Tag: Anjan Thakor



Employees with a higher purpose have more well-being, more happiness and even lower stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings from a new survey by two WashU Olin professors.

And the effects were more substantial when they had written down their purpose statements.

Also, employees of organizations with higher-purpose statements are happier and prouder of their organizations than are employees at workplaces without such a statement, the results show. Again, the effects were stronger when the purpose statement was written—and tied to society, employees and customers, rather than shareholders.

The findings echo the August 2019 announcement by the powerful corporate lobby group of U.S. leaders called the Business Roundtable, focusing the future on purpose. Such evidence of a national shift dovetails nicely with one of Olin’s key strategic pillars: values-based, data driven decision making.

Anjan Thakor and Stuart Bunderston

“As human beings, we are wired for purpose—to know why, to seek meaning in the things we do,” said Stuart Bunderson, director of the Bauer Leadership Center and the George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance. “When we have clarity on what our purpose is, we are happier and more fulfilled.”

Bunderson and Anjan Thakor surveyed 1,109 people in May to learn about their commitment to and perceived worth of a personal and organizational higher purpose.

Thakor is coauthor of the book The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counterintuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization, director of Olin’s doctoral programs and the Center for Finance & Accounting Research, and the John E. Simon Professor of Finance.

Conference leads to curiosity

The professors’ curiosity was piqued during a fall 2019 conference they organized on WashU’s campus about personal and organizational higher purpose. Academic researchers, consultants and corporate leaders came together to share findings and experiences.

A presentation by Vic Strecher of the University of Michigan particularly struck Bunderson and Thakor, they write in their report June 2020 report “Personal and Organizational Higher Purpose: Survey Results.”

Strecher noted that workers’ stress levels and dissatisfaction were rising, even as economic conditions were improving. As for the next group entering the workforce, he also mentioned that suicidal ideation had doubled on US college campuses in the past decade. Stretcher stressed the importance of a personal higher purpose in coping with the stresses, noting that someone who does not “repurpose their life” at retirement is 2.4 times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than someone who adopts an authentic higher purpose.

Speaker Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry Wehmiller, emphasized the importance of organizational higher purpose. Some 65% of people would give up a raise if they could fire their own boss, he said. He also noted that an employee’s boss is more critical to that employee’s health than the family doctor.

“These remarks and other discussions at the conference made us curious to know more,” Bunderson and Thakor say in their report on their survey.

“What does personal higher purpose really do for people? How do individuals perceive the value of personal purpose in their lives? What is the role of an organization’s higher purpose in the lives of its employees? Are there any connections between personal and organizational higher purpose?”

Write it down

The 1,019 individuals they surveyed in May were employed and chosen as representative of the American population’s gender, racial and geographic diversity.

“I was most surprised by the fact that when companies have written statements of higher purpose,” Thakor said, “not only do the employees trust its leaders to make socially responsible decisions, but also better business decisions.”

Bunderson said he was “very surprised at how much more powerful these effects are when the purpose statement is written down. It’s like that old saying that a goal you don’t write down is just a wish.”

Additional findings included:

  • A majority of respondents had a personal higher purpose, but most had not written it down;
  • Having a written personal statement of purpose helped people in various ways, including coping with stress and finding happiness;
  • Curiously, those with a written higher purpose also reported higher levels of anxiety;
  • The incidence of written statements of higher purpose was higher among organizations than among individuals;
  • Employees at organizations with higher purpose statements were prouder of working for their organizations and happier than other employees;
  • Organizational higher purpose statements were more effective when written down and when they emphasized society, customers, employees and stakeholders other than shareholders;
  • Employees of organizations with higher purpose statements are more likely to have personal statements of higher purpose.

“We aren’t exactly sure why that is the case, but it may be that employees who work for organizations with a higher purpose statement are inspired to develop one for their lives,” Bunderson said. “This may be one way that good work practices can positively impact employees’ personal lives.”

The finding about higher levels of anxiety, he said, is “generally consistent with research suggesting that a sense of duty or stewardship toward something or someone can be both a burden and an important source of meaning.”

Using the survey findings, Bunderson and Thakor have built a personal higher purpose index and an organizational higher purpose index.

“These will enable us to examine how personal and organizational higher purpose and their perceived outcomes change over time,” Bunderson said.

Capitalizing on purpose

Businesses have risen from ruins because of their ability to recognize and capitalize on purpose, Thakor emphasizes in presentations. Those businesses have excelled and grown. But they don’t do it at the expense of making a buck.

Thakor cites a couple of examples of organizational higher purpose in his working paper “Higher Purpose, Incentives and Economic Performance.”

  • Detroit-based DTE Energy clarifies its higher purpose as being “a force for growth and prosperity.” The company names four pillars through which its social impact is to manifest: people (“improving lives and creating opportunity”), places (“partners with communities for growth”), planet (“leadership toward cleaner energy and environmental stewardship”) and progress (“powering a brighter tomorrow”).
  • Tree T-PEE, based in Arcadia, Florida, offers water-containment systems for agribusiness. It articulates its higher purpose as helping farmers conserve water and energy in farming.

Learn more

To explore more about the concept of a higher purpose, you may want to read these blog posts:




The president of an energy company was not a believer in a business entity being able to have a higher organizational purpose … until he saw it work for others. So he went back to his company and launched the initiative. It all started with a video that described the higher purpose of the company.

The company’s new video showed its people — from truck drivers to corporate officers — and described how their daily work affected the everyday life and well-being of their community, at every level.

The first workers to watch the video stood and applauded. The video captured the company’s new statement of purpose: “We serve with our energy, the lifeblood of communities and the engine of progress.”

Anjan Thakor

Businesses can have a higher purpose. More than that, they should, finds research by WashU Olin’s Anjan Thakor and the University of Michigan’s Robert E. Quinn.

An organization of higher purpose is a social system in which the greater good has been envisioned, articulated and authenticated, they write in their just-released book “The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counterintuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization.”

Published August 20, the book expands on the authors’ 2018 Harvard Business Review article.  For that piece, they interviewed more than 35 CEOs and other leaders over two years. And they talked with many more for the book.

“The Economics of Higher Purpose,” from Berrett-Koehler Publishers, is organized into two parts. The first examines theories that govern organizational behavior. The second shifts from theory to practice: It offers eight steps drawn from the authors’ research and interviews with leaders of higher-purpose organizations.

Practical implications

“The steps are to help leaders discover their organizations’ purpose and imbue the organization with it”, said Thakor, the John E. Simon Professor of Finance, director of the PhD Program, and director of the WFA Center for Finance and Accounting Research at Olin.

Purpose has practical implications for a company’s financial health and competitiveness, Thakor and Quinn report. People who find meaning in their work give it their energy and dedication. They grow rather than stagnate. They do more, and they do it better.

“We like to emphasize that a higher purpose is something that transcends your usual business goals, but it also intersects with those goals,” Thakor said.

“The higher purpose becomes the arbiter of all business decisions,” he said. “It has to become the lens through which every decision is viewed.”

Like all organizations, an organization of higher purpose is a cauldron of conflict. Yet people find meaning in their work and in their relationships despite the conflicts, Thakor said. They share a vision and are fully engaged.

In an organization of higher purpose, people interact with one another with respect and engage in constructive confrontation. Trust is continually repaired, and conversations are authentic. The people have a win-win mentality, and positive peer pressure emerges to support high levels of collaboration, the authors discovered. Leadership not only flows from the top down, but it also emerges from the bottom up. Employees believe they work in an organization of excellence.

The paradox

As a consequence of adopting a higher purpose, the organization often makes short-term economic sacrifices but benefits from long-term economic gains.

“The paradox of organizational higher purpose is that it actually does improve financial and economic performance but only if you don’t do it primarily for that reason,” Thakor said. If purpose is undertaken solely for economic gain, it loses authenticity and credibility, and fails to produce positive economic outcomes.

Perhaps the most important finding of the authors’ research is the importance of the authenticity. If the purpose is just a PR gimmick, like a slogan printed on posters and plastered on walls, employees will see right through it, Thakor said. “Everybody will look at it and say, ‘OK. Fine.’

“That’s very different from what we’re talking about,” he said. “This is about values you truly believe in and practice.”

Thakor and Quinn have been scholars of higher-purpose firms for a long time, and they set out to write the definitive book on it. They examined the theories that govern organizational behavior, some of which also are formally articulated in economics.

“We believe these conventional assumptions of economics are valid but incomplete,” Thakor said. “We offer a new logic that transcends the conventional assumptions and includes them.”

They show that higher purpose helps to resolve the classic principal-agent problem at the heart of microeconomics. They also explain why numerous books and articles on higher purpose have failed to gain traction in the workplace.

From theory to practice

How to bring this theory to practice? Here are eight counterintuitive guidelines, which are drawn from their research and interviews with leaders of higher-purpose organization:

  • Envision a purpose-driven organization
  • Discover the purpose
  • Meet the need for authenticity
  • Turn the higher purpose into a constant arbiter of all business decisions
  • Stimulate learning
  • Turn mid-level managers into purpose-driven leaders
  • Connect the people to the purpose
  • Unleash the positive energizers

“Although a higher purpose does not guarantee economic benefits, we have seen impressive results in many organizations,” Thakor said. “Our study and other research suggest positive results, both in operating financial performance and performance measurement.”

So purpose is not just a lofty ideal. It has practical implications for a company’s financial health and competitiveness, according to the book. Allowing people to find meaning in their work means they can grow, do more, do better. Tap into that employee empowerment, and you can transform an entire organization.

This article is partially excerpted from the book “The Economics of Higher Purpose.”




New research reveals the dynamics that influence how bank capital structure affects credit monitoring. The study titled, “Who Monitors the Monitor: Bank Capital Structure and Borrower Monitoring,” details how researchers measure the effects of a bank’s capital structure on its credit monitoring, and delivers new evidence explaining how government safety nets that enhance banking protections affect bank capital structure, and, in turn, influence bank monitoring and risk-taking behavior.

The research co-authors are Olin’s Anjan Thakor, and Sudarshan Jayaraman, associate professor of accounting at Simon Business School at the University of Rochester .

The research highlights four main findings:
* Banks take on less equity and more debt when creditor rights increase and the reverse when creditor rights decrease.
* This indicates that bank equity appears to provide stronger monitoring incentives to banks and that they need less of this mechanism when there is a lower need for monitoring.
* These effects are not driven by the supply side (i.e., bank creditors are more willing to lend to the bank when creditor rights increase).
* The increase in bank leverage increases the bank’s risk-taking appetite, especially when government guarantees are in place.

The co-authors studied legal reforms in 14 countries across Europe and Asia during the 1990s and early 2000s.

The researchers conclude that stronger creditor rights tend to increase the bank’s cost of debt, particularly when governments offer a strong guarantee to banks. These results indicate that stronger banking rights needs are not always better and that legal remedies that strengthen banking rights can bring about unintended consequences as banks incur higher debt and assume greater risks.

Read the complete news release from Simon Business School.

Related research from Anjan Thakor.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons: MNB: ninety odd years of banking 1825-1916, Claire T. Carney Library, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth