The just-published shareholder letter from Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is an object lesson in being purpose-inspired. For context, he attaches, as he does every year, his first shareholders’ letter from 1997 in which he writes “we believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term...we will focus relentlessly on our customers; [we will] obsess over customers; our focus is on offering our customers compelling value.”
Fast forward to 2013 and Bezos quotes an outside observer: “Amazon, as far as I can tell, is a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers.” Bezos counters that “long-term thinking squares the circle. Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align. The success of Amazon these past 16 years would come as no surprise to anyone who subscribes to the idea that you take the best care of the customer and everything else falls into place.”
In a parallel universe, I became CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi 16 years ago in 1997, and that year we wrote a purpose statement that is as implacable as the Amazon ethos: “To be revered as a hot house for world-changing creative ideas that transform our clients’ businesses, brands and reputations.” If you get the dream right, if you get the language right, you can sail through the vicissitudes of daily business and focus on the long term. Who know what’s going to happen in 100 days? But if you know where you’re headed in a thousand days or in ten thousand, you’re not going to get knocked off your game.