The Real PPE: Profit, Purpose, and Empathy.


The PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) degree is probably the most sought-after to get you places – at least in the UK, and particularly if you want to get into politics. PPE at Oxford University has been preparing people for important jobs for decades, or at least that’s how it’s seen. The list of those who studied it includes David Cameron, William Hague, Jeremy Hunt, and Philip Hammond. The list goes on with notables like Tony Abbott (former Prime Minister of Australia), Ian Davis (former Global MD of McKinsey), Antony Jenkins (former CEO of Barclays Group), Stephen Hester (for CEO of RBS Group), Liaquat Ali Khan (first Prime Minister of Pakistan), and Abhisit Vejjajiva (former Prime Minister of Thailand). The three branches cover almost everything students need to prepare for a successful career in business, politics, and often media.

For business in particular, the key to any executive leadership is centered around PPE, but a different PPE – Profit, Purpose, and Empathy. These are the three critical components of any company competing for the future as we move into the next industrial revolution, where the rules of competition are being rewritten every minute and technology is fast becoming the core of competitive advantage.

The importance of profit doesn’t require explanation. Profit is the lifeblood of any business. But profit without purpose is not sustainable, and will make a business less competitive. A strong purpose will reinvigorate and connect employees, customers, and the business with meaning. Economists argue that unless we have a single, objective view as guidance, executives and managers should make strategic trade-offs. Making profits is both the objective and not the objective.

Purpose is the driving force behind the untapped creativity and power that can push new performance limits. Armies of economists, finance theorists, and B-school professors are enforcing the notion that companies exist only to maximize “profits” and thereby create “shareholder value.” But shareholders, directors, executives, and managers are humans – and humans have dreams and aspirations. The new rules for business are shifting, and leaders are showing how “profits from purpose” is the new game.

Then we have empathy. As the supply chain becomes hyper efficient and technologies are making decisions for us in all aspects of life, people are demanding more trust, empathy, and warmth. The cold world of smart technologies is creating a need for consumers to feel valued, appreciated, cared for, and taken care of. As more advanced artificial intelligence and robotics are being deployed, the less humans seem to matter. Technology won’t make us feel more human; design with empathy will.

The top CEOs will be graduates of PPE – perhaps not necessarily Oxford’s PPE, but they will certainly be practitioners of aligning profits with purpose and using empathy to make technology more human. So if you want to succeed, start studying PPE now.