Developing and celebrating purpose-driven culture

By Marty Parker

More and more we’re hearing about purpose and how people are looking to work for, and with companies that are purpose-driven and that have corporate social responsibility programs at the center of what they do. And while many companies are doing purpose very well, not as many are drawing strong connections between purpose and their corporate culture.

Once company that is setting the bar – not only as a purpose-driven organization, but also for connecting purpose to culture – is Paramount Fine Foods. I sat down with Paramount’s President and CEO, Mohamad Fakih, to chat about what it means to have a purpose-driven culture, and why purpose can be a differentiator for organizations.

The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the full conversation here.

Marty Parker:
We hear a lot these days about purpose and how people, not exclusively, but certainly many of our younger generations are looking for purpose in their work, to not only connect with their work on a deeper level, but in many ways to find meaning themselves. And so talk a little bit about how this has kind of manifested, how this has shown its place in Paramount, and not just through your leadership, but in everyday frontline heroes and how they might adapt.

Mohamad Fakih:
Well, I think, let’s talk a little bit about the grit, and the idea of the millennial has no grit or has less grit. I think it’s wrong. We have a problem of language translation. What the millennials are attracted to, it’s to be part of something bigger than themselves. And when your company becomes a movement, when your company hits the right buttons into everyone’s life and they see the impact immediately right in front of them, this is where people will actually start working harder, because they want that something that it’s bigger than all of us, which is community (90 per cent of the time) and purpose. To succeed they know that working hard is automatically attached to being successful at helping the community, serving the community and serving that purpose and making it come through.

I’m going to give you it an example. We had an executive just joining us three, four months ago and there was the World Hunger Day and that was the first time we celebrated in Canada in partnership with one of the chefs that’s very well known for it. So we did an event at Paramount and we donated to that World Hunger Day. I had a speech at the event and this executive showed up with her two daughters, and they saw us for what we were doing. And I was talking about the story about the World Hunger Day and how many kids are hungry around the world. Three days after this executive showed up to the office and she said, “You know what my daughter Alex did at school?” I said, “No.” She said, “She did, let’s clean up the park around the school, all of us. And she did the lemonade stand after and kids brought money and she wants to donate it to the World Hunger Day.” And you can see that executive getting emotional talking about this. And you can see that she took Paramount home with her, and you can see that Paramount the movement now is in the head of her daughter Alex. And that gets her not to work at Paramount, to own Paramount, but to love Paramount, to love the movement. Now Paramount is part of her family. And if she wants to make a decision against Paramount or to move out of Paramount, she does not need only to make a financial decision, she needs to explain to her daughter, Alex, why is she coming out of the World Hunger Day company that celebrated it and meant a lot to Alex and to her school. So you become part of their family.

People need a bigger reason to work in a company. Anybody making above $75,000, money is not the only reason why they will move.

A lot of people come to me and want to talk to me and want to give me suggestions even when I was building my company, and talk to me even without me knowing them. And they’ll say, “Customers comes first, Mohamad. Customer always, always comes first, Mohamad.”  And I always looked at them and then always said to myself, “No. As a CEO, my people come first.” And then for them, customers come first. They’ll look after the customer, but I need to look after my people. I need to look after my team. And having that relation only based on money, that will not make you keep talent. The only reason why they will stay today, it’s to have a reason bigger than just the money and being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Marty Parker:
Out of times of great reflection, comes great innovation and change. What do you see in the future that’s going to be critical for your organization and in what you do from a cultural perspective? How will things change and how will your purpose driven centered organizational culture change or how will business evolve with your culture to move you forward?

Mohamad Fakih:
So what will change? I think Paramount has followed the rules of banking for disaster and that’s why I’m smiling. Like the rule banking for disaster is banking for you personally for two years to pay your bills even if you don’t have a penny coming in.

I think this pandemic is going to create the playbook for what’s going to happen after with all the global warming and what we could be faced with. I think companies should actually bank for disaster for three years moving forward. So I will be banking for disaster for three years moving forward.  I’ll bank for disaster for three years, two years for Paramount and one year to help the community. Because the last thing, the biggest thing you could lose is when you lose yourself. I’m ready to lose all my money today. I’m not ready to lose myself. I won’t be able to rebuild again. You need to bank for disaster, including not losing yourself, and not losing yourself for Paramount is not being able do something for the community and think in a selfish way.

Marty Parker:
That’s an incredible strategy. I think that two years would be for yourself and one for your community. That’s the first time ever heard of that.

Mohamad Fakih:
No, it should be that way. Because if we do that, we’ll probably have 10 years’ worth of money for the community. And when everyone is okay, it’s contagious. You’ll feel like you’re okay.

Marty Parker:
If there’s one piece of advice that you’re going to give to a young executive, a future leader as we call them at Waterstone, in terms of, as they enter on their entrepreneurial or business journey of how they can build a high performance culture, how they can be a high performance leaders, what would you impart on them?

Mohamad Fakih:
You need to know what you don’t know. The biggest and the most dangerous is when you don’t know what you’re doing. When you don’t know what you don’t know, you think you know it all. You need to know what you don’t know. And that’s when you surround yourself with a great team. That’s why you’re always happy to listen, not hear. Listen, proper listening.

And another thing. I have a list in my pocket. I always write things that I think I’ve done wrong, or out of what I call the Paramount movement personality. And I go and I apologize to people. Write down things, write down important things. Don’t write down things that get your head bigger. Ego. Ego is your biggest enemy. Ask yourself, are you still doing it for the right reasons? Your noble mission. Be careful you protect your noble mission. You lose yourself and you lose your noble mission. Because a lot of people follow you because of your noble mission, not because of you. And protect that noble mission. So know what you don’t know. Make sure your ego doesn’t take over and protect your noble mission. It’s very important.

And remember your people are your biggest assets. Looking after your people, having a purpose for your people, bring you profit. The opposite doesn’t work. Your profit doesn’t bring people, doesn’t bring loyalty to your people.