Campus - 20.11.2015 - 00:00 

A focus on finding a purpose

On the 17th and 18th of November, the Ignite Conference took place on campus which sought to inspire business leaders, students and even the participating panellists.


20. November 2015. What is the purpose of your business or the business you work for? Thousands of companies around the world believe that a business should not be just defined by profit margins but by the social good they bring to society. How do such purposeful businesses engage workers differently than traditional ones? In seeking to achieve a higher purpose can these companies also provide insight into one of businesses major challenges “employee disengagement”? The organizers and participants that gathered together for Ignite seem to think so.

Starting the conference off on the right foot was Pa Sinyan, a German with African heritage who specializes in behavioural economics at Gallup – the world’s oldest market research company that, “looks at what people want, what people think and what drives their behaviour.”

Love – hate relationship

Sinyan shared a study conducted by celebrated psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. His study showed that the majority of people spend more time at work than with any other person. The second thing he discovered was that primary-paid work was one of our least endurable activities and thirdly, he looked at was who we enjoyed spending time with. Not surprisingly the top three were friends, family and significant others, respectively. The three people we least like spending time with were customers, co-workers and our boss. What this confirms, is that the majority of our time is spent with people that we don’t want to be with. “That is the sad reality we live in today,” says Sinyan.

When looking at engagement, when people are managed well, they become engaged and when we don’t they become disengaged, regardless of their pay level or the company they work for.

The opening panel was moderated by Ernst von Kimakowitz and involved four panellists from three continents that talked about inspiration and purpose-filled business.

Anju Rupal, who runs a cosmetics company that gives back half of its profits to NGO’s, expressed her own vision for management. She stated that, “I believe in full transparency. I believe that as a leader you have to be able to share everything in your company because I want to teach the team members that I have … to set up their own impact driven business.”

At first, Donn Boyer focused primarily on helping companies “localize” outside of the United States. It wasn’t long before that competency grew into helping organizations by giving their leaders and managers the skills necessary to build a culture of engagement. “You really can’t manage people. You can manage things, you can manage money, you believe and inspire people… and I don’t think that’s a skill that many organizations have.”

Violet Lo, who flew into St.Gallen from Hong Kong brings a different perspective to engagement. She said that when she looks at the culture of purpose-filled work it, the desire seems to be universal. “Whether you are in New York or the UK or in China, the desire to work towards a shared value, add value and help others seems to be the same."

Willing to make it happen

Professor Omid Aschari talked about the nature of leadership and how they have evolved. “The great man theory… people believed that the leader was the person who inherits his role of leader. Today we are far away from this mind-set.” Aschari also stated that he believes that leadership is a human quality that everyone possesses and that style, as in a leadership style is a tool and different tools can and should be used in different situations.

After the Ignite Conference, one thing became clear – that business students of today want to be engaged, want to work for companies with a purpose and they are willing to make it happen.

Photo: sajola /

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