolve, is a company’s strategies, and how it goes about fulfilling its purpose.  

Google’s singular mission

Google’s mission is to make all of the world’s information universally accessible and useful, Lisa Gevelber, founder of Grow with Google and chief marketing officer of Google, explained. That means ensuring that the opportunities created by technology are available to everyone. 

“We had a single minded mission, which was around making economic security accessible to everyone,” Gevelber said, of the purpose behind Grow with Google. In just two years, she said, they’ve helped more than 600,000 people, with their training and certification program, move up from low-wage jobs—a product of “single minded focus on this purpose.” 

Having a purpose really became crucial a few years ago, Lara Abrash, Deloitte’s board chair, explained—and that’s when younger, Gen Z talent decided they wanted to work for a company that shares their values. Still, when you think about purpose, she said, it can’t just be a broad vision.

“You really have to think about where do I want to go, but [also] how do I bring all these constituents along the way?” Abrash said. 

Estée Lauder builds brand identity

Estée Lauder’s purpose started with Jane Lauder’s grandmother, who founded the company in 1946. 

Lauder, now the company’s executive vice president of enterprise marketing and chief data officer, explained that the purpose is to put the power of possibility in the palm of every hand. 

But, because it’s a company of brands, each brand has its own purpose, consumer, and brand DNA. 

MAC is all about diversity and inclusivity, she said, while Aveda is very climate and environment-focused. 

But the way that Estée Lauder engages all its brands is through the purpose of their parent company, Lauder said. 

As for Faye Wattleton, co-founder and executive vice president of EeroQ, she founded her company knowing that its technology could engage with every aspect of society. 

“We are on the precipice, on the forefront of changing humanity as we know it through the power of quantum computing, not as an extension of classic computing, but a new science,” Wattleton said. In her view, purpose means having a big vision.

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