Roy Spence Discusses The Power Of Purpose In Business And Life With NALC Attendees

When Roy Spence applied for a $5,000 business loan to launch an ad agency with three college friends after graduating from the University of Texas in 1971, he told the banker his business plan was, among other things, to make a difference.

Today, 46 years later, with iconic campaigns for clients such as Southwest Airlines, Walmart and the State of Texas under his belt, the co-founder at Austin’s most prominent ad agency, GSD&M, continues his purpose-driven focus. He’s also CEO of The Purpose Institute, an organization that works to help companies discover and fulfill their purpose.

Spence, who was the opening speaker at the PPAI North American Leadership Conference on Tuesday, is not only passionate about making a difference through purpose but also about encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs.

“I got lucky being around great leaders—they work in today’s world but live in Tomorrowland,” he says. “They don’t sit around whining about the future or predicting the future, they go out and create the future.”

In a talk that was at once humorous, inspiring, educational and unforgettable, and punctuated by videos and slides of some of his company’s most creative campaigns, Spence focused on the importance of living a life and working in a business that are both driven by purpose.

He defines purpose as the difference one is trying to make in the world. “It’s the idea of laddering up from products to purpose,” he said, addressing a pressing promotional products industry concern to keep the industry vibrant. “Why do you need purpose? It drives all decisions.”

Among the ideas that emerged throughout his presentation were the strategy of moving from selling products to purpose-inspired solutions, avoiding the commodity trap, attracting younger people to the business and coming up with the next big idea.

“Christopher Columbus was not an explorer, he was an entrepreneur,” he said. “We were born different [in the U.S.]—not better, but different. When America is at her best, people can make a living doing what they love to do. We’ve got to get back to this idea.”

During his presentation, he announced that in the past six months he had formed the Promise Land Project, whose objective is about transforming the country’s culture and the nation itself to a high-performing one driven by purpose.

“We’ve got to move from politics to purpose in America,” he said. “Right now, we are stagnant as a nation, and are a bitterly divided, politically-driven country. If we can do purpose in business, and in life, why can’t we do it as a nation? America needs to go a higher ground again. When we get on higher ground we can make progress on everything we do. We have to be purpose driven.”

He also shared a rudimentary logo he said he created at 3 am that morning for the project, and asked others in the room to get on board. “I want it on caps, t-shirts and cars. It will be a badge of great purpose. People will say purpose, not politics. Young people are begging for purpose in their lives; we are going to teach people, regardless of party, to become purpose driven.”

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Comments (2)
Mark Shinn, MAS
August 18, 2017
Roy captivated the NALC Audience. Speaking with a number of attendees, who have been to a number of these past events, it was obvious, his session made an impact on many of them. I'm sure we will soon see, how these leaders will be implementing purposeful activities in their business.
Ivan Kosalko
August 16, 2017
Yes, Roy is great example of applying Simon Sinek's "Start with Why" approach using the foundation of Gallup's Strengths Movement. This combination will make sure that the result of this kind of effort will be both productive and fun.
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