The agenda for redefining corporate purpose: five key executive actions

Ian Wilson (Ian Wilson, a consultant, lecturer and author on strategic management, strategic vision, scenario planning and corporate governance (, had a 25‐year career with General Electric, including positions on the company’s strategic planning staff and as a public policy adviser to the chief executive officer and was a senior consultant at SRI International. His recent books include: The New Rules of Corporate Conduct (Quorum Books, 2000), and The Subtle Art of Strategy (Praeger Books, 2003). He is a Strategy & Leadership Contributing Editor.)

Strategy & Leadership

ISSN: 1087-8572

Publication date: 1 February 2004


In the post‐Enron/WorldCom/Tyco environment of public distrust and tightening regulation, corporations must proactively work to regain public trust. In this skeptical environment, they must do more to reflect the fact that corporate legitimacy depends on public acceptance. The new wave of legislation and regulation can achieve only limited results. What is needed is a more radical rethinking, by corporations themselves, of their true role and purpose in society. Restating corporate purpose in terms of social needs rather than solely of maximizing profit is the surest way to be distinguished from the competition, to regain public trust, and to ultimately increase stakeholder (not merely shareowner) value. To ensure the success of this reformation the agenda for executive action must address five key points: (1) develop consensus on a revised statement of corporate purpose and values; (2) clarify the role of profit in the business equation; (3) articulate and communicate the distinctions between the old purpose, values and behaviors and the new; (4) set a strong personal example; and (5) revise the management measurement and reward system.



Wilson, I. (2004), "The agenda for redefining corporate purpose: five key executive actions", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 21-26.

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