The 10 best Quartz at Work stories on the purpose of companies

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An evolution is taking place in business, with everyone from budding entrepreneurs to the CEOs of global behemoths interested in developing a sense of purpose. As good intentions get folded into a system built on the goal of maximizing profit, some problems will get fixed and others will be created.

The purpose of companies has been an obsession for Quartz at Work since our launch in October 2017. It’s a thought-provoking topic, and to mark our anniversary, we’ve selected 10 of our most thought-provoking stories about it so far.

1. The problem with Harvard Business School case studies

It isn’t discussed much on campus, but the HBS dean who popularized the school’s case method believed it was too indifferent to societal ills, too insensitive to the labor market, and thus not a complete formula for economic prosperity. Quartz at Work reporter Lila MacLellan untangles the history and considers what might have been had one of the world’s most revered business schools taken another path.

2. Walmart—yes, Walmart—is making changes that could help solve America’s wealth inequality problem

Quartz’s Oliver Staley provides a counternarrative about Walmart’s role in the US economy, and examines how the retailer’s gargantuan size can be leveraged as a force for good.

3. Larry Fink’s letter to CEOs is about more than “social initiatives”

It was a shot heard ‘round the business world when the head of Blackrock, the largest investment management company on the planet, called on CEOs to take up a sense of purpose. Aspen Institute vice president Judith Samuelson interprets the letter for executives, and suggests they will need to commit to something much deeper than increased philanthropy.

4. A pointed question to Unilever’s CEO unmasked a conflict in conscious capitalism

Winners Take All author Anand Giridharadas, a critic of corporate do-gooding, came face to face with Unilever’s Paul Polman at a panel moderated by Quartz at Work’s editor, Heather Landy, and covered by our deputy editor, Sarah Kessler, who recounts the tense moment when the lively debate reached a crescendo.

5. Should startups ask for permission or beg for forgiveness?

Forward-thinking companies can sometimes outpace government when it comes to seeing a need for old rules to be updated, but they can’t always outlast the bureaucracy that lets the old rules linger. Quartz at Work writer Simone Stolzoff tells the brief tale of a food-industry startup that was too far ahead of its time.

6. How one of America’s original mission-driven businesses rediscovered its purpose

Once you have a purpose, there’s no guarantee you’ll stay true to it, especially as business conditions and questionable strategies threaten to take things off course. Amalgamated Bank CEO Keith Mestrich spoke with us about how a bank that began serving working-class families in 1923 lost its way in the intervening decades before finding a new strategy that returned it to its mission.

7. How to talk to employees when a public loss feels personal

Is one of the purposes of companies to look after the mental well-being of its employees? Written in the aftermath of the back-to-back suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, this piece lays out some simple steps employers can take when sad news hits hard.

8. The obvious reason why Amazon increased its minimum wage

Does Jeff Bezos believe, as Henry Ford did, that his employees ought to be able to buy the products they handle every day? Is he keen to connect his brand to social movements, tapping into the kind of conscious consumerism that Amazon’s Whole Foods division caters to? Quartz at Work’s Lila MacLellan considers a third possibility, and if she’s right, then Amazon’s work in this arena is only beginning.

9. The uncynical way to look at Weight Watchers’ name change

Lila also took an unconventional view of Weight Watchers’ rebranding as WW, meant to align the company with its focus on wellness over its focus on weight loss. Where many greeted the new name with skepticism, she saw redemption in it, as she explains in this article.

10. We used to kowtow to corporations. Now they’re starting to kneel down to us

Household brands have traditionally spent huge sums of money marketing to consumers, convincing them that their self-worth is based on what and how much they own. But the internet has upended the system, amplifying consumers’ voices to the same volume as the brands’. Quartz fashion reporter Marc Bain sorts out the details of a shift that AT Kearney’s consultants describe as a transition from an “affluence” model to an “influence” model.

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