The Why of Business

What is the purpose of business? Every time I have a chance to ask this question during a speaking engagement, I get the same answer; To Make Money.

On the surface, this sounds acceptable and even true. It would be true if you were a financial institution. Even financial businesses and institutions all advertise that they help clients achieve peace of mind. None will advertise that they are in business to make money for themselves; that would be suicide. If "making money" was the company's mission statement, no one would want to work for the company — understanding that money is first and everyone and everything is second. It would not be a great place to work.

To say money is not essential would not be true as well. Without it, you will not be in business long. Money, or profits, is essential. It is a sign of a healthy business and results from a sound business model. It is the fuel that can take a business to the next level; however, it should not be a reason for being. One phrase that is becoming popular is "People over Profits," and I would agree and add both internal (employees) and external (customers) people over profits.

If you look at what entrepreneurs will say about their business endeavors provides a glimpse into "the why" of business. Elon Musk has said he needed to create Tesla to show the world you can make an electric car that wasn't a golf cart. He did not say he needed to create Tesla to make boatloads of money. He has also has said, "You need to try to bring your idea to reality even if there is a high chance you will fail."

Entrepreneurs have revealed their reason for starting a business with phrases like, "Someone needed to make it better," "I wanted to create a place I wanted to work when I was an employee," and "It has always been a dream to start this." All of those speak to the underlying motivation not being money. Most entrepreneurs also say if they knew how hard it would be before they started, they might have never started. But they did, and they persevered because when times were tight and looked dark, they didn't stop because there wasn't money rolling in. They kept going because they wanted to see it birthed into the world.

To me, the words I have heard entrepreneurs speak, speak to purpose. There was a drive to see their idea become a reality more than the hardship to make it happen. Behind every company, there is a purpose bigger than money coming from those driving the bus.