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Purpose and Culture Beat Strategy for Breakfast

Summary Lessons from the Chief Customer Officer Forum

Great businesses shine in a crisis

Peter Drucker wrote that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The cases shared at the 33rd Chief Customer Officer Forum last month demonstrated that purpose and culture combined were a powerful formula that positioned companies really well through the Pandemic year. Of the companies showcased at the Forum all of them grew through 2020 and some doubled in size!

The theme was, “Changing Operating Models Post Covid”. We were privileged to hear from industry leaders from Australia and overseas. Our keynote speakers, Sue Morphet (ex Pacific Brands, CEO and on many boards) and Tony Nash (CEO and founder of Booktopia), described different challenges. We had six hand-picked case studies from businesses that had all had amazing years in 2020. Growth rates varied from 20% to 200% in a Covid ravaged year. Amazing! We were privileged to hear from iconic Australian businesses like Woolworths; Australia’s fastest growing Telco, Aussie Broadband; start up Beforepay; Alinta; and our biggest BPO, Probe. Our overseas guest case study was America’s biggest health care business UHC with a lazy $250b in revenue!

Lessons from Our Keynote Speakers

lf you’ve ever wondered who made underwear interesting in Australia, then Sue Morphet should take a lot of the credit for that! Sue had transformed one of Australia’s iconic businesses in the face of globalised manufacturing and a loss of competitive advantage. This forced her to re-think how valued brands like Bonds could survive. The turnaround and growth of some of those iconic products is down to the way Sue pivoted the business in response to dramatic change. That’s why we, the CCO Forum wanted to hear how she thought businesses should act today.

What fascinated Sue was how many major “transformational trends” are occurring simultaneously. For example, the amazing take off of Artificial Intelligence combined with new forms of automation (RPA), 5G networks and the explosion of data science and aggregation. If change feels like it is moving faster than ever, then that is why. Sue felt that the challenge for any business is to innovate and exploit those opportunities. Standing still is likely to be a losing strategy.

Sue is also a former President of Chief Executive Women and her other passion is to enable greater equality in the workforce. One of the things she thinks would make most difference is a different attitude in government to childcare and maternity and paternity leave. The Scandinavian countries have childcare almost as a right and offer parental leave far longer than we have in Australia. She’d love to see a major policy shift that she thinks would unleash the true potential of our workforce.

It was a fascinating contrast to hear from Tony Nash, one of our leading online entrepreneurs who closed the day. Tony described the way an online start-up has to flex and adapt as opportunities present themselves. His business has grown by seizing these chances to grow the business model. This included moving from online retail to distribution and then buying a major book retail chain. In his start-up they had to be good at learning fast. He found counter-intuitive benefits like the extra value from carrying stock, which theoreticians claim is a bad thing.

Tony’s key messages were around the twelve attributes (or Ingots) that define his business’s culture and way of working. For example, he passionately believes that companies shouldn’t worry

too much about competitors because this can be distracting.

Just as these days we hear sports players and coaches say they focus on “our process”, Tony feels the same. He does believe all companies should obsess about customers and what they know about customer needs. Tony extends the idea of the triple bottom line (shareholder/employee/customer) to a win win squared model that includes suppliers.

He doesn’t see how a company that squeezes suppliers too much can survive. He also had some excellent tips how all of us need to separate ourselves from our businesses using the idea he calls “you are not your car”. It was clear that this ability to stay true to himself despite all the challenges of setting up a business from scratch was what had made him and Booktopia a great Australian success story and has taken them from $10m warehouse to a $300m publicly listed company.

Our Case Studies

Of the six case studies shared on the day, the companies had all experienced amazing growth through 2020. As the meeting is held under Chatham House rules, we can’t share too many specifics. Some cases showed they had grown as much as 200% through the year. If there was a common theme it was around the clear purpose that had given each business both resilience and drive. The clear purpose also gave staff a reason to go that extra mile, flex to the needs of covid and put in that extra shift when needed. Without prompting, each of these businesses articulated a very clear and valuable reason that they were in business and the passion and energy that this generated in their business.

A second common attribute that all these businesses shared was being able to describe their culture and what made it live and breathe in their organisations. In one company, culture dictated every hiring decision. But it also focused on the customer and allowed staff to challenge every piece of correspondence sent to customers. In another business it enabled them to achieve in three weeks, change that they had previously thought would take three years. In a third business it was the investment they made in staff when they joined the organisation to ensure they were aware of what it meant to work in that business.

The last common theme of the day was the importance of deep expertise in any business.

One company described the dramatic positive impacts of a major technologically transformation. They attributed this success to the gurus who had designed the change. The thinking was so good, that this organisation recognised that they had to re-align the way they worked to the software, not the other way round.

Another company described the importance of building and leveraging the customer process experts in their business to support other staff and customers.

A third company talked about the value of the deep technology flexibility they had built that helped them pivot effortlessly to working from home.


As always the Chief Customer Officer Forum involved great discussions and fascinating insights. Hearing reflective lessons from key business leaders showed how they had built culture and purpose into those businesses. The case studies shared these themes and the round table format led to great discussions in which all the attending companies shared their learnings.

The Chief Customer Officer Forum runs as a not-for-profit for leaders of customer experience and customer facing operations across industries. It meets twice a year. If you are interested in being part of it, please contact: or call 03 9499 3550 or 0438 652 396.


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