A CVS Prescription You’ll Want To Fill

A compelling story of a company that’s putting purpose before profits.

Are your company’s core values worth $2 billion?  The answer appears to be “yes” for CVS, the second-largest pharmacy chain in the United States.

In 2014, CVS announced that it would stop selling all cigarettes and tobacco products nationwide before the end of the year, forgoing an estimated $2 billion in revenue.

The reason?  The company concluded that the sale of such products was inconsistent with CVS’ mission to be less of a corner drugstore and more of a healthcare provider.

Or, as their CEO put it:  “Cigarettes have no place in an environment where health care is being delivered.”

Some companies have Mission Statements.  Others have Vision Statements.  Many declare a set of “core values” that they hold dear.

Rarely in all that corporate-speak, however, is anything that really matters, or anything that actually guides the company’s actions.

What you’re seeing with CVS is the anomaly – a company that’s articulated a higher purpose, a reason for being, and is actually putting that purpose into practice, even when it requires making some difficult business decisions.

Granted, CVS still has some room for improvement in terms of promoting a healthy lifestyle (have you seen their junk food aisle?) – but, boy, taking a projected $2 billion revenue hit to stay true to their chosen purpose is highly admirable.

It’s reminiscent of Google’s decision in 2010 to exit the Chinese market (only the largest market for search engines on the planet).  Google’s stated purpose is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”  When Chinese censorship policies made that purpose impossible to fulfill, Google made the courageous decision to exit the market.

Both of these examples illustrate companies for whom corporate values are far more than an engraving on a plaque or words on a website.  When a company articulates a higher purpose, and stays true to it, it helps to engage both customers and employees.

And as purpose-driven companies such as Google, Vanguard Investments and Southwest Airlines have demonstrated, purpose does not have to come at the expense of long-term profitability.  Quite the contrary, the two arguably go hand-in-hand.

CVS is wise to embrace a purpose-driven approach in the prescription for its future.  Could your organization benefit from some of the same medicine?


Jon Picoult is the founder of customer experience advisory firm Watermark Consulting.  As a consultant and a speaker, he’s worked with the CEOs and executive teams of some of the world’s top companies.  Follow Jon on Twitter @JonPicoult.


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