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Business leaders and ‘Millennials’ agree – the purpose of business is more than just profit

By Barry Salzberg - January 25, 2012

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The 2012 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum opened today in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. Being here in Davos is exhilarating and inspiring – and the time always flies by so quickly.

One of the highlights of the day for me was taking part in a panel discussion chaired by London Business School professor Lynda Gratton. We discussed how the art and science of leadership are fundamentally changing in the 21st century. Another highlight today was helping lead discussion with other Forum delegates in a brainstorming session on the topic of the role of business in society.

These are subjects I feel strongly about. Earlier this week, Deloitte announced the results of a global survey, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), of business leaders’ attitudes on the purpose, impact, and leadership of business on society.

  • 76% believe the value of a company should be measured by the positive contribution its core business makes to society, as well as by its profits.
  • 73% believe that their core business activities make a positive contribution to society.

We believe there is opportunity for this “societal purpose” to be integrated into a business’ core activities, decisions, and identity. It’s through this embedded purpose, in turn, that businesses can inspire even more positive economic, environmental, and social change.

Alongside the EIU survey, we asked more than 1,000 Deloitte member firm “Millennials” (employees joining 11 Deloitte member firms who were born after 1981) for their views.

  • 52% believe that in the future, business, more than any other area of society, will achieve the greatest impact in solving society’s biggest challenges.
  • 92% believe that the success of a business should be measured by more than just profit, suggesting that a company’s “societal purpose” is a key priority and expectation of the Millennial generation.

It’s clear that CEOs’ voices are being joined by an emerging generation of future business leaders who see personal responsibility, corporate responsibility, and societal responsibility as one continuous line.

In the lead up to this week’s Annual Meeting, I recorded a short video for the World Economic Forum on this topic, and you can view it on the Deloitte at Davos YouTube channel.


Dttl_barrysalzberg_56x56Barry Salzberg is the global Chief Executive Officer of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL). As DTTL CEO, Barry leads and manages the Executive and sets the strategic direction of the Deloitte global network. Prior to this role, he served as Chief Executive Officer of Deloitte LLP (United States) from 2007 to 2011.

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What a terrific discussion this morning as I listened from Houston. I heard ambivalence from business leaders, of being "all in" with the idea of societal purpose as a fundamental tenet of business; this seems to contrast with Millennials, at least for now. This ambivalence is all around corporate hallways, which looks often like cynicism and weak behavioral change from the ordinary people.

The challenge is especially acute when corporate leaders often lack the courage to take a stand on something beyond profits and financial performance. So the challenge is how do we develop next generation leadership along with the financial community to create a different view and operating model of what global stewardship looks like that is responsible, innovative and profitable?

I really enjoyed watching the brainstorm event via the WEF livestream.

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