Making A Statement: Purpose Over Mission

Retired Lowe's Home Improvement Executive Greg Bridgeford (MBA '82) on defining what matters for your organization
Summer 2016


It took months and months of research and discussion that continues even today. But when Lowe’s settled on its purpose as a corporation, it was elegant, powerful, and short:

“Our purpose is to help people love where they live.”

It was like a Wizard of Oz Tin Man moment for former Chief Customer Officer Greg Bridgeford. “We always had a heart,” he told an audience of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the business community at a School of Business Lunch & Learn session at the Wake Forest University Charlotte Center. “We just didn’t know it was there.”

Bridgeford, who retired from Mooresville, North Carolina based Lowe’s in 2014 after 32 years with the company, said his interest in creating a purpose-driven business took root when he was an MBA student at the Wake Forest University School of Business.

In classes he learned an organization has to define a purpose for long-term continuity of success,” Bridgeford explained. The executive must ensure that everything the company does supports that purpose. It’s more than a mission statement.

Bridgeford views the Lowe’s mission statement as direct and descriptive: “We will provide customer-valued solutions with the best prices, products, and services to make Lowe’s the first choice for home improvement.”

“But it doesn’t tell why we do it. If a mission doesn’t have heart, does it do its job?”

FIND THE EMOTIONAL CORE OF PURPOSE

To distill the Lowe’s purpose into that one simple statement – “to help people love where they live” – Bridgeford’s team spent time in markets from coast to coast, at hundreds of stores at all levels. Employees kept journals, wrote blog posts, and connected through chat rooms.

What Lowe’s found was that the company had underestimated the emotional tie people have with their homes at different stages, and the emotional connection employees made when helping their customers.

“The emotional part of the work and the impact we can have on other lives is crucial,” Bridgeford said. “It’s the difference between a mission statement and a purpose.”

Adam Coremin (MBA ’16), vice president-strategic accounts for Precept Wine, is part of the team determining his company’s vision and purpose. The Charlotte MBA student said that hearing about how Lowe’s did it, and the dedication and time required, was helpful.

“You almost throw vision, mission, and value proposition into a blender, and you have purpose,” Coremin. “It’s a challenge we need to present to ourselves. Finding that emotional connection will take time.”

“It does take a lot of time and a great deal of exploration. But for any company’s case, purpose helps you get up and love what you do every day.”