Purpose Before Profit: Soon Hagerty On The Benefits Of Running A Purpose-Driven Business

today’s competitive business landscape, the race for profits often takes center stage. However, there are some leaders who also prioritize a mission-driven purpose. They use their business to make a positive social impact and recognize that success isn’t only about making money. In this interview series, we are talking with some of these distinct leaders and I had the pleasure of interviewing Soon Hagerty.

Soon Hagerty is co-founder of The Good Bowl, a mission based Vietnamese restaurant in Northern Michigan that donates $1 per bowl to charity as part of its business model. She also works as a brand advisor to Hagerty, a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange that serves car lovers and recently founded the Boundless Futures Foundation that helps female entrepreneurs launch their businesses that have an impact focus within their business.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Imoved to the United States from Vietnam when I was four as part of the boat people who fled Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. After 12 days on a boat and another six months at a refugee camp, we settled in Fresno, California, sponsored by my uncle who had fought for the South Vietnamese.

It was a challenging childhood with 7 kids and two working parents where many times we had to fend for ourselves for basic things like schoolwork, rides to afterschool sports etc. but it did teach me about independence and problem solving!

But that experience of seeing my parents’ hard work, ingenuity, and determination to create a successful life in America by becoming entrepreneurs inspires and defines me to this day. I would not trade my experience for anything as it was the catalyst for creating and building businesses and organizations to help others.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I launched The Good Bowl in mid 2018, then Covid hit so you can imagine being in the restaurant world was a huge challenge from both a business and people side. It was stressful for everyone but as a restauranteur you had the double-edged sword of how to not only keep guests and employees safe but how do you do this when rules were changing every day on how to navigate Covid.

That being said, it forced us to innovate to find additional revenue streams. We started bottling our own sauces and marinades as well as cocktails to go. These were ideas that we probably wouldn’t have done so early in our business without Covid but now is a great brand builder and revenue opportunity for us.

For many entrepreneurs, Covid was particularly tough. But I learned a lot about leading in a crisis. Putting people at the heart of every decision, communicating early and often as well as ensuring that you lead with hope and not fear was critical to ensuring our team would persevere.

We often learn the most from our mistakes. Can you share one that you made that turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?

When I started my first public relations firm, I gave out annual Christmas bonuses and was so excited to do this as a new entrepreneur. I didn’t have a particular formula for the bonuses, I gave what I thought was suitable for each employee based on the work each employee contributed to my firm. One of my employees was happy with the bonus the first year then the second year we had more employees and revenues were not significantly higher than the previous year, so I gave everyone a bit less.

He had an ungrateful reaction which I was not prepared for. It was a good learning moment for me that if you are going to bonus people you must have clear objectives and metrics in which bonuses are based upon. I know it sounds common sense now but when you are a new business owner you let your emotions get the best of you. You want to do good things and sometimes move too fast. You have to slow down and think about actions that set precedents. You need to ensure you set the right expectations for both sides.

As a successful leader, it’s clear that you uphold strong core values. I’m curious what are the most important principles you firmly stand by and refuse to compromise on. Can you share a few of them and explain why they hold such significance for you in your work and life?

I believe in 5 Key Principles of Leadership:

1.Lead with Empathy

At times we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our own family so ensuring that you truly take the time to know and SEE who your employees are is crucial for building trust.

2. Bring People Along with You

You can’t build a great business on your own or with just a few leaders. You must ensure that everyone on your team understands the vision and objectives of what you’re trying to create. When they understand the WHY of the business, you will get buy in.

3. Set the Bar High and People Will Self Select Out

If you want to create excellence in your organization, you need to be clear on what you expect and set the bar high. Either people will rise to the occasion or opt out. Either way, you set the standard for how the team will operate.

4. Take Accountability

Your team knows everyone makes. If they sense you never take responsibility for mistakes than you will never have credibility or trust. Taking accountability should trickle down to your entire team, but modeling starts with you.

5. Communicate Early and Often

It is vital that you have a regular communications cadence within your leadership team and your organization. Communication should both inspire confidence in the business and clarify any questions the team has. Don’t forget to tackle tough problems early on and always show them a path forward.

What inspired you to start a purpose-driven business rather than a traditional for-profit enterprise? Can you share a personal story or experience that led you to prioritize social impact in your business?

I started The Good Bowl as a way to thank the U.S. for taking us in as Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnam war. My family came here with 7 kids in tow and $300 in our pocket. It took us years to get back on our feet and build our family business. We could not have done it without the support of our community and governmental programs that America provided. I will be forever grateful to the U.S. for their support and open arms to those fleeing areas of conflict.

Can you help articulate a few of the benefits of leading a purpose-driven business rather than a standard “plain vanilla” business?

Leading a purpose driven business has many benefits but what’s been instrumental for us is that it builds camaraderie among our team and community. Our guests often refer to our $1 per bowl donation as part of why they love us at The Good Bowl. It creates differentiation in your category and has this incredible way of keeping you energized when times are tough i.e. during the pandemic, we pivoted our donations to support hospitality workers that were unable to work. This brought so much joy and pride to our team.

How has your company’s mission or purpose affected its overall success? Can you explain the methods or metrics you use to evaluate the impact of this purpose-driven strategy on your organization?

Our $1 per bowl donation model is integrated into our business so we measure how much we give away each year. We regularly have qualitative feedback on why guests choose our restaurant, and they usually comment on our donation model in addition to our food.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you realized that leading your purpose-driven company was actually making a significant impact? Can you share a specific example or story that deeply resonated with you personally?

During the pandemic, we created an initiative called The Good Bowl Hospitality Relief Fund where we donated $1 per bowl to support hospitality workers in our community that could not work due to health issues, family obligations or their business shutting down. We received hundreds of requests and were able to help most that applied with either gift cards for gas or food. We still receive comments about the impact of that program.

Have you ever faced a situation where your commitment to your purpose and creating a positive social impact clashed with the profitability in your business? Have you ever been challenged by anyone on your team or have to make a tough decision that had a significant impact on finances? If so, how did you address and reconcile this conflict?

Our brand is built on our purpose and impact strategy, but you have to be disciplined in your long-term giving or impact strategy. You can’t have a purpose driven business without the BUSINESS part. Because we are known for our support of nonprofits in our community and beyond, we get weekly requests from other nonprofits, churches, and local schools for donations.

We are very thoughtful on how to respond by pointing them towards our model of supporting three charities per quarter that is selected by our community. Having a clear and consistent parameter for giving is crucial or it can derail your business and your relationships.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who wish to start a purpose-driven business? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know I Order To Create A Highly Successful Purpose-Driven Business.”

1. Ensure Your Purpose is Authentic to Your Business

Make sure that your impact strategy is connected to your business otherwise it is tough for your customers to understand why you chose a particular route. The Good Bowl donates $1 per bowl to thank the U.S. for taking us in as Vietnamese refugees. It is straight forward yet clearly connects to our Vietnamese restaurant and our pillars of Cuisine, Community and Culture.

2. Don’t Boil the Ocean, Pick One or Two Strategies to Start

Because The Good Bowl’s brand is based on our donation program, we get a lot of requests for donations, so we are cognizant of staying focused on the charities that the community have selected. It can hurt your business and relationships if your giving strategy is not clear and focused.

3. Engage Your Entire Community

People want you to succeed, especially as a purpose-driven business so make sure you allow your community to engage in the giving strategy. We ask our guests to submit ideas for the next round of recipients for our $1 per bowl program and our employees vote for the finalists. Your community and employees can be your biggest cheerleaders.

4. Keep Good Accounting and Tracking to Ensure You Can Respond to Any Inquiries

Even though you are trying to do good in the world, there may be some skeptics or just curiosity about your model and strategy. Make sure you keep accurate data on your giving and flesh out metrics that show your impact. It can serve as a great proactive tool for communicating about your purpose-driven business or be utilized for questions about your business model.

5. Evolve Your Strategy Over Time

You will want to look at your business after several years to ensure that your model is still serving your business, customers, and employees well. What worked at the beginning may not be sustainable or relevant as your business matures.

I’m interested in how you instill a strong sense of connection with your team. How do you nurture a culture where everyone feels connected to your mission? Could you share an example or story that showcases how your purpose has positively influenced or motivated people on your team to contribute?

Your entire purpose should start internally with your team. My employees play a huge part in our business as they vote for the final recipients of our giving each quarter. They really enjoy the opportunity to get involved. I ensure they are informed of how much each nonprofit is given prior to the public and share all the feedback we get on our purpose initiatives.

There was one instance where I lost my ring in the parking lot and one of our chefs found it. I was so grateful that he returned it to us not knowing it was mine. I offered him a cash reward for it, and he said “no, please donate it to one of our charities as that is why I work here. I love what we do.” It was truly a touching moment and when I knew our business made an impact.

Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?

We’ve donated more than $150,000 to charity in the last 5 years. I am hoping we can hit over $200,000 in the next two years. It would be a huge milestone for a small fast casual restaurant in a tiny town in Northern Michigan!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to see that purpose driven companies are the norm not the exception. I believe every business can find some way to be larger than just themselves. It’s not about one way of giving like donating X amount to charity. Businesses can have a monthly or quarterly volunteer program or community experience. There are so many ways to make a difference.

How can our readers further follow your work or your company online?

The Good Bowl can be found on FaceBook and Instagram and you can follow my work on Linked In!

This was great. Thanks for taking time for us to learn more about you and your business. We wish you continued success!

This story originally appeared at: Authority Magazine