Purpose Before Profit

Beginning with The End in Mind

Back in 1978, a twenty-five year old college dropout by the name of John Mackey and a twenty-one year old Rene Lawson Hardy scraped enough capital together to open a small natural foods store in Austin, Texas. During their first year, they were evicted from their apartment and forced to live temporarily in their store. But they had a vision of what was to come and they hung on! By 1980, through a merger with another natural food store, the two opened up the very first Whole Foods Market store, with 10,500 square feet and nineteen employees. They did not know it at the time, but they had become the largest of their kind in just two short years.

By the mid-eighties, this small company had grown significantly. Through their dedication to the vision, which continued to yield some discomforts, they continued moving ahead. This relentless ability to demonstrate the discipline necessary to manage well-reasoned, measured commitments and sticking to them, led to their continued growth. This mindset would eventually lead them to building new stores from the ground up all across the country. By 2006, another twenty years later, Whole Foods Market would have more than six and a half billion in sales, no small feat for any startup.

It can be said that Whole Foods began with the end in mind. John Mackey’s vision was to move corporations to refocus on purpose instead of profit. This was his purpose, providing his customers with a reliable product, knowing that if he did, the profits would come. Regardless of where we stand with Whole Foods as a company, it is difficult to challenge that statement.

When any business focuses on purpose first and profit second, there is a significant chance that the business will thrive tomorrow. But how does a company thrive long term? Companies looking to make it through tomorrow and into their long-term vision must possess three important practices – Fanatic Discipline, Productive Paranoia and Empirical Creativity.

These three practices, illustrated in Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice, which studied more than 20,000 companies, to determine what made them great, Collins focuses on companies that started from a position of vulnerability to became true success stories, some of which many of us know today. A few of them are Southwest Airlines, Stryker, IBM, Bio-Met & Progressive Insurance. Each of the companies found to have succeeded in this climb to success [called 10 X’ers], by putting purpose first and profits second. They did so while practicing Fanatic Discipline, Productive Paranoia and Empirical Creativity throughout.

Today, be encouraged to keep in mind that a customer has their own vision and purpose unique to them. Secondly, so does the competition – ours and theirs.

The customer has a need directly related to a purpose. Finding this purpose and focusing our energy there, while adhering to the three practices mentioned, in all we do daily, there will be a much greater return on both the tangible and intrinsic benefits generated through the relationship.


David Boerema, Transportation Consultant