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Purpose and Profit

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Member Reviews

I tried to get through this book, it has a lot of great information, but just couldn’t. May be helpful for someone starting or running a business
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Sorry, I really wanted to like this book. I really wanted to finish it and think to myself, "That was really enlightening and informative".

Unfortunately I found it tedious and facile, flimsy. Lazy even. At times I felt as if I was being spoken to as a four-year-old. This important topic deserves a lot better. Simply proferring one or two examples to establish proof of a hypothesis left me longing for the last page of this insufferable ramble.. 

One more thing. Are authors of these types of business books contractually obliged to mention that they teach at Harvard every few pages?
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Interesting book that highlights that capitalism can be more involved than being purely about just profit.
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Is it possible for companies to work towards a purpose of environmental, social, or civic good while also making a profit? And if so, what are the roles in bringing about a shift towards purpose for those outside the executive level—staff, consumers, and investors? These are the questions Harvard Business School professor George Serafeim sets out to answer in Purpose & Profit. Drawing on his own research and those of his colleagues over the past decade and change, Serafeim illustrates a rapid shift in the corporate mindset while also emphasizing the importance of skillful and gradual execution for individual companies and highlighting some of the failures.

As someone with a non-profit background, I have a somewhat different lens than the typical reader. Rather than wondering “is it possible to profit while doing good?” I came into this book more interested in “is it possible to do good while focusing on profit?” While the rapid shifts Serafeim describes are encouraging, I wouldn’t stay this book shifted my mindset on the fundamental evils of capitalism. However, I do think the concepts he sets forth are important for the system we’re currently stuck in, and some would transfer cleanly to a different economic model (one, for example, with depreciating currency). For the more typical reader, this book lays out a convincing argument and is also imminently practical.

Serafeim is critical of planned economies, having grown up in Greece, but also admits that capitalism as it existed in the 90s and early 2000s proves that many of the criticisms of increased regulation also apply to free markets. This openness to criticizing some of the dogma of profitability is a refreshing perspective from someone in the business world, and I would certainly recommend this book to those who are skeptical about the interrelation of doing good and making money.

Personally, I was most interested in some of the ideas for investors, including the concept of impact-weighted accounting that Serafeim co-created. This initiative aims to elevate companies’ impact reporting to the point that environmental, social, and governance impact is considered just as important as risk and return in making business decisions. “The impact-weighted accounts movement insists that we need to redefine as a society what success means, and in fact what profit means,” Serafeim explains. When companies use an impact-weighted metric, they’re stating the value of the company in dollar terms with an adjustment based that takes into account value contributed to society (or harm caused).  

Given our current state of collective crisis, this kind of reporting seems particularly crucial, and if governments mandate it there might be a chance for a turnaround such as what Charles Eisenstein describes in Sacred Economics, where companies are motivated by their bottom line to repair the planet and minimize harm caused. This also seems like a pipe-dream, but Serafeim’s survey of the landscape from 2008 to the 2021 shows that even our current limited metrics represent a very rapid shift from an attitude of social good being completely irrelevant to business to one where companies at least make an effort to convince the public that they’re doing good work, and so a similar leap ahead might indeed be possible. He also focuses on the role of institutional investors such as pension plans, and how these might be a driving force for change.

Obviously aligning environmental incentives with financial ones is a good thing, and this approach is a practical one that acknowledges corporate focus on the bottom line. While I personally question whether valuable contributions can always be reduced to a dollar value, it’s a step in the right direction that speaks the corporate language. 

Serafeim suggests in this book that folks in all sorts of roles can influence businesses, and provides recommendations for staff, investors, and consumers as well as leaders, but concrete information for leaders is probably the most valuable. Executives who are skeptical about sustainability or who want to “do good” but aren’t sure how, exactly, would benefit most from the book, as would students and more junior employees with executive aspirations. Serafeim doesn’t take an overly idealistic approach, and is honest about some of the challenges and companies that have not succeeded, as well as those who have, so those in decision-making roles will find his advice practical to implement.
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Many small business owners desire to create business that is aligned with their purpose. I think it’s very often a driving force for women who want to start a business. This books is a good reference to prove how to make it happen. The book itself was a little bit dry but I enjoyed the topic.
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Serafeim shares years of experience studying a relatively new (to the mainstream) area within business research: environmental, social, and governance (ESG). Serafeim describes the rapid increase in interest in this area, and how businesses who focus on this area find more success than those who don’t, assuming they follow particular steps or strategies outlined in the book. Serafeim’s passion for ESG and insight as a pioneer researcher of this concept are relevant in the text.
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Touches heavily on the power of purpose within the world and specifically the business industry. I would recommend for those looking to make an impact.
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I loved it. There are a million things I can say, but the one thing that stands out for me… this is the first non-fiction book that made me cry 😊  
Not only is it wonderful to see how companies around the world are standing up for their employees, their countries, and the environment but the way Serafeim allows the ‘everyman’ businessperson to learn the secrets to achieve the same – amazing.
The book is easy to read, and the information is presented in a way that makes it not only actionable, but almost imperative to take those instructions to heart. 
And why wouldn’t I if the outcome is purpose AND profit?
This is a game-changer for anyone who is serious about building better business and I would HIGHLY recommend this book!
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Purpose + Profit, How a business can lift up the world by Georg Serafeim is divided into two chapters: one, the alignment: creating opportunity for greater corporate purpose, and, two, execution: how to implement purpose-driven initiatives. 

The book follows a red path leading the reader through the why, what and how of putting purpose at the core of a corporate strategy. The idea is to convince the reader that purpose and profit could coexist and that corporates who fail to put purpose at the core of the strategies may fail in the long run. 

Purpose has long been in discussion at enterprises making it appear as if creating an impact on society fulfils the idea, such as corporate responsibility activities or donations. Serafeim, however, takes the topic further to the compelling ESG issues (environmental, social, and governance issues) that enterprises will have to comply with in the future. 

What I like is that the read is backed by more than fifty research papers and field studies from reputable professors, which makes the urgency for ESG standards tangible. 

A great example of leaders who infuse purpose into everything the enterprise does is for instance Nadella at Microsoft, who follows one goal strictly, which is to enable people to improve lives through technology. He is a forerunner by advocating for cloud computing on the innovation side and mixing race and gender on the talent side to foster diversity. 
Many companies have a great set of values defined on their webpages, however, they fail to walk the talk. 

We are witnessing a value shift from physical capital to human relationships, which means that companies can no longer afford to ignore the human factor. Serafeim emphasises this element with various examples that showcase some company scandals (harassment, bribery, discrimination etc.) in this matter and their diminishing success in the market therefore. 

Purpose + Profit is one the best books I have read in the last years around implementing purpose in corporate environments. I feel it is an impetus to turn good behaviour into a competitive advantage in the market.
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Prior to starting my own business, I spent 6.5 years in corporate communications for a Fortune 500 financial services company, mainly charged with their headquarters region Corporate Social Responsibility PR. I read this book both through the lens of someone who had worked on the inside of a major corporation investing in purpose-driven activities and organizations as well as someone who wants to leverage my own entrepreneurship for philanthropic outcomes as well as personal livelihood. Firstly, I applaud Serafeim's tackling of the subject matter to make the case for the business world to do good in the world. Furthermore, a traditional C Suite will appreciate the research- and data-driven approach that underlies the theories presented here. It's a sound addition to the increasing number of books in this niche. For me, however, the book was too pedantic. It lacks the spark and visionary feel for a book about how to "life up the world." This is where academia often does a disservice to reading that should be equally inspirational. The additional resources provided are a bit thin on diversity as well. I'd recommend this book for someone needing deep research to build a case or understand investor trends, but those also seeking something more inspiring, books by founders like "Start Something That Matters," "Let My People Go Surfing," and "Do the KIND Thing" provide a more aspirational, entrepreneurial read.
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My MBA was focused on "doing good while doing well" and this book accurately and fairly succinctly summarizes the key points of such an education and presents it in such a manner that many businesspeople and entrepreneurs will find approachable and thought-provoking. Of course, this is just one book covering a wide variety of topics, but I do believe that those who are truly interested in finding ways to do good while doing well in their business ventures will find this to be a useful foray into the subject matter and will encourage further research on the topic. 

In addition to the sources in the endnotes, the book offers a bibliography in the back for further reading for those who are truly invested in learning more. My only gripe is that George Serafeim has written or co-authored every single one of them with the exception of only one title. Surely there are other worthy sources he could recommend (and there are).
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What I appreciate more about this book is that the author doesn't limit it to the diagnosis of the situation. He provides evidence and examples of companies that have to assume the challenge of improving their impact on society. Not only in terms of shareholders' profits but also regarding ESG (Environmental, social, and governance issues), improving the treatment of their employees and integrity.
Beyond that, Serafeim provides a strategy, a guide to start the process to add purpose to the profit goal, and the arguments to convince other stakeholders to join the effort. 
It's a book written to be slowly read. It requires analysis and deepening of business strategy and growth. 
The six archetypes exposed demonstrate how you can make money and be good with the planet and humanity at the same time. And even be more profitable because of it. 
Finally, it's not a CEO issue, as the author says leadership matters at every level. It requires an environment open for change with a strong corporate purpose to endure the process. 

Extra comments:
Page 158 in the title is missing an E. Executive compensation and beyond.
In Kindle the format is not working. It's not friendly for the reader.
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The title is a great indication of the focus of the book. You can have a Purpose AND profit and the author includes much evidence to support this conclusion. In addition, leadership has to care enough to make the change; within themselves, their leadership, their choice of investors and so on.

Essentially, the excuse that having a purpose for the business will result in lower profits, and so is not the way to go into the future, is debunked. You can make the world a better place, and you can make a profit doing so.! Such a positive and encouraging message for all of us. 

Some of the detail was just too much for me, and irrelevant to the businesses I am involved with and advise, but for others, I am sure that this content and the many and detailed examples, actions and references will be both reassuring and point them in the right direction, as well as help them move forward.

My thanks to Netgalley, HarperCollins Leadership and the author for my advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review
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We are living in the world where purpose and mission is level above the choice, where consumers follow and support organizations who deliver value not only to them but also with a higher mission in top. This book teaches and explains that success in any business is not connected solely to profits but to the impact that this business makes on society and ecology.
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