In today's world there are many different views on the purpose of business. Most would define it as merely creating financial profitability – specifically increasing the wealth of the business shareholders. While it is true that business and capitalism around the world have become known for creating profits and consumerism, business has never been merely about money and profitability.
Peter Drucker, the renowned scholar and teacher of business management and entrepreneurship defines the main purpose of business as simply creating a customer. Drucker concludes that while profits are critically important to the life of a business, without continuous customer growth, profits will eventually disappear (i). While his point has merit, business is not only about customers.
The passion of Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple was to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Steve definitely wanted to make a profit, but he believed the purpose of profits were to continue to empower him to make more great products. Steve Jobs said, “The products, not the profits, were the motivation. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or two from now. That’s what Walt Disney did, and Hewlett and Packard, and the people who built Intel. They created a company to last, not just to make money. That’s what I want Apple to be.” (ii) While those companies have made great products and have stood the test of time, products alone do not define a business.
In recent years we have learned a new term and definition of business called social business or corporate social responsibility(CSR). A social business has multiple bottom-lines including financial profits, environmental responsibility, community development, reducing poverty, combating disease, and more. It encourages a business to be more relationally engaged and committed to its employees, customers, and the community in which it works. Social business desires to empower the people involved with the business to not just make money, but to care for the world in which they live.
While there is evidence that social business has contributed to some transformation in our world, we need to re-think why and how business can create more holistic transformation. If it is true that the purpose of business is to create a customer, as an entrepreneur what is the purpose of this customer? Is the customer just to sustain profitability as Drucker suggests? The reason to create a customer is because the entrepreneur has the potential to serve and bless that customer. As an entrepreneur, one is in a position to bless customers through their business because God has first blessed them. They desire to create new business not just because they have an idea that will make money, but more so because their idea has the potential to be a blessing to customers. This understanding defines what we call a stewardship entrepreneur.
Customers are blessed through business by entrepreneurs who faithfully steward the resources God has given them. The purpose of these stewardship businesses is to create customers, profits, jobs and community development which lead to holistic transformation in the world. Stewardship business is not merely about profits or customers, but it is founded on the truth that mankind was created to steward the earth. Men are created to steward the earth for the purpose of bringing glory to God and to bless people along the journey. Humanity was not created to become consumers of the earth, but to become fruitful co-creators. People are to laborer on the earth with God as faithful stewards of His creation. While selling goods and services is a part of business, fruitful business is not based on consumerism or how much people buy. The foundation of fruitful business and a growing economy is based on how the customer believes and continues to believe those consumer goods and services are adding value to their life.
Drucker, Peter F., Management Revised Edition, Collins Business, 2008 Isaacson, Walter, Steve Jobs Biography, Simon & Schuster, 2011