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Say It and Live It: The 50 Corporate Mission Statements That Hit the Mark

By Larry Kahaner and Patricia Jones

  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1st edition (April 1, 1995) 
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385476302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385476300



Say It And Live It is the first collection of provocative, passionate, and intelligent corporate mission statements — the most powerful and popular managerial tool in business today. A corporate mission statement is the most dramatic presentation of a company’s vision and its goal. No other document — annual report, press release, news article, statement from the board of directors — tells us more about a company’s values and ethics than a mission statement. Companies know that if they write it down, they will have to live up to it — so they devote months, even years, the energy of people from the CEO on down, and significant sums of money to crafting them.


Say It And Live It is the only source of information for the many business people who are currently writing their own mission statements. In it, authors Patricia Jones and Larry Kahaner show that industry leaders are frequently corporations that truly live their mission statements.


Some of the winners include: Avis, Ben & Jerry’s, Boeing, Citicorp, General Electric, Gillette, Hallmark Cards, IBM, Kellogg’s, Reader’s Digest, Saturn, Southwest Airlines, UPS, and Xerox. Say It And Live It is a collection of the fifty best corporate mission statements in America. Each entry consists of the company’s complete mission statement, along with an explanation of how it was written, a lesson about how that mission statement saved the company or motivated employees, or comments from the CEO or the president. The introduction points out the common elements of these philosophical documents, while the final chapter is a list of tips on how you can write your own mission statement.




AT&T Corp.

Avis Rent A Car System, Inc.

American Barrick Resources Corporation

Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc.

Binney & Smith Inc.

The Boeing Company

Boston Beer Company

Leo Burnett Company, Inc.

Campbell & Ferrara Nurseries, Inc.

Celestial Seasonings, Inc.


CSX Corporation

Dayton Hudson Corporation

Delta Air Lines, Inc.

Gannett Company, Inc.

GEICO Corporation

General Electric Company

General Mills, Inc.

Georgia-Pacific Corporation

Gerber Products Company

The Gillette Company

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company

Hallmark Cards, Inc.

Hanna Andersson Corporation

Honda Of America Manufacturing, Inc.

International Business Machines Corporation

Intel Corporation

Johnson & Johnson

Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc.

Kellogg Company

Arthur D. Little, Inc.

Marriott Lodging Group

Merck & Company, Inc.

Motorola, Inc.

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company

The Park Lane Group

J.C. Penney Company, Inc.

The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

Saturn Corporation

The Southland Corporation

Southwest Airlines Company

Steelcase, Inc.

Levi Strauss & Company

Tom’s of Maine

Trammell Crow Company

Twentieth Century Investors, Inc.

United Parcel Service, Inc.

Worthington Industries, Inc.

Xerox Corporation



How to Write a Mission Statement


Six Rules for Writing and Implementing Your Own Mission Statement


Writing your own mission statement can be a tough job, but ultimately you’ll get more out of the assignment than just your mission statement. What you’ll end up with is a clear, concise definition of what your company does, how it does it, why it does it and where it’s going in the future. This exercise in itself can help focus your company on the crucial issues that perhaps you didn’t realize or were unwilling to face squarely and honestly.


Each company composes its mission statement in its own way, and this section will give you tips on how to write a mission statement designed for your company. This book is filled with examples on how other companies have done it, and their wisdom and trials can help you to write yours. Read what they’ve done, and use their techniques when they seem right for you. Be creative; devise and invent methods that suit your company’s culture.


Although corporations have used the term ‘mission statement’ to include all kinds of philosophical statements including missions, values, visions, principles, credos, bonds and so on, let’s break that apart for the moment. For most companies, the actual ‘mission statement’ is short and describes what they do and what business they’re in. After that, they have the enabling or supporting material like values, principles or philosophies which help them accomplish their mission statement’s goals.


The first question you should ask is: “What do I want to tell everybody that we do?” For example, Avis’s Quest for Excellence says: … our business is renting cars… Leo Burnett’s mission states: The mission of the Leo Burnett Company is to create superior advertising.


Although some companies don’t have a ‘mission statement,’ it’s helpful for most companies to describe what they do, not just for themselves, but for outsiders and investors. For companies going through a massive change – such as selling off divisions and only focusing on their new core business – having a statement of what it does can be stabilizing and reassuring to employees and investors.


The second part of the project is writing the enablers. These elements tell everyone how the ‘mission statement’ will be accomplished and what principles or values the company and its people will use to guide them day to day and into the future. This section always evokes strong feelings from executives and others in the company, because it’s about human values and no two people exactly agree on what they should be.


A whole or entire mission statement should be as simple or as complex as the company. Look at Steelcase as an example: one sentence says it all. Then look at Xerox. It’s so complex that it takes a while to find all the tentacles of this monster. However, each one works for that particular company and that’s what counts.


Intel is a good example of a long mission statement – it has several parts – but because it’s laid out in diagram form it’s very simple even though it’s rather lengthy. It works because each section is pithy and to the point.


     Rule #1: Keep the statement simple. Not necessarily short, but simple.


Who should write it?


Some companies like Ben & Jerry’s had one person write it. Twentieth Century Investors used a team approach. While other companies like Boeing and Saturn used outside consultants for some parts.


Different yet, IBM used a top-down approach – what the CEO wrote becomes dogma. While other CEOs  – like Bob Allen of AT&T – wrote The Common Bond, sent it out for review by employees, then altered it based on their comments.


There is no consensus, but the best approach seems to be that the top manager or managers write the mission statement then send it out for review and comment by the senior managers and employees. Why? This way, everyone feels they have a hand in producing the document. This involvement helps get people on board. It gets them excited about the document’s beliefs and principles. They have a stake in its fulfillment.


And that’s Rule #2: Allow companywide input.


Sometimes people inside a company are too close to the action to look objectively at the big picture. On the other hand, who knows more about the company than those inside who live it every day? A powerful strategy is to write the mission statement in-house with the help of an outsider. Outsiders bring a fresh look at stale problems and they can help steer around political swamps.


     Rule # 3: Outsiders can bring clarity and a fresh perspective to your statement-writing process.


What should the mission statement sound like, very proper or colloquial? Northwestern Mutual Life still uses the exact wording of its original statement written in 1888. Even though some of the phrases are not colloquial anymore, it gives the company the old-fashioned flavor that it relishes and is its strength.  The new, fast moving General Electric uses only three words and one of them is made up – ‘boundaryless’ – to show innovation and a break from the old way of doing business.


Hanna Andersson fancies itself a homey, friendly company and its choice of words reflects warmth and tenderness. The same can be said for Celestial Seasonings.


     Rule #4: The wording and tone should reflect the company’s personality or what the company would like to be.


After you’ve written your statement, you’re not done. The hardest part lies ahead: Dissemination and adoption. How do you get the statement out to workers, and how do you get them to live it?


Getting the word out and in front of workers all the time, making it part of the culture, is a challenge. It’s also the part where companies have shown the greatest creativity.


Perhaps the most amusing tack comes from Southwest Airlines. They put their mission statement in boxes of Crackerjacks and  gave them out to employees. When IBM introduced their Principles, they not only used their company publications but let managers know that the corporate office would foot the bill for copies to be produced and disseminated to hang in offices around the world.


Merck uses a novel approach for dissemination of their Declaration of Intent. It’s an actual declaration, signed by all 450 senior managers, framed and hung in all areas.


Wallet-sized cards seem to be a good choice for many companies including Goodyear, Kellogg’s, Ritz-Carlton, Binney & Smith and Motorola. Many use two versions; one to carry and one to have in your desk or hanging on the wall. Motorola employees use the card for impromptu challenges and games.


Video presentations about the mission statement work well, too, especially when the CEO can’t reach everyone personally. Delta uses a video presentation as does Gillette. For companies with many branches it’s the only way the CEO can ‘visit’ them all.


Honda of America teaches courses in the mission statement. United Parcel pays hourly workers to attend sessions on their own time about their mission statement.


     Rule #5: Share the mission statement in as many creative ways as possible and in as many languages as necessary. Keep it in front of people constantly.


Of course, all of these tips are hollow unless the mission statement is really used.


At many companies such as Intel and Boeing, all employees, including managers, are judged by how well they follow their mission statements. In many ways this is imminently fair. Everyone knows exactly what is expected of them.


The mission statement must continue to be relevant. At Gannett, upper management looks at the Game Plan every year to see if it needs updating in a business that changes rapidly. Arthur D. Little also continually checks its mission statement to make sure it still makes sense for them.


Many companies have short and long term goals in their mission statements. This forces them to visit the statement constantly to see how they’re measuring up. Boston Beer, for example, has picked 2006 as its date for Samuel Adams to be … the largest and most respected craft or imported beer in the United States…  Other companies call for themselves to be the leader in an industry and this pledge also invites constant scrutiny of the mission statement.


Last, Rule #6: Rely on the mission statement for guidance. Challenge it continuously, and judge employees by how well they adhere to its tenets. Management must say it and live it.




“One of the Ten Best Business Books of 1995.”


— Atlanta Business Chronicle


“If you’ve already got a mission statement but fear it isn’t very good, the statements reprinted here will give you perspective… illuminating commentary…”


— Fortune Magazine


“The power of mission statements arises from the idea that clarity of intention and belief really does affect reality. If you would like to define or redefine that values and beliefs that power your business, Say It and Live It will surely illuminate the process.”


— Executive Bookshelf

“If you would like to define – or redefine – that values and beliefs that power your business, Say It and Live It will surely illuminate your process.”

–Washington Business Journal


“…An indispensable resource to any serious discussion about your mission statement… remarkably instructive… The real value of this book is learning why and how very successful companies invest significant time and thought in the creation and application of mission statements.”


— JCC Association magazine Circle


“This book should be exceedingly valuable for anyone who is thinking about creating a mission statement or modifying an existing set of guidelines and principles. It is even powerful for individuals to see how people in some of the most-admired companies in the U.S. (yes, I would submit there is a correlation between that and mission statements) think about their companies.”


— Production Magazine


“The first collection of the most intriguing and effective corporate mission statements. A must-have book.”


— Light Party for Economic Reform


Johnson and Johnson Case Study


How their Mission Statement Helped Johnson & Johnson Survive the Tylenol Crisis


(excerpted from “Say It and Live It”)


Johnson & Johnson is one of those great American corporate classics. Started in l886 by the three Johnson brothers with fourteen employees in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson today has 82,000 employees worldwide and $14 billion in sales.


Johnson & Johnson has produced some of the world’s most well-known brands, including Johnson’s Baby Powder, which was introduced in l893; Band-Aids, introduced in l920, and Tylenol, in l960.


Johnson & Johnson’s Our Credo is their guiding philosophy. It was written by General Robert Wood Johnson more than fifty years ago. Our Credo covers four main areas of responsibility: customers, employees, communities and shareholders.


“For its time, it was extremely forward looking and visionary,” says Robert Kniffin, vice president of corporate public relations. “It was challenged by the management in the mid-’70s when the chairman decided if it was going to hang on walls and be on desks in offices that it should not just be a token or symbol, but should be an article of faith,” he says. “He convened a couple of meetings with top management and challenged them with provocative questions about the conflicting tenets of the Credo. For example, an inefficient plant that you’ve had for many years. If you close it, what happens to the community; what about your obligation to employees? Or, what do you do with a batch of product that is fine, but the labels are on crooked? People argued with considerable emotion about such things, with the object of asking whether this document was necessary and desirable, and if so, should it be modernized or changed. Out of that came some changes. That Credo challenge process continues right up until this day, and has resulted in some further changes in the text, but remarkably few in my opinion,” he says.


“We are going through a period of enormous change, facing all kinds of challenges–from customers, from competitors, from government,” Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ralph Larsen had told employees. “When you go through that kind of stressful challenge, you’ve got to be rooted in a set of fundamental beliefs. When we talk to our constituencies–hospitals, retailers, suppliers, government regulators, even competitors–they presume that we are going to do the right thing and act honorably,” Larsen noted.



Johnson & Johnson’s true test of doing the right thing occurred in l982 during the Tylenol tamperings. Kniffin, who was at the company then, tells the story: “In l982, when the poisoning occurred in Chicago, where someone put cyanide poison in the capsules, we had an unprecedented situation and had to invent ways of dealing with it. For example, that day the chairman sent me and someone from the law department to Pennsylvania where the product was made (McNeil Consumer). I spent the next ten days there dealing with the media, and we had to deal with them the best we could. Multiply that with the phone calls we got from consumers, from doctors, from hospitals and from law enforcement agencies. We didn’t know what happened, whether something had happened in the plant or outside. To know beyond a shadow of a doubt took weeks. You had all these people within this company in a compressed, anxious, bordering on the hysterical, along with personal pressures on making decisions about what to do.


“I was in the president’s office (at McNeil Consumer) and he had asked the vice president of finance to compute what it would cost to recall all of the capsules in the United States. This guy came back a couple of days later and said he calculated that it would be $75 million. And then he said, ‘but we don’t have 75 million dollars,’ meaning McNeil Consumer. Then there was a pause and another guy said, ‘but how can we not do this, because there might be another bottle on the shelf, and if we don’t get them back, someone might die.’ It was not an instance where someone said ‘let’s consult the Credo and think through this problem, starting with what’s our responsibility to the consumer, but rather it was a way of looking at the world, at business and at the decisions. The Credo structures the way you think about things. When all was done and the dust had settled, we reached the conclusion that those hundreds of individual decisions were right decisions. They sprang from some common way of looking at the world, which in retrospect was the Credo.


At the time, Tylenol was the company’s largest single money-maker. During the incident, their market share of the analgesic market dropped from 37 percent to 7 percent within weeks and the company’s share price dropped 10 percent. In five months, a new tamper-proof Tylenol was back on the shelves, and it had regained 70 percent of its previous market share. Within three years its total market share was reached.


“The premise of the document was that if you order your priorities, most of the time it will work out. There are conflicts, of course. It was not in the stockholders’ interest to take a $50 million after-tax write off. Nobody ever complained about that, which is interesting. It all seems clear in retrospect, but during those first few days nothing was clear. I was convinced we were going to lose that brand. The decision was made to recall the capsules altogether. As a result of that, we did find three bottles on the shelves in Chicago that were poisoned,” says Kniffen.


“Companies usually don’t get a test of this type to ascertain the importance of a business philosophy, but having the Credo helped Johnson & Johnson employees unconsciously take the steps necessary to do the right thing,” he says.


Then Chairman James Burke was quoted at the time: “After the crisis was over we realized that no meeting had been called to make the first critical decision. Everyone of us knew what we had to do. We had the Credo to guide us.”


Since that time there has been a more conscious articulation of the Credo values in business meetings, according to Kniffin. “The value of the document was actually enhanced and the reputation of the company was ironically improved by that incident,” he says. “Many times in meetings on various subjects, people have eluded to the Credo, from salespeople to middle managers to executives, from personnel matters to community relations, from equity issues to consumer quality issues. There are questions of businesses we should or should not get it because, in part, of the Credo implications. It goes right to the essence of the company. The phrase, ‘this is a Credo issue’ you hear a lot these days.”


You’ll find the Credo part of the vocabulary at Johnson & Johnson, from developing ‘Credo-based’ leaders to ‘Credo-challenge meetings’ to ‘Credo surveys’. “We want to develop Credo-based leaders–broad-gauged, multi-dimensional men and women with superior talents, values and the energy it takes to bring out the best in people and produce outstanding business results,” Larsen told employees. Credo challenge meetings, begun in 1976, continue today at J&J. About 25 people attend each session and the session deals with the results of the Credo survey, which is done on a three year cycle. The Credo survey is a series of more than a hundred questions that give each employee (anonymously) the chance to rate how well the company is living up to the tenets of the Credo.


“In meeting consumer needs, we get very high grades,” says Kniffin. “In meeting community needs we get very high grades, in meeting stockholder needs, very high grades–but not employee needs, because we ask questions like ‘are you paid enough?’ But management tries to work on those issues,” he says. People in the challenge sessions are asked to reflect on why some areas receive higher scores that others and how those scores tie into the implementation of the values outlined in the credo.


Could you work for Johnson & Johnson? You have to believe in the Credo to climb the corporate ladder. As Chairman/CEO Larsen told employees: “while it is possible to succeed in Johnson & Johnson over the short-term without a true commitment to the credo … you will not do well over the long term. You have to believe in Our Credo and practice it to be able to finish your career with Johnson & Johnson.”






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