by Dr. Miles Davis
Dean, The Byrd School of Business
The mission of this school
Our mission here at Shenandoah University’s Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business is to produce successful, principled leaders with a global perspective.
But what does success look like?
I often get students in class who want to start a business. When I ask them why they’re attracted to an entrepreneurial endeavor, their motivation is often all about the money they think they can make.
Yet, if you talk to successful entrepreneurs—CEOs of businesses that have, indeed, made a lot of money—very few started their business with money at the top of their priority list. The real driving force behind their success is often hidden in their story:
- They delivered value.
- They kept getting repeat business.
- They took pride in their work.
Here’s the secret:
What really drives most successful start-ups is not the money, it’s the mission.
The founders who go on to create the greatest value for themselves and their investors are those who are out to change the world in some way.
Living the mission at the Byrd School
Here at the Byrd School, we have a major in Entrepreneurship. We approach it not just as a career path, but as a way of thinking, because you can work for someone else and still be an entrepreneur.
The dean from another university recently said to me on the phone, “Miles, why is it that whenever I talk to you, you sound like you’re having so much fun over there?” My immediate response was, “It’s because of the mission!” We are doing things here to change students and to be transformative in our learning.
We try to live our mission, so I know it by heart and can tell anyone. We just had our largest enrollment ever, because everyone here—staff, students, and administration—knows and believes in our mission.
It should be the same for a company and its products or services:
- Have a mission.
- Know that mission.
- Teach that mission to everyone who works with you.
But what about making money?
Former CEO of Netscape, Jim Barksdale, famously said, “Saying that the purpose of a company is to make money is like saying your purpose in life is to breathe.” In Harvard Business Review, business blogger Kevin Laws took the Barksdale quote one step further, “Of course if you’re not breathing, it doesn’t much matter what your purpose in life is. If you believe in your mission, it’s your moral imperative to attach a business model to it…The business model exists to support the mission, not the other way around.”
Every company has an obligation to make money, but its reason for existence is its mission.
Google and Facebook are great examples of companies who succeeded by sticking to their mission throughout all the skepticism. If money had been more important, they would have taken early offers from Yahoo of more than a billion dollars. But they knew Yahoo would not embrace their mission the way they wanted, so they turned down those offers, and today they are worth many more times than that. They became successful because of their missions, not their business plans.
WHY comes before HOW
If you want to inspire people who work with you and for you, spend more time sharing with them WHY you’re in business. The WHY cannot be just to make money. It has to be mission driven. It’s more important than the HOW. If you want your business to be successful, move beyond the HOW and connect your employees with the larger purpose. Both Apple and Microsoft were known for paying low wages, but what they offered was ownership in the company. The employees were vested in the outcome, and they believed in the mission.
You know I’m a firm believer that we have to learn to live our dream, not our fears. Live those dreams—that mission— then share them with those working with you in your business so they can understand why you do what you do. If you want to run a successful business, the mission is the most important thing – even more important than the business plan.
That goes for life as well as business.