At first blush, building a high-tech company on a game plan of “love, and be happy” doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for booming business success.
But when John Miles tells the story of Integritive, his Asheville-based web development/mobile marketing/interactive advertising company, it makes you wonder why every business doesn’t do it his way.
Miles grew up in a small business family. His parents owned businesses, and what he remembers most from his childhood was how unhappy they were about their chosen work. Years later, when the “start your own business” bug hit him, Miles was determined not to repeat his parents’ experience. “Love, and be happy” became the founding principle for his company.
Love and be happy for him meant a couple of things. Love the work you do and the people you do it with. Create a workplace with lots of room for fun and lightheartedness. See work as a strategy for learning and personal growth, a path for reaching your highest potential. Cultivate a daily practice — exercise, yoga, running, meditation, prayer — whatever helps maintain a healthy balance between your life and your work.
Miles was certain that if he built a team that subscribed to those principles, success would follow. After all, if you built your company around great people, made sure that they really liked their teammates and loved their work, and if you gave them lots of opportunity to grow, you probably couldn’t help but turn out great work and a growing string of satisfied customers.
It seems to have worked out that way. Integritive, which was founded in 2001, has enjoyed considerable growth every year, even through the recent economic slump. The company recently announced the addition of Integritive2, a group set up to help clients do a better job of weaving sustainability into their advertising and branding. The hope is that talking about sustainability in this
way will also encourage clients to become more sustainable. The new division not only moves the company closer to its goal of being the first full-service, under-one-roof agency in Asheville, but it also promotes the fact that sustainability is a core value.
John Miles is committed to continued growth of revenues and profits for his company, but even there his framework is different than most. He doesn’t measure the success of his company by profits, but by a matrix of goals of which profitability is one piece. He ticks through the list: “Are we happy? Are we growing as people and as a company? Are we viable, sustainable and abundant?”
For Miles, growth also means that the Integritive philosophy will touch more people and perhaps have a greater impact on its corner of the business
world. He speaks of a growing connection with other CEOs around the country who also believe in the potential of a more conscious style of business
to help reshape the world.
There has been, it seems to me, a kind of tectonic shift of business attitudes and values over the last half-century. The old business establishment had a kind of patrician sense of responsibility to its employees and to the larger world. By contrast, the new business establishment seems unduly self-centered, more avid in pursuit of their own interests, more willing to leave the fate of others — and the planet — to the frosty whims of the
marketplace. Perhaps we all are. Whatever the reasons, the marketplace and the workplace seem decidedly more Darwinian than they were just a couple of decades ago.
But perhaps, as they say, every movement carries with it the seeds of its opposites. If so, leadership styles like those that John Miles has embedded into Integritive may be the early signs of a holistic reintegration of business and the society it serves.
One can almost hear a familiar voice in the background: “Are we happy? Are we growing ourselves? Are we growing our company? Are we building a better world?”
I would bet a lot of money that it is.
Terry O’Keefe is an Asheville-based writer and technology consultant, and a not-quite-reformed entrepreneur. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally printed in the November 28, 2010 Asheville Citizen-Times