In the late ‘90s, Amazon’s company headquarters occupied several floors of Pacific Tower, formerly Pacific Medical Center, a 16-story building on Seattle’s Beacon Hill.

The building opened in 1933 as a hospital for the Marines. It was in this Tim Burtonesque setting that the legend of the Amazon “door-desk,” and the company itself, started picking up steam.

While there are conflicting reports on the actual origin of the desks, it was certainly true that this creaky old building had many more doors than the company needed, and not nearly enough desks. Also, it cannot be argued that at this particular moment in time, the “mad genius at the top of the hill” was busy changing conventional thinking and creating something special. By staying smart, resourceful and focused on what customers want, Amazonians had the opportunity to truly make history.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s visionary founder and CEO, said his door-desk served as a symbol of frugality and a way of thinking. Whether the idea was born out of necessity or just smart marketing, it was a platform Bezos used to define, inspire and embrace the purpose of his company. He was essentially telling people, “What we’re building here is much more than a bookstore. It’s still day one at Amazon, so let’s roll up our sleeves and keep building.”


Amazon Founder & CEO Jeff Bezos (AP Photo/Andy Rogers)

Purpose Follows the Leader

Company leadership plays an outsized role in most aspects of purpose…from the spark of the idea to its sponsorship, support, ultimate success and longevity. Purpose should be a large part of what motivates and directs employees. It should help them make choices, guiding both their thoughts and actions. Crystallizing purpose into communications that inspire employee alignment is leadership’s challenge.

Purpose must be actionable and “lived” as well as spoken. It must become part of the organization’s vernacular and behavior. Leadership must set the tone by demonstrating at every opportunity their embrace of the principles defining purpose. Whether on stage providing anecdotal examples of purpose, or living it on the store floor assisting customers, purpose should be reinforced by leadership action whenever possible.

Honestly Changing the World

When Lloyd Dean took over as CEO of Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) in 2000, the organization was operating as a group of independent facilities rather than a single health system with a unified vision. Dean brought CHW to profitability within four years, and has kept it on track ever since.

In 2012, Catholic Healthcare West changed its name to Dignity Health as part of a governance restructure. The name change helped eliminate confusion about the organization’s willingness to seek partnerships with non-Catholic entities. It also gave Lloyd Dean the opportunity to redefine the vision of the organization and inspire his staff of 60,000+ people to be aligned with a greater purpose.

Last year, Dignity Health launched a major national effort encouraging people to promote acts of humankindness. The campaign, “Hello humankindness,” is Dignity Health’s response to two realities: the institutionalization of health care and the decline of civility in society. The platform was designed to start a national conversation and inspire a grassroots movement. Today, people from around the globe are sharing stories of kindness and more than 18,000 Twitter users are following @humankindness.

The new Dignity Health positioning was fully embraced by Lloyd Dean, who in turn encouraged current and prospective employees to join him in being the catalyst for positive change in health care. In a video on the Dignity Health Careers site, Dean extends an invitation to those who share a belief in the healing power of humanity.

Dignity1Dignity1Dignity Health is now the fifth largest not-for-profit health system in the country. By many accounts, Lloyd Dean’s collaborative and purposeful style of leadership was a big factor in the turnaround of the organization. His accomplishments continue to earn him a place on Modern Healthcare’s list of the Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare. He also ranks #21 on the 2014 list of the “100 Most Influential People in Healthcare.”

Next week, we’ll be taking a look at other purpose-driven, transformative leaders, including Alan Mulally, who recently retired as President and CEO of Ford Motor Company.

Is purpose a priority in your company? Is your culture in the process of transformation? Are your employees aligned with your company’s purpose? Send us a message at or follow us on Twitter @JWTINSIDE.


J. Walter Thompson INSIDE is a full-service recruitment advertising agency and employer branding consulting firm, creating pioneering ideas in strategic recruitment, human resource development and management, and more.