Book Review by Dan Coughlin

It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven by Purpose

(Portfolio 2009) by Roy Spence with Haley Rushing

Value for the reader:

I consider this book to be a foundational management book. By that, I mean every executive and manager should read this book to improve his or her ability to build a foundation for the long-term success of the organization. The essential message of this book is that a clearly defined and articulated purpose that employees and customers will truly rally around is the starting point of a great organization. When the purpose is taken seriously, it can guide an organization through good and bad economic times to long-term success.

More than any other book I’ve read, this book clarifies the long-term importance for an organization to have a compelling reason for existing and to use that purpose to guide operations, marketing, talent management, customer selection, and investment decisions. I believe readers will walk away with a heightened sense of urgency to clarify the compelling reason for their organization’s existence and a set of practical exercises to accomplish that objective.

Readers will also gain a roadmap for using this purpose to guide decisions within each of the organization’s individual functions and departments in ways that will create a vastly more effective and more synergistic approach to the marketplace. In the end, I believe that continually leveraging an organization’s purpose leads to significant and sustainable improvement in its most important desired outcomes, and that this book is valuable resource to help make that happen.

Strengths of the book:

I felt this book had two primary strengths: structure and examples.

The first half of the book guides the reader through a series of practical steps to accomplish the following: understand why having a purpose is so important, determine how to discover the purpose of the organization, establish ways to communicate that purpose to the marketplace, build an organization around the purpose, and provide leadership to continually keep the purpose at the center of all decision-making in the organization.

The second half of the book provides a series of real-life examples on discovering and leveraging an organization’s purpose from Southwest Airlines, BMW, the PGA Tour, the American Legacy Foundation, the American Red Cross, Wal-Mart, Norwegian Cruise Line, AARP, Texas A&M, and the American Council for Education. The reason why these examples were so useful is because the authors have worked with all of these organizations to help them discover and articulate their purpose in ways that have generated extraordinary results.

In reading these examples, the suggestions from the first half of the book seemed much more realistic and meaningful. In seeing how other companies have used the approaches to discover and articulate a compelling purpose helps the reader see the steps that he or she can reasonably take to accomplish similar objectives. It becomes very clear that the ideas on purpose are universal and can be applied to any type of organization.

What would have made this book better?

The authors did a fine job of explaining the before and after scenarios of the organizations they’ve worked with in terms of the impact that clarifying a purpose has on an organization’s results.

What would have been a great feature is if they could have done a comparison between an organization that marches forward with a clear purpose and a competitor that does not have a clear purpose for existence. For example, a chapter comparing each of the past thirty years of performance between Southwest Airlines and American Airlines might have highlighted even further the importance of a clear, consistent purpose guiding decisions over a long period of time.

Another feature that may have been of value to readers is to chart a company’s actual results for its most important desired outcomes year by year and then show the years where its purpose for existence was steadily becoming more clear. In doing so, it may be possible to better quantify the actual business impact of an intangible such as having a clear purpose for existence on the desired business outcomes.

More information about the book:

If you would like to learn more about this book, I encourage you to visit this website: You will find opinions about the book from a variety of key leaders and further explanation from the authors on why they wrote the book.