Bowles & Wyer

What is a business for?

Written by John Wyer

The answer to this seems obvious – except it isn’t. CEO, John Wyer discusses what is a business is truly for…

What is a business for? The obvious answer is to make money. Except it isn’t. If my main aim in life was to make money, I wouldn’t have chosen to go into the landscape industry, and life is nothing if not about choices. Even in those areas where earnings are traditionally higher – like investment banking – the primary purpose of the business is not to make money. Bankers are essentially enablers. The choices come with what they choose to enable. And those choices are essentially driven by a set of values. Without these values, a business tends to be carried by the current, rather than making its own way. And when that happens, neither the employees or clients can really fathom what the business stands for, or how it will react in any given situation. So, they stop trusting it.

Although purpose and values are closely linked, they do not always go hand in hand. Ryanair is a business that appears to have a very strong sense of purpose – which is very customer-centric. However, it’s not linked to a strong set of values – at least as perceived by the public. Therefore, although customers return again and again, they don’t really enjoy doing so – it leaves a sour taste, and when they get an alternative, they will generally choose it.

This DNA (made up of purpose + values) is what ultimately drives every business, whether it’s defined as such or not. The better thought-out and articulated it is, the more consistent, respected, and successful the business will be in the long-term.

In some areas, we have always been driven by a strong sense of values. We have always tried to achieve the highest level and tried to find the best ways to do things. We have also always been honest and straightforward in our dealings with clients. But we felt that we were sometimes inconsistent in how we applied them. So about four years ago, we got the chance to think this all through from scratch, to really articulate what we stood for and what we wanted to achieve as a business. It was a tortuous process – not a one-day workshop! The directors (and others) spent several days discussing the core values and purpose of what we do, over a period of weeks. Then a ‘values team’ – roughly a third of the people in the business, including only one director – spent weeks developing what these values actually meant in practice: how they were to be applied, what they would look like in everyday behaviour, and what the implications were. From this they developed a seventeen-point implementation plan to embed these values in everything we do, from sales and marketing through to interviews, inductions, appraisals, site work, and so forth. The whole process took almost two years from start to finish – begun in 2016 and completed in 2018 (except of course it’s never really finished!).

And what did we decide? After much discussion, we settled on trust, excellence, and creativity. There is a whole booklet looking at how these apply in everyday circumstances, but in essence we define them as:

Trust is about how we treat each other, clients, suppliers and others. It is about building relationships, but also about encouraging and supporting individuals to grow.

Excellence is not only about the work we do, but also about constantly striving to improve.

Creativity is inherent in good design, but it is much broader. It is about openness, innovation and being creative in our everyday approaches to problem-solving.

Oh yes, and our core purpose as a business? Not to make money, but to Enhance Lives and Landscapes. If we get that right, the money will follow.

March 1, 2021