Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 25th 2013 Contents At some point during the
launch of your startup, it s
likely that a potential
investor will ask you about
your company s mission
statement. Many business
management experts would argue that this
should be your company s cornerstone,
inspiring and informing your employees in
the years ahead. I can t agree.
The Virgin Group does have a mission
statement; one that is brief and to the point.
In general, there is too much importance
being placed on such statements, but it is
interesting to see how they reflect common
missteps in business.
Most mission statements are full of blah
truisms and are anything but inspirational.
A company s employees don t really need to
be told that "The mission of XYZ Widgets
is to make the best widgets in the world
while providing excellent service." They must
think, "As opposed to what? Making the
worst widgets and offering the lousiest serv-
ice?" Such statements show that manage-
ment lacks imagination and perhaps, in some
At the opposite end of the scale is the
statement that fails through flowery waffling.
An example: "Yahoo powers and delights
our communities of users, advertisers and
publishers; all of us united in creating indis-
pensable experiences, and fueled by trust."
That sounds wonderful, but what does it
Whoever wrote it should try listening to
the company s CEO, Marissa Mayer, who
said in a recent speech, "Yahoo is about
making the world s daily habits inspiring and
entertaining." It s not perfect, but it would
be a step in the right direction.
Some companies are not actually able to
carry out their mission. The reasons can
range from a disruption in the markets to a
merger or acquisition, and then there are
cases like Enron s: Before the giant energy
company went bankrupt in 2001, ruining
the lives of tens of thousands of employees
and investors, its vision and values statement
was "Respect, integrity, communication and
excellence." Say no more!
While some mission statements consist
of one vague statement, others are too long,
which may reflect management s lack of
understanding of what a company really
The Warwickshire Police recently produced
a new mission statement; to the police chief s
dismay, the resulting 1,200-word screed
gained the attention of the media and was
nominated for the Golden Bull award "for
excellence in gobbledygook" from the Plain
English Campaign, a group that helps organ-
isations to provide clear communications.
Not only was the rambling epistle filled with
buzzwords and jargon, but the word "crime"
was not mentioned once.
Still other companies don t know what
differentiates them from their competition.
The mission statement for the pharmaceutical
giant Bristol-Myers reads, "To discover, devel-
op and deliver innovative medicines that
help patients prevail over serious diseases."
Well, you can t argue with that, but surely
this can be said of every drug company on
the planet. Why would a person choose to
buy Bristol-Myers products or invest in its
stock, rather than its competitors ?
So that s what not to do. If you are in a
situation where you must write a mission
statement, I think you should try for some-
thing closer to a heraldic motto than a speech.
They were often simple because they had to
fit across the bottom of a coat of arms, and
they were long-lasting because they reflected
a group s deeper values.
When I was a boy, I was fascinated by
such mottos. One of my childhood heroes
was the pilot Douglas Bader, who lost both
his legs in a crash early in his career, but
went on to fly fighter planes for the Royal
Air Force during WWII.
After seeing the movie "Reach for the Sky,"
which told his heroic story, I remember asking
my father about the RAF motto, "Per ardua
ad astra." When he told me that it meant,
"Through adversity to the stars," I thought
the idea of battling one s way to the stars at
all costs was the most inspiring thing I d
(It s pretty similar to the "Toy Story" char-
acter Buzz Lightyear s motto, "To infinity
and beyond," which some kids today think
is pretty cool---especially some of my friends
on the Virgin Galactic crew.)
A few years later, at Stowe School, I was
taught the school s motto, "Persto et praesto,"
which means "I stand firm and I stand first."
This motto caused a lot of giggling among
our group of adolescent schoolboys, but it
was nevertheless excellent for guiding us
forward into adult life.
Brevity is certainly key, so try using Twit-
ter s 140-character template when you re
drafting your inspirational message. You need
to explain your company s purpose and out-
line expectations for internal and external
clients alike. Make it unique to your company,
make it memorable, keep it real and, just for
fun, imagine it on the bottom of a coat of
Virgin s would probably say something like,
"Ipsum sine timore, consector," which very
loosely translated from the Latin means,
"Screw it, let s do it!"
(Richard Branson is the founder of the
Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin
Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and
Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at
can follow him on Twitter at
twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group:
(Questions from readers will be
answered in future columns. Please send
them to RichardBranson@nytimes.com.
Please include your name, country, e-mail
address and the name of the Web site
or publication where you read the col-
@2013 Richard Branson. (Distributed by
the New York Times Syndicate.)
JULY 2013 • WEEK FOUR www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
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Forget the statement, focus on the mission
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