Why one CFO believes you can’t have one without the other.
Can having a purpose help you live longer? There’s reason to think it can.
Consider this: The people of Okinawa, Japan, are famous for their concept of ikigai, which translates to “the reason to get up in the morning.” They are also known for longevity: Okinawa has one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world.“Their purpose-imbued lives give them clear roles of responsibility and feelings of being needed well into their 100s,” says author Dan Buettner.
Extend this idea into the business world. I’d argue that purpose is the ikigai of stakeholders. Younger people in particular are intent on expressing their purpose by working for, buying from, investing in, and partnering with environmentally and socially responsible organizations.
It boils down to this: People want to do business with companies that reflect their core values.
As a CFO, my priorities are growth and sustained profitability, as well as purpose. That’s because purpose and profit are not mutually exclusive—in fact, they are intrinsically connected. They can and should coexist to achieve relevance and longevity.
The purpose-driven experience
For as long as I can remember, business leaders have been focused almost entirely on profit. Today, thankfully, we’re in a more conscientious time, with organizations balancing people, purpose, and profit.
“Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow on average three times faster than their competitors, all the while achieving higher employee and customer satisfaction,” according to a recent Deloitte study.
Purpose appeals to all stakeholders. Research shows those same purpose-oriented companies see 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors.
To be clear: Every for-profit company has a similar goal: to make money. Purpose can drive growth and value creation.
Purpose is not hierarchical
To be effective, an organization’s purpose must resonate internally and externally, from the early-career employees to the board of directors. One of my favorite examples of this dates back 60 years. In 1962, when President John F. Kennedy visited the NASA Space Center, he noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He introduced himself and asked the janitor what he did for NASA. The janitor responded: “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President.”
This is the epitome of purpose in action on every level of an organization.
Similarly, ServiceNow’s purpose is to make the world work better for everyone. It’s contagious—and my connection to how I show up daily at work runs deep because of it. It’s one of the primary reasons this is my dream job.
Fred Reichheld, a longtime Bain consultant who created the Net Promoter Score (NPS), echoed this sentiment when he spoke to our organization. He shared:
“Great companies commit themselves to a higher purpose, a purpose of enriching customers’ lives. Those companies that commit to putting customers first are the ones that will attract and retain the best employees because good people are inspired by making the world a better place. It’s economically rational because when you treat customers the right way, it not only makes your employees proud; it turns those customers into your promoters, your best salesforce, your best marketing organization, and your best source of new ideas.”
We believe ESG is a journey, not a destination. We’re in it for the long haul.
Social investment = business investment
Incorporating an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) program into an organization’s DNA contributes to its purpose. As the executive responsible for leading ServiceNow’s ESG strategy, I know setting realistic goals drives long-term impact and value, not only for investors, but for all stakeholders. We believe ESG is a journey, not a destination. We’re in it for the long haul.
When ServiceNow launched a Racial Equity Fund aimed at expanding opportunities for Black communities, did it drive profit? No. But the $100 million investment to increase access to capital to facilitate home ownership and entrepreneurship is driving new talent acquisition and creating real, lasting impact. This is a powerful example of ServiceNow’s purpose—making the world work better for everyone.
As a CFO, I believe in taking calculated risks and exploring new ways to drive our business goals. By embedding purpose into our DNA, we can meet those expectations. It becomes a force multiplier—building trust and loyalty, boosting morale, and improving performance. It results in greater retention, higher engagement, and long-term value creation.
For me, making the world work better for everyone is the reason I get up in the morning. It is my ikigai. So think of purpose and profit like cake: You can have it and eat it too. And I must admit, I love cake!