New Study Finds the Future of Successful Business is a Combination of Profit and Purpose

Oct 9, 2014 12:00 PM ET

Around nine in ten current CEOs and future business leaders believe businesses should have a social purpose. But while 86% of current leaders think businesses are already putting this into practice, just a fifth of the younger generation agrees they are doing so – showing a clear gap between the views of today’s CEOs and the next generation.

These results are part of a new study published today by Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) – which manufactures, distributes and markets Coca-Cola products in Western Europe – in partnership with Cranfield’s Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility and The Financial Times’ FT Remark (FT).The study, ‘Combining Profit and Purpose’is based on the views of 50 CEOs[1] and almost 150 MBA and MSc students and recent graduates across Europe[2], and will be launched today in London at the Future for Sustainability Summit: Enhancing the Value of Business – a joint initiative between CCE and The Financial Times. The Summit brings together current and future business leaders to explore the challenges of prioritising purpose and sustainability to create the optimum value for business and society.

The research indicates that both current and future leaders agree that a business’ profit and the ability to provide shareholder value are the best barometers of business success today. However, the groups disagree on how that may change in the future. While the overwhelming majority of current CEOs feel that profitability and shareholder value will remain key in the future (94% and 88%, respectively), the findings suggest future leaders have higher expectations of the role business should play, claiming that societal and environmental impact (80%), innovation (61%) and development of future talent (57%) will be more important indicators of business success in the years to come.

The two groups also differ in opinion about the barriers to businesses combining social purpose with profit. Two-thirds of CEOs (66%) view external factors such as government and regulation as the main barrier, while the majority of future leaders cite internal factors, such as current management attitudes (55%).

“Forward-looking organizations are already focusing on how to balance profit and purpose, and there is clearly a growing expectation on businesses to do this,” said John F. Brock, Chairman and CEO of CCE. “Today’s leaders play an essential role in integrating environmental and social issues into strategic decision making, but future generations have even higher expectations of business. It’s clear that social and environmental purpose will increase in importance in the years to come, and that collaborative innovation is the key to unlocking success.”

There are believed to be many rewards for businesses that prioritize social purpose; more than three quarters of CEOs (78%) say it offers relevance to the next generation of customers and employees, and 70% claim it actually ensures business survival. Future leaders identified the key returns as more engaged employees (54%) and increased innovation (53%), while increased trust in business is also seen as a key benefit.

Professor David Grayson, Director of the Doughty Centre, comments: “While it’s not surprising to learn that social purpose is seen as a priority for business, the big challenge is to ensure more business leaders define the real purpose of their business, and identify how they are going to achieve that purpose. By developing clearly defined strategies and identifying new, disruptive approaches now, businesses can better ensure success and relevance in the future.”


*For the purposes of this research, future leaders are defined as MBA or MSc students or recent graduates of business schools.

About CCE
Coca-Cola Enterprises, Inc. (CCE) is the leading Western European marketer, producer, and distributor of non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverages and one of the world’s largest independent Coca-Cola bottlers. CCE is the sole licensed bottler for products of The Coca-Cola Company in Belgium, continental France, Great Britain, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. We operate with a local focus and have 17 manufacturing sites across Europe, where we manufacture nearly 90 percent of our products in the markets in which they are consumed. Corporate responsibility and sustainability is core to our business, and we have been recognised by leading organizations in North America and Europe for our progress in water use reduction, carbon footprint reduction, and recycling initiatives. For more information about our company, please visit our website at and follow us on twitter at @cokecce.

About FT Remark
FT Remark produces bespoke research reports, surveying the thoughts and opinions of key audience segments and then using these to form the basis of multi-platform thought leadership campaigns. FT Remark research is carried out by Remark, part of the Mergermarket Group, and is distributed to the Financial Times audience via and FT Live events.

About Cranfield University’s Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility
Cranfield School of Management is one of Europe’s leading university management schools renowned for its strong links with industry and business.  It is committed to providing practical management solutions through a range of activities including postgraduate degree programmes, management development, research and consultancy.

The Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility was established at Cranfield in 2007 to improve the practice of responsible management. The Centre aims to inspire future and current managers and to equip them with the skills and outlook to put sustainability and responsibility at the heart of successful organisations. For further information, please see

[1] Conducted by telephone with respondent’s geographies split roughly evenly between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg; France; the UK; and Norway and Sweden

[2] Conducted online through Cranfield University, Net Impact and CSR Europe’s business school contacts