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The Transforming Power of Purpose - From Humble Beginnings to Monumental Success

Ryan Rieches

Companies are comprised of people, not just product offerings. A good purpose statement inspires employees by expressing how the organization can impact the lives of its customers. If done well, your purpose statement can connect people in ways much deeper than a vision or mission statement. In the case of MSI, formerly MS International, their purpose statement (internal) was so powerful that it was adapted to become their tagline (external).

MS International started in the 1970s as a family owned and run import business. Operating out of the basement of their home, Manu and Rika Shah wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. The two started importing stone, primarily for headstones and other monuments. They had come to Fort Wayne, Indiana, from India in the 1970s with little more than a dream.

From such humble and unlikely beginnings, MS International, reached $1 billion in sales in 2017. MS International employs 1,300 people in the United States and has created 130,000 jobs around the world with partners and suppliers - many in economically distressed nations. Yet many in the industry still saw the company as a small, family business.

BrandingBusiness recently had the privilege and opportunity to work with Manu and his family to clarify the company's brand distinction within the home improvement industry. The brand refresh was to correct their positioning, evolve perceptions and prepare the business for the next stage of growth.

When asked about his success early in the process, Manu explained that financial metrics are not the true measure of his success. His passion is, and always has been, to create jobs and provide an opportunity for a better life for his employees. This was a driving force in guiding their purpose statement.


How to Build Guiding Statements for Your Business

The company, rebranded as MSI, had a thriving, entrepreneurial internal culture but needed clarity around its guiding statements of purpose, vision, mission and values to create greater unity and alignment throughout their many locations as the company continued to grow.

Working with many successful companies over the years, we have found that the most effective and authentic purpose statements get to the core of the business to find an answer to the question - why does this company exist? This approach was recently validated by the CEO of BlackRock, the global investment management company. The firm manages $6.3 trillion in investments.

In his annual address to CEOs, BlackRock Chair and CEO Laurence D. Fink urged executives and directors to identify their company’s purpose and apply the philosophy as a tool to “achieve its full potential.”

For MSI, we went back to Manu’s dream of making a difference in the lives of people around the world -- creating jobs, building partnerships and treating people as an extension of their family.

The result is a beautifully simple and inspirational purpose statement: To Make Dreams Attainable. Not only does this apply to helping Americans achieve the dream of home ownership, it is also centered on the idea that MSI can help the people it touches achieve their individual dreams and ambitions.

Taking the idea one step further, we created a tagline that aligns with the internal purpose and communicates the value the company brings to the marketplace – MSI, Making Dream Surfaces Attainable. 

Although a bold claim, the company backs it up by being the industry’s disruptor and innovator. Through its expertise in global sourcing, innovative product engineering with the largest product mix in the industry, and reasonable prices, the company truly makes dream surfaces attainable to anyone.

Now run by sons Rup and Raj Shah, the company firmly rests on the foundational values and vision their parents set forth some 40 years ago. While Manu and Rika are still actively involved in the business, the beauty of their purpose is that it spans generations – and in doing so, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the company reached $2 billion in sales over the next decade.

According to Larry Fink of BlackRock: “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose … to prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

Manu would agree.