Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies
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Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies

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by Nikos Mourkogiannis

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In Purpose, world-renowned thought leader Nikos Mourkogiannis turns the entire idea of leadership on its head and shows that the choice between values and success is no choice at all. Mourkogiannis argues that companies must satisfy the need for purpose--a set of values that defines an organization and inspires and motivates its employees. Rather than…  See more details below


In Purpose, world-renowned thought leader Nikos Mourkogiannis turns the entire idea of leadership on its head and shows that the choice between values and success is no choice at all. Mourkogiannis argues that companies must satisfy the need for purpose--a set of values that defines an organization and inspires and motivates its employees. Rather than organization and structure, ideas are what cause companies to go from good to great. Drawing on examples from across multiple industries, Mourkogiannis demonstrates how a strong purpose is the essential first step toward lasting success.

Editorial Reviews

The Dallas Morning News

. . . filled with 'Aha!' moments . . .
Los Angeles Times

The book is rarely dull and makes some refreshing points about the value of integrity and having a genuine vision of one's business.
Financial Executive

A thoughtful, passionate book about a subject that is at once very simple and highly complex . . . Mourkogiannis' thinking, and prose, are wise throughout.
Connecticut Business Times

Purpose is a book that will engage readers with the simplicity of explaining one key word, and the sophistication of a philosophy built on the classic moral ideas of Aristotle, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Hume.
Accounting & Business Magazine

Challenging and thought-provoking.
The Globe and Mail

Compelling. . . . the role of moral purpose in business is important; this book helps to illuminate it and has a stimulating chapter on how to apply the notions to leadership.

This book will change the way you look at your work and your life.
Abstracts of Public Administration

Shows how to harness the power of purpose to energize an organization.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter

At a time when the public holds business in such low esteem, Purpose shows leaders how to restore confidence and make money at the same time. Nikos Mourkogiannis's message is informed, interesting, inspiring, and much-needed worldwide.
Dr. Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld

Nikos Mourkogiannis has provided incumbent and aspiring leaders with the needed counterbalance to Bossidy's Execution. Execution, absent Purpose, can drive once-great enterprises off the cliff and once-great armies into chaos and destruction. This book reminds leaders of the importance of taking stock of the legacy which has made great businesses great, while renewing the values and character required to flourish for a new era.
Martin Lipton

Nikos Mourkogiannis has written an outstanding and very readable book describing the qualities of leadership that are essential to create great companies and keep them great. It is important reading for all entrepreneurs and business executives and those who would like to be.
Dr. Josef Ackermann

Inspiring a large global organization with a common purpose whilst respecting its diversity is high on the agenda of top management. Nikos Mourkogiannis's Purpose sheds light on the importance and practice of defining and embedding a sense of purpose in an organization and, thereby, of aligning the interests of its strategic stakeholders. I recommend the reading of this outstanding book.
Douglas R. Conant

Nikos has artfully uncovered the essence of greatness in all great companies with the concept of purpose. Most importantly, he has brought this critical concept to life in a most powerful and approachable fashion.
Euan Sutherland

Purpose is the missing piece in the corporate jigsaw of success, often overlooked by companies big and small and their employees. Nikos Mourkogiannis provides a compelling and gripping account of why this is so important, so impactful and so inspiring. This book made me stop and reconsider my organisation and I am sure it will do this same with many other CEOs.
Jacob Rothschild

Nikos is a world-class thinker. In this book he reinvents leadership and shows what great companies have in common.
Roger Fisher

An essential resource for today' business leaders and for the next generation as they face the fresh challenges of this new century.
Robert A.G. Monks

Purpose is timely. Dialogue today is dominated -- no drowned -- by the language of economics. Mourkogiannis gives us an elegant new language. Most important, at this time when the credibility of American CEOs has been drowned by greed, here is a road map for future leaders in whose wisdom the fate of the world rests. The notes and bibliography alone are worth a read -- buy this book!
Dr. Daniel Vasella

For the pharmaceutical industry, purpose is central. Mourkogiannis makes clear how we can use purpose to draw on the passion of our people to save and improve lives.
Chris Hohn

Nikos has it right, the organizations with a moral purpose are the long term winners because they are motivated by something more powerful than money.
Bracken Darrell

Companies that want a company to last should build them on ideas that have lasted. Nikos Mourkogiannis makes a powerful argument for purpose and its role. So many of us engage the head, but so few really engage the heart and the moral convictions of our people. Who doesn't want this in their work? I think this thesis is as important for leaders as anything we do.
Professor Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle

Nikos can make things happen, because he really knows how business works.
Sir David Walker

Nikos describes the importance of 'purpose' in corporate life in compellingly persuasive terms. Companies with firm purpose have both self respect and command respect from outside and are far and away the best placed to generate and leverage the benefits of globalization. Beautifully written and required reading.
Jon Katzenbach

Nikos Mourkogiannis builds on the concept of Pride and explains why creating Purpose is the cornerstone of so many great companies. Great visionaries have built phenomenally successful businesses by rallying front-line workers around their Purpose in ways that connect to the work itself.
Thomas Thune Andersen

Building on vast experience, Mourkogiannis analyzes what drives action and adds a new dimension to leadership. A truly inspirational piece of work.
Pankaj Ghemawat

An overriding sense of purpose is hard to achieve, and hard to change once achieved, but potentially transformational in its implications -- as Nikos Mourkogiannis's book so persuasively demonstrates.
Sir Jackie Stewart

Across a broad array of industries and businesses, Nikos Mourkogiannis has made a substantial impact; he has an inquisitive mind with exceptional mental agility. He has turned many companies, in loss-making circumstances, into winners in this field. In Purpose he reveals many of the processes that have brought his clients success.
Ralph W. Shrader

Enduring institutions -- those that have stood the test of time -- create value for society and base their code of conduct on values. In this context, Purpose is far more than the starting point of great companies, it is the centerline that guides institutions to greatness and significance over time. Nikos Mourkogiannis shows leaders the way to set direction and navigate the tides of growth and change.
Michel Accad

What a rich and enjoyable book! Mourkogiannis' ability to explain with great clarity the pre-eminence and enduring nature of purpose, is remarkably inspiring in itself.
Dr. Reto Francioni

Mourkogiannis reinvents strategy by anchoring it to purpose. Strategy that has no purpose is merely tactics; true transformation of an organization depends upon the principles described in Mourkogiannis's book.
Sir Colin Chandler

Books on business usually arouse very little interest. This one is different and is a book for business in our time. I urge all business leaders from companies of any size to read this and more to the point, take its messages on board, for themselves and their colleagues
Professor Joseph L. Bower

Nikos Mourkogiannis' book brings us back to the central strategic question -- the quality of purpose -- and grounds it in an exciting analysis of great companies that performed well across the decades. Moral values and social purpose are rediscovered playing a vital role.
Sir John Parker

Nikos is the genuine Philosopher Consultant--with him you gain completely new insights.
Mr Abdel Hamid Shoman

A very insightful book which goes to the core of institutions' true identities and what they stand for. We need more of Nikos' initiatives which give thorough analyses yet offers a truly enjoyable reading.
Dr Josef Ackermann

Inspiring a large global organization with a common purpose whilst respecting its diversity is high on the agenda of top management. Nikos Mourkogiannis' Purpose sheds light on the importance and practice of defining and embedding a sense of purpose in an organization and thereby, of aligning the interests of its strategic stakeholders. I recommend the reading of this outstanding book.
Donald T. Phillips

Through his vast global business experience, Nikos Mourkogiannis offers fascinating stories and insights on the role of purpose in business success. This book will inspire CEOs, aspiring CEOs, and students of business everywhere.
Louis Carter

Nikos glides beautifully on the razor¿s edge of where we are in the current reality of the business world today. Purpose is the future practice that is here now. You will find insight that will help you become more aware and centered on the realities of practicing in today¿s global business environment.
Daniel Vasella

For the pharma industry purpose is central. Mourkogiannis makes clear how we can use this purpose to draw on the passion of our people to save and improve lives.
Dr Jeffrey A Sonnenfeld

Nikos Mourkogiannis has provided incumbent and aspiring leaders with the needed counterbalance to Bossidy's Execution. Execution, absent Purpose, can drive once great enterprises off the cliff and once great armies into chaos and destruction. This book reminds leaders of the importance of taking stock of the legacy which has made great businesses great, while renewing the values and character required to flourish for a new era.
Ben Verwaayen

This book makes you think and think again. It deals with the most fundamental issue of combining success and acceptance. And there is no way to avoid this debate. A must read.
Captain Panagiotis Tsakos

Nikos makes an excellent link between Purpose -- the ultimate destination for yourself and your organisation -- and effective leadership. This will offer a lot to business leaders including the leaders of the shipping industry.
John P Mackey

I loved this book! I hope it is a best seller. It deserves to be. It is far better than 99% of the business books that become best sellers.
Dr Neville Bain

This is a well-written, engaging, practical book describing the pivotal need for the understanding and sharing of PURPOSE, if the leader is to achieve optimal performance from the organisation. The bibliography and the references to philosophy are in themselves good reasons to buy this book.

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.61(h) x 0.90(d)

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The Starting Point of Great Companies

By Nikos Mourkogiannis

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2006 Nikos Mourkogiannis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8744-2



"One must be something, in order to do something." —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Other children had fairy tales at bedtime. I had the nightmare story of my family. And from the time I was six or seven, that story was what I thought about as I drifted off to sleep—the story of the day the Communists came to our farm in Greece. They wanted my father, but my father was long gone; he'd left to fight the Communists. So the Communists made do with the women.

There were 54 women in our village that day. The Communists demanded that they denounce my father. They refused—all of them. So the Communists shot them all. Two women survived, only because there were so many bodies that the wounded could hide under the pile.

I offer this story not for shock value, but because concrete stories are usually more powerful teachers than abstract ideas. Indeed, stories are the way we learn, from childhood fairy tales to the biographies we devour. This is not to say that I recommend extreme tragedy as the best way to learn the importance of Purpose. There are less cruel ways. But one thing about tragedy is that it never—even on a good day—quite leaves you.

As a result, because of the tragedy that befell my family, I have never been in danger of forgetting the centrality of Purpose for any enterprise—because, even though my family was destroyed that day, their deaths added to the horrific body count that ultimately toppled the Communists. The women in my family died to help freedom prevail in their country.

Serious stories make for serious boys. I was 12 when I first read Thucydides and thrilled to the Funeral Oration that Pericles gave for the Athenian dead in 490 B.C. For those who have forgotten their Greek history, the background of this speech was the long-running war between Athens and Sparta. They were not just rival cities but rival cultures: "liberal" Athens and "conservative" Sparta. Their yearly battles were often inconclusive—Spartan troops regularly assaulted Athens, ran out of supplies and retreated. But the year before Pericles' speech, Sparta had been uncommonly successful. The Spartans had won a decisive battle against Athens, inflicting significant casualties, among them some of the most noble and highly regarded people in the Athenian city-state. Morale in Athens was low.

And then Pericles spoke. His words were the model for Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address and for Winston Churchill's "Battle of Britain" speeches—I not only read the Funeral Oration speech over and over, I fell in love with it. By the time I was a teenager, I had copied it out twice. Eventually, I memorized it.

What about this speech appealed to me? This passage: "For the whole earth is the tomb of famous men; not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men." Which is to say: True fame comes from goodness and high purpose, and true fame is immortality.

As a boy, I believed that my dead family members—their names forever unknown, even in their own country—were nonetheless immortal. I wanted to be their equal, to be somebody who changed the world for the better. To do that, I concluded, I would not only have to be somebody important, I would have to stand for something—I would need to find a Purpose worth living for, and, if necessary, dying for.

* * *

Just about everything that has happened in my life since I made that teenage resolution has proved to me that Purpose is crucial for all truly successful enterprises. Let others play with "strategy" and "tactics" and "management." Purpose is the game of champions. Only strong-minded men and women—adults with powerful intellects and real character and spines of steel—are suited for it.

Purpose is a function of character, and character is something we mostly notice by its absence. The news these days is filled with stories about the absence of character: Enron; Arthur Andersen; Worldcom. And that is just in the realm of business. The headlines tell us, almost on a daily basis, about the gap between rhetoric and reality in government and warfare. Even sports—with contests that take place, unscripted, in real time—have been tainted by scandal.

Behind every tainted enterprise, we like to think, is someone who simply forgot that the law applied to him. So he cut corners. He bent the rules. He didn't consider himself to be a criminal—he was just being "aggressive" and "entrepreneurial." And in the personal lives of those caught in scandal, we see more of the same self-justifying explanations. It wasn't as if they were immoral; they were good spouses, involved parents, concerned citizens.

What is troubling about the faces we see going in and out of courthouses is that they look so like ours. Could they be us? Yes, if we find ourselves "going along" with behavior that we know to be dodgy. No, if we are people of Purpose.

What is Purpose? Why is Purpose so important? Is something so seemingly esoteric really essential to effective leadership?

After all, there are plenty of success stories, in business and government alike, in which the overwhelming purpose of the leaders has been to make as much money as possible, or to be recognized as star achievers. There are many successful enterprises in which the purpose is no more than a confection, providing a little boost to morale when needed, but only peripheral to the central dynamic of maximizing profit or pursuing some other kind of tangible success.

Given these undeniable facts, why shouldn't we attribute success to, say, the personal characteristics of an individual leader (like a CEO or government head), or the workings of the top team?

Because Purpose is bigger than ambition or greed.

Purpose is bigger than tactics. Tactics represent the "how," the means by which leaders pursue their goals.

Purpose is bigger than strategy. At best, strategy is short-term Purpose, a step-by-step path toward optimal results. Enron had strategy—indeed, it had many strategies. But strategies are about means; they cannot be an end in themselves. An end is a reason. Enron lacked a reason—it lacked Purpose.

Purpose is crucial because of its scope and ubiquity. It is large, much larger than any other element in a business formula. And much more involving. It is a choice to pursue your destiny—the ultimate destination for yourself and the organization you lead. Though it represents a choice you make as a leader—a leader of yourself and others—it is not the kind of choice that you make all at once, or entirely through a rational or analytical process. A successful Purpose will incorporate a deeply felt awareness of yourself, your circumstances, and your potential calling: what the world might be asking you to do. It draws equally upon your emotional self-knowledge and intellectual thought—it calls upon everything you are, everything you've experienced, everything you believe.

Purpose is your moral DNA. It's what you believe without having to think. It's the answer you give when you're asked for the right—as opposed to the factually correct—answer.

* * *

Purpose is crucial to a firm's success for three reasons.

First, Purpose is the primary source of achievement. Most stories about wealth creation and success are far easier to understand when we recognize the part that Purpose has played.

Second, Purpose reveals the underlying dynamics of any human activity, the most fundamental issues involving motivation and behavior, in either a community or an organization. It's the core energy, the element that fuels everything else, big and small.

Third, Purpose is all that successful leaders want to talk about—although they do not usually use the word itself. They care about it because of what they see every day: The executives they value most are all driven by Purpose, and the executives they worry about most are not.

I appreciate that Purpose is not commonly understood to be an animating idea. In Business 101, it's not just overlooked, it's completely ignored. All the focus is on economics: Public companies make products or perform services that create profits for their shareholders; private companies exist to support their owners; non-profits create value for the funds they are given. Money, money, money.

And in the real world of business and public affairs, Purpose gets only a little more respect. Recommending business books for the Wall Street Journal, Gil Schwartz, chief of public relations at CBS, has this to say about a book that guts the importance of Purpose in human affairs—Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince:

Masquerading as a philosophical treatise in support of a strong senior executive, this book is actually a road map for ruthless narcissists—the kind that does very well because their primary concern at all times is Numero Uno. Machiavelli discovered a central truth that leads to business success: Moral concerns have very little utility in the day-to-day conduct of successful management. No, it's not a nice book. It advises all kinds of pre-emptive murder and destruction of one's enemies and, when necessary, of one's friends. But an embrace of its world view has been at the center of virtually all executive success since the beginning of time. What Machiavelli did was to make the tactics of the big guys available to anybody who cared to consider them. A firm grasp of his tenets creates a business etiquette that is at once cool, polite, thoughtful, strategic and brutal.

One sentence jumps out: "Moral concerns have very little utility in the day-to-day conduct of successful management." But in reality, this is not the case: Moral concerns in fact have immense utility. And so my book represents an answer to that kind of knife-at-the-ready, quarterly-results-are-all, get-a-corner-office-at-any-cost thinking. I acknowledge that an executive can rise quickly to the top by brilliant gamesmanship—but at some point you have to do the job. And you just might have to do the job when business turns bad and there's a terrible crisis and your people are looking to you for leadership like baby birds in a nest awaiting their mother's return with food. What help is Machiavelli then? When there's no one left to knife, and there's nothing you stand for, won't the knives be pointed at you?

* * *

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that "business is divine activity." That is what I have come to believe—that people who aim high are the ones who go high. I believe that Purpose turns out to be the quality that CEOs most need in order to do their jobs well. Purpose is what they look for in the executives they select to succeed them. Purpose is the difference between good and great, between honorable success and legendary performance, between fifteen minutes of fame and a legacy.

We may read in the papers about whistle-blowers who do the right thing—and get crushed. Or major executives who say no to immoral schemes, and are ejected from the executive floor. Purpose is no guarantee of success, in itself. But it is a prerequisite—at least for success in the long term. The road to the top requires a clear, consistent understanding of the reasons for our decisions and actions. And the rewards of keeping to the institution's highest values, while adjusting strategy along the way, are reflected in title, power and money. The acclaim of millions, the bust in the hall—the big rewards—don't go to the hustlers. They go to the heroes, to the leaders with Purpose.

I believe that Purpose—not money, not status—is what people most want from work. Make no mistake: They want compensation; some want an ego-affirming title. Even more, though, they want their lives to mean something, they want their lives to have a reason. In the Middle Ages, craftsmen worked—with no thought of personal recognition—on cathedrals that even their grandchildren would not live to see completed. That didn't bother them; in fact, it kept them going. For what is more important than doing God's work? Bach, at the bottom of his compositions, wrote SDG—Soli deo Gloria, "to God alone the glory." In the composer's view, he was simply the messenger. You don't have to be religious, or an artist, to want a Purpose in your life. It's simply a matter of seeing the meaninglessness of modern material culture. Once you've received that message, Purpose may matter a great deal to you.

* * *

My views of Purpose are not abstract. They come from my experience. When I graduated from Athens Law School, I was the valedictorian. It should have been a great day. Instead, I was weeping—in sorrow and anger. The sorrow was for my country. The Turkish Army had staged a second invasion; many Greeks were dead. The anger was for members of my graduating class—two policemen who had, during the regime of the Colonels, "invited" me to the police station to be "questioned." In my valedictory speech, seeing them there in the same room, I wondered if I should say anything about that incident. Should I let it go? Sorrow ruled. I held my rage.

By the time I enrolled at Harvard that fall, I was even more disturbed. There had been more violence in Cyprus; it was difficult to concentrate on graduate courses in Economics. By my second year, I was in crisis. I told a professor: "All these theories are fine, but I need theory that can become practice and make a better world—I have to do something to help my country." He sent me to see Roger Fisher, a professor at Harvard Law who was exploring new strategies of negotiation. This was exactly what I was looking for. I worked with Professor Fisher's team on developing Harvard's first course in Negotiation. (I also joined the campaign to get the U.S. Congress to impose an arms embargo on Turkey. This was not terribly wise—foreigners are not allowed by law to participate in American politics. I risked deportation. But I had to do something to help Greece.)

Professor Fisher's course in Negotiation eventually became the third most-attended course at Harvard and was introduced to many American professional schools. I taught this course for several years, in the process helping Professor Fisher develop the ideas that led to the best-selling book Getting to Yes. In 1978, I was part of the team that devised the "Single Negotiating Text," a technique used by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to establish peace between Israel and Egypt in the Camp David Accords. Three years later, I was appointed senior advisor to the Harvard Negotiation Project.

But I was attracted to the world outside academia. In 1982, I joined Westinghouse as Manager of Business Development for Europe and the Middle East. I coined the word "offsets" and put together the first "offset" programs in support of Westinghouse's defense division, which was a major supplier of the F–16 aircraft. Yes, I wanted to move peace forward, to be present at the signing of treaties. But these were the 1980s, and the Soviets were rattling their sabers—and you can't negotiate with anyone who's brandishing a weapon. I went into the American defense industry very consciously, the better to defend Greece against the Communists. I had, you might say, taken on my father's struggle.

I have been accused of being the person who masterminded the "commercial sale" of F–16s to Greece at the beginning of the 1980s. I plead guilty. Until the first sale of F–16s to Greece, commercial sales of military aircraft were unheard of. It was necessary to have the concept of "commercial sales" in order to enable those first 40 F–16s to go to Greece when the American and Greek governments were experiencing a period of extremely frosty relations, effectively not talking to each other. My purpose was not just to contain the Soviets, but also to pre-empt the Turks from taking advantage of a period of Greek military weakness and political isolation. It was this purpose, definitely not the salary I received as the employee of a defense contractor, that made me work day and night for years, thinking far outside the box and with dogged determination.

Even though the sale of the F–16s was immensely popular with all the centrists in Greece, one group was opposed to it, even more than the Communists were. The Greek extreme right blamed me for pushing the sale through, because it helped a Socialist government, headed by Andreas Papandreou, to prolong its stay in power. But given my purpose, I made it my duty to disregard all considerations of power politics and money.


Excerpted from Purpose by Nikos Mourkogiannis. Copyright © 2006 Nikos Mourkogiannis. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Nikos Mourkogiannis is a senior partner at Panthea, an elite leadership consulting firm providing advice to Chairmen and CEOs of top companies around the world. He is also senior executive advisor on leadership to Booz Allen Hamilton. Nikos helped create the Harvard Law School Center on Negotiations with Roger Fisher, author of the business bestseller Getting to Yes. He has worked on some of the most complex and important business deals of the last thirty years, with some of the most influential leaders in international business and government. He lives in London.

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