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Profit Is Not An Accurate Measure Of Business Success, Decathlon CEO Tells INSEAD Forum

Being driven solely by the bottom line is wrong for business, our happiness and the planet’s future, Barbara Martin Coppola of Decathlon tells INSEAD alumni forum

By  Siân Phillips

Fri Mar 24 2023

Profit is a poor indicator of a company’s long-term success and its resilience, Decathlon CEO Barbara Martin Coppola told a gathering of more than 700 INSEAD alumni in London in late March 2023.

“Only looking at the bottom line is like measuring the beauty of a digital image by the number of pixels it carries, or happiness in a relationship by the number of years it has lasted,” said the global sports gear head, herself an MBA alumna of the top-ranked business school. 

“You must look beyond the stock market capitalization and how much money's in the bank [to evaluate business success],” she added.

Issuing a stark warning to the gathered business leaders, should their companies prioritize wealth above purpose, she quoted UN figures that state there are only seven years to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 43% in order to avoid irreversible damage to the Earth. 

She said that for business, “now, more than ever, purpose and wealth must go hand in hand” and that it wasn’t just governments who could solve environmental challenges.

“People look at us, to companies, for the answers through our actions,” said the former IKEA chief digital officer, adding that half-hearted, inauthentic action—or greenwashing—could cause reputational damage.

She added: “A company that does not have a path to decarbonization carries a fundamental business risk. We all here in this room are the business leaders of today. It is in our power to create this change, to turn purpose statements into real, meaningful, tangible action.”

Decathlon now evaluates and incentivizes its employee performance not just by their economic contribution but by what they are doing for the planet, Barbara explained. 

She said the company gives equal weight to financial, human and planet goals—and that every single product the company sells is being re-evaluated to see how its durability can be maximized.

The INSEAD forum was held over four days in London and attended by more than 1000 alumni. With an overarching theme of ‘Rethinking Wealth and Purpose’, other speakers included fashion designer Stella McCartney, American philosopher and Apple University faculty member Joshua Cohen, and Sir Ronald Cohen, chair of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment.

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