This article is part of a larger series on Starting a Business.
A business philosophy is a set of guiding principles that a business strives towards to reach its ultimate goal. It encompasses the business’s values, grounding it through ups and downs. It should align with the brand’s personality, mission, and vision. It underscores the actions, decisions, and culture within the business.
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You want to make your business philosophy motivational, action-oriented, and applicable across all company activities and departments. To help develop your philosophy, build two foundational pieces of the company mindset—mission statement and vision statement—and work your philosophy from there.
We put together 19 popular business philosophy examples, past and present, to help inspire you to write your own.
19 Examples of Business Philosophies
Let’s look at some Fortune 500 and other well-known companies. Some group their values and call it philosophy, while others frame their philosophy in terms of a Mission Statement, Values Statement, Code of Conduct, or Code of Ethics. Here are some great examples of strong, guiding philosophies to influence and inspire your own.
1. AT&T — Creating Connection
The largest communications company in the world bundled their many telecommunications services—cellular and web connectivity, entertainment, and premium content, for example—into a larger, crystallizing concept that we can all understand and relate to: connection.
It’s easy to write off some services as strictly utilitarian, but strong leaders are able to reframe a company and its services into something bigger, more human, and more meaningful. Everything AT&T does should, theoretically, tie back to connecting people with each other, helping them thrive, and helping them connect with stories and experiences that matter. This unifying vision can completely alter the mood and culture of the workplace when employees are inspired to accomplish something so powerful for humankind, and the philosophy guides that.
2. Google — 10 Things We Know to Be True
- Focus on the user and all else will follow.
- It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
- Fast is better than slow.
- Democracy on the web works.
- You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
- You can make money without doing evil.
- There’s always more information out there.
- The need for information crosses all borders.
- You can be serious without a suit.
- Great just isn’t good enough.
There are a lot of components to dissect in Google’s “10 Things” philosophy. But the thrust of the entire bit is making room for employees to explore, experiment, and succeed. It’s a very human-centric company with an employee-focused culture, trailblazing a creative, innovative, and play-focused work environment. It was ranked #1 for best global workplace culture by Comparably in April 2021.
3. Chevron — Putting People First
Also known as “The Chevron Way,” the putting people first philosophy is one you’ll see repeated throughout this list. It took a long time for companies to catch on that employees and customers should be the heart of the business, and this adaptation has proved beneficial for many large, otherwise disconnected companies. Since 1906, Chevron’s parent companies like Standard Oil Company have enacted the The Chevron Way philosophy by putting people first in charity, in operations, and in customer service.
4. Walgreens — Collaboration and Passion
Another multifaceted philosophy, this set of values is centered around collaboration and passion with the straightforward, general purpose of “helping people across the world lead happier and healthier lives.” Objectively, this is true of any drugstore chain, but Walgreens strives to differentiate by focusing on Trust, Care, Inclusion, Innovation, Partnership, and Dedication.
5. Verizon — Total Accountability
Sweet and simple can work, and Verizon sets aside its products and service offerings in favor of emphasizing the philosophy behind delivering those products and services: total accountability. If every company stuck to this philosophy, it certainly wouldn’t be all bad. Regardless of the product or service in question, Verizon sticks to the customer-centered philosophy of customer satisfaction at any cost.
6. Bank of America — Discipline, Empathy, and Understanding
Here we have another customer-focused philosophy. Not only is Bank of America focused on satisfying the customer, but it establishes how it strives to satisfy the customer: with discipline, empathy and understanding. But notice that the philosophy doesn’t stray far from the ultimate goal of any financial institution, which is to satisfy the bottom line and those ever-present shareholders.
7. FedEx — People-Service-Profit
Having invented a catchy and memorable acronym for its business philosophy, FedEx’s operations are balanced on a trifecta of People, Service, and Profit. Interestingly enough, the three items in the balance are interrelated and not independent of one another. In fact, FedEx’s philosophy is that by fostering an exemplary working environment, employees will deliver a superior service, which will then result in comfortable profit for the organization. Instead of focusing on money first, FedEx purports to prioritize employee satisfaction, assuming the rest will come. So far, this philosophy appears to be working.
8. Walt Disney — Culture of Care
The quote above from Walt Disney himself is a perfect segue from FedEx’s P-S-P philosophy. The entertainment company’s founder promoted a culture of care that emphasized human-centered care, assuming the rest (profit, operational success, growth) would take care of itself. This trend is palpable today as companies are realizing the value of a philosophy focused on people nurturing, rather than profit jockeying. These companies make the Fortune 500 list for a reason.
9. HP — The HP Way
Another original company philosophy that started with the founders, “The HP Way” emphasized not what the company does or why, but how—with uncompromising integrity, respect, and trust, as well as flexibility and innovation. This is one of the few business philosophies discussed here that even mentions teamwork and the nurturing of team and collective successes rather than individual and company successes. In a highly independent society, it’s interesting that so few companies mention the importance of teamwork and team success to the overall achievement of the organization.
10. Delta — Rules of the Road
Delta’s “Rules of the Road” are another example of a company wrapping its business philosophy around a catchy tie-in to its service offering. Although Delta flies through the skies and not along roads, its travel-themed business philosophy makes it more memorable and relatable to both internal and external stakeholders.
11. Nike — Focus on Innovation
Read through Nike’s “About” page on its website and you’ll likely notice an oft-repeated word: innovation. Innovation is proudly woven into Nike’s DNA. So much, in fact, that they have taken to calling themselves a tech company. It’s hard to argue with this assertion, when Nike has pioneered true technology in footwear, including the Nike Flywire support system, Lunarlite foam cushioning, Hyperdunk basketball shoes, Free footwear, and the new Trainer 1 shoe. This is a clear example of a company truly living its business philosophy.
12. Publix — Lessons from the Founder
The Publix philosophy is a multipart, values-based philosophy sustained from the original founder George Jenkins circa the 1930s. Publix has a lot invested in its business philosophy; there’s a large portion of the corporate website dedicated to its business philosophy, founding, and history, including a series of videos explaining and exploring each individual value the company was built upon. If you’re working on building your own business philosophy, consider watching this series of two-minute videos, which are a nice representation of how the company continues to strive to deliver on each value in its day-to-day operations.
13. 3M — More Focus on Innovation
That’s right, as described by Panmore Institute, 3M is another company with an innovation-focused philosophy. There must be something in the water among Fortune 500 companies that make innovation a driving force behind their successes. 3M is a good example of combining two common themes in this list: focus on people and focus on innovation. Its short and sweet business philosophy emphasizes the importance of diversified and supported employees and the nurturing of innovation.
14. Starbucks — Employee First Philosophy
Brand Autopsy explored Starbucks’ Employee First Philosophy, which actually came from a 1986 memo from Il Giornale Coffee Company (the company that purchased Starbucks in 1987). Even then, former CEO Howard Schultz preached the importance of Steve Job’s subsequent management philosophy of “I hire people smarter than me and get out of the way.” Nurturing the human resources behind the product is a philosophy older than Starbucks itself, and one that has only recently begun to catch on elsewhere.
15. TOMS — One-for-One
This philosophy of giving is called the One-for-One philosophy. And it became so much more than a philosophy in the wake of TOMS philanthropic approach; it formed the foundation for a new social enterprise business model. This was a trailblazing concept when TOMS pioneered it in 2006, and countless companies have since incorporated giving into their business models, including Bombas, Warby Parker, and Wildflower & Oak.
16. Lululemon — A Core of Curiosity
Lululemon’s business philosophy offers a refreshing new concept among its peers: curiosity. However, Lululemon does insert the common theme of innovation into its approach. The company’s overall mission, it seems, is to utilize its product offering to “elevate the world” with better, more functional clothing. It may be a bit of a stretch, but this yoga-focused clothing line is obviously on to something nonetheless.
17. Burt’s Bees — Body First
The Burt’s Bees business philosophy, as reported by All Good Tales, clearly ties into what it sells and how it’s used. It’s actually a pretty straightforward philosophy of creating a quality, natural product to nurture the customer’s skin through a variety of products. Burt’s Bees even offers pet products like shampoos and conditioners, a product category also supported by this broad philosophy.
18. Clif Bar — Aspirational
Clif Bar is a natural, holistic, journey-focused product company. Its business philosophy aligns pretty well with its brand, identity, and culture — one of a long-term, aspirational journey that has no end and centers around the spokes of a bike wheel. This page of the Clif Bar website is another nice example of how a business philosophy is built around the company brand and vice versa. The succinct explanation of the business philosophy not only addresses the company’s Five Aspirations, but includes an illustration and an annual report that helps crystallize the actual application of a business philosophy not as a destination, but as a journey.
19. Atlassian — 5 Constant Values
Atlassian’s may be a good business philosophy to end on. Before introducing the values on the website, the company offers a precursor: “As our company continues to evolve and grow, these five values remain constant. They guide what we do, why we create, and who we hire.” This is a perfect example of why a company should bother with a business philosophy, and what it should be designed to do. A business philosophy should guide what a company does, why they do it, and who they hire, and remain constant over the course of its lifecycle. The Atlassian values are straightforward, but the explanation of why they exist is what makes this philosophy so impactful.
Bottom Line: Practice What You Preach
Creating a business philosophy is all well and good. But the point isn’t just to have a static, decorative philosophy to put on the shelf. The philosophy should be action-oriented and guide the conscience of the business, regardless of format or length.
A strong business philosophy will ensure that your business is always grounded in its founding mission, vision, and values; it serves as the North Star for the business in good times and bad. Applying that philosophy to your company culture, marketing and branding, and business operations and practices is how your business philosophy will produce fruit and keep the company, employees, and moral compass centered.