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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Butler-Madden

Why purpose-led businesses are outperforming other companies

This article originally featured in Smart Company. Read the original article here...

Patagonia, Tesla, Zambrero, Intrepid Travel, Outland Denim, Future Super, felix mobile, Zero Co. What do all of these businesses have in common?

They are part of a growing movement of purpose-led business. While Patagonia and Tesla are well known global role models, the others are all Australian-born businesses that are leading with purpose. It’s happening across a range of industries — financial services, insurance, retail, fast food, fashion, packaged goods, toys, travel, telco, cars, recruitment agencies, professional services and more. Purpose has entered the mainstream.

What does it mean to be purpose-led?

At its highest level, purpose-led companies are literally in service to their purpose. Their commitment drives them to be leaders, activists, educators, facilitators, change-makers, collaborators and innovators. Profit is the outcome, not the driver. They will leave money on the table if it conflicts with their purpose. Yet they financially outperform companies without a higher purpose and companies with a passive purpose statement.

Driving profit through purpose is more than a mantra. It is a reality and it’s shaping a new generation of business leaders and the promise of a better future. To understand this better, let’s take a closer look at a couple of home-grown purpose-led businesses...

Outland DenimEmpowering vulnerable women through jobs, training and opportunity

In October 2018, on an official royal visit to Australia with her husband Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex stepped out in a pair of elegant, black, high-waisted stovepipe jeans. The jeans were from a small Australian denim company called Outland Denim.

Founded in 2011, Outland Denim’s aim was to give victims of sex-trafficking in Cambodia a place to learn new skills, start afresh and support their families without fear. It’s worth noting that the jeans market is worth $66 billion globally and the human trafficking industry is worth $150 billion in comparison.

Headquartered in Australia with a training and production facility in Cambodia, the business invests in the personal development and wellbeing of its employees. What started as an avenue for victims of sexual exploitation to engage in safe, dignified employment as they rebuilt their lives, has since widened to accept employees from varying backgrounds of vulnerability and exploitation.

The Meghan Markle effect gave the brand millions of dollars in free publicity, which raised its profile globally. The brand was picked up by Nordstrom and Bloomingdales in the US and went onto outsell many household-name brands. But it’s the combination of the brand’s stylish elegance, the story of why it was founded and the ongoing social and environmental impact that the business is creating, that makes it such a potent and compelling story and an inspiration to other businesses.

Intrepid TravelWe want to be the best travel company for the world

Intrepid Travel was founded with a goal to create a style of travel that could benefit both travellers and the places and people they visit. Responsible travel.

Intrepid is about travelling the local way. It uses local accommodation and transport; its travellers eat in restaurants owned and run by locals; and it uses local tour guides. Not only does this give travellers an authentic local experience, but it also means their money is spent with locals, benefitting local communities.

Over the years Intrepid has advocated on issues including climate action, animal welfare, child protection and gender equality. It was the first global tour operator to end elephant rides — a risky decision, but doing the right thing not only helped to grow the business, it changed the industry.

By 2019 it had achieved its fourth consecutive year of record financial results. Then the pandemic hit and Intrepid went to zero revenue almost overnight

During a period of hibernation, Intrepid built on its work in animal welfare tourism and sustainability. It open-sourced its own animal welfare policy and toolkit for other tour companies to use. It also published its 10-Step Quick Start Guide to Decarbonise Your Travel Business, making it available to others in the industry.

Intrepid Urban Adventures (Intrepid’s day tour brand) pivoted, offering online experiences that provided customers with a way to travel while staying at home. This action also helped to support tour guides while tourism was on hold.

Intrepid’s 2025 strategy is to grow with purpose. It aims to become the world’s first purpose-led billion-dollar travel company by 2025. It is not shy in its desire to be profitable. Its leaders recognise that profitability is essential for it to realise its ambitions to be the best travel company for the world.

As the movement for purpose-led business grows, it is important to understand that their success is being driven by the market. Employees, consumers and investors are demanding change.

Purpose-led businesses are responding to these demands. And to society’s needs.

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