August Turak

Author Consultant Speaker

The Power of Why: 5 Keys to Getting Business Right

The mission of Truliant Federal Credit Union is to enhance the quality of life of our members and become their preferred financial institution.

I recently finished a draft of a book based on Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks; an article I wrote for Forbes that tries to explain why a small group of elderly monks who work only four hours a day in silence are such spectacularly successful entrepreneurs and businessmen. The book draws on the seminal work of Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey to argue for an ancient yet emergent leadership model based on service and selflessness that I call the Transformational Organization. Peak performance results from a passionate commitment to a mission worth serving and this is what Transformational Organizations like monasteries and the Marine Corps invariably inspire.

The feedback from my editor has been generally positive; however she remarked that the book could benefit from another example of a company that actually practices what I preach. Well as the saying goes, the Lord works in mysterious ways, and I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at three day board and top management retreat for Winston/Salem, NC based Truliant Federal Credit Union.

Though I was giving my talk in the afternoon, I arrived the night before so that I could sit through the early sessions and I was amazed at what I witnessed: The entire first day was dedicated to revisiting and reinforcing Truliant’s lofty mission of selfless service.

The CEO, Marc Schaefer, kicked things off by reminding us of a sacred truth: People will accomplish any “what” if they believe in the “why.” We then watched a TED Talk called The Power of Why by Simon Sinek that I highly recommend. Schaefer then movingly retold Truliant’s story from its inception, and wonderfully connected the company’s rapid growth and financial success to its commitment to enhancing the “quality of life” of its customers both monetarily and otherwise.


Next we watched a video of a married couple relating how Truliant and its people had radically transformed their lives: a video that despite the fact that I’ve grown war weary of testimonials brought tears to my eyes. I then learned that it was Truliant’s single minded commitment to its mission of service that had allowed the company to avoid the risky excesses of the financial bubble that crippled so many of its peers and drove so many others into bankruptcy. But best of all was Schaefer’s story of how –at the very depths of the recession and amidst great financial pressure – Truliant rejected a lucrative offer from a much larger bank for its credit card business simply because of concerns that customers would no longer get the high quality service they deserved and had come to expect.

After Schaefer’s keynote, the balance of the morning was dedicated to giving each board member and executive an opportunity to share what drew them to Truliant and how they felt about the company and its mission. While everyone spoke quietly, their feelings ran so deep that it felt like a subdued version of an old time revival meeting as the faithful recounted the ways in which Truliant’s culture of selfless service had changed their lives.

Apparently I was not the only one profoundly impressed. During a break I encountered a new board member at his first meeting wandering around in the parking lot with a faraway look in his eyes. He approached me with the air of someone who just needed to get something off his chest, “Wow, I don’t know what I was expecting but it was not this. Everything I thought I knew about business is wrong.”

By the time I went on in the afternoon I felt like the proverbial vaudeville comedian violating show business’ prime directive: Never follow acts with children or cuddly animals. I began by telling everyone how impressed I was and how special they and Truliant are. I had come prepared to teach only to learn, and despite my feelings of being upstaged I told them how grateful I was to be a small part of such a great group of people successfully executing an inspirational mission.

There are a number of lessons we can draw from Truliant and its success. First of all mission is everything and the loftier the mission the better. I was extremely flattered when Marc Schaefer kicked off the retreat by quoting from Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks.

“The reason why so many corporate mission statements seem vague and irrelevant and fail to inspire, is not because they are too lofty or too abstract. It is because the executives tasked with translating the mission into execution lack the commitment and imagination to make the thousands of mundane connections between mission and execution that are necessary for success.”

Truliant’s board and top management makes these connections every day and that is what makes Truliant so special.

Living the mission must be your top priority is Truliant’s second takeaway. By spending an entire day of a management retreat revisiting and reinforcing Truliant’s mission the company demonstrated its commitment to serving customers. Far from being “motherhood and fluff” no one at that retreat could doubt how seriously Truliant takes its mission.

The third lesson is that symbols matter. We are symbolic creatures, and the most powerful forms of communication rely on symbols. By spending the first day of the retreat on mission Truliant symbolically reinforced that mission is job one.

Aim past the target of profit is Truliant’s fourth lesson. In basketball we aim for the back of the rim and in archery we aim past the target, but all too often in business we come up short by aiming for profit. Profit is not the goal of a business. It is merely the measuring stick for how well we are executing the mission. Profit is a byproduct, a trailing indicator of a job well done. Truliant’s mission aims past the target of becoming its customer’s “preferred financial institution.” Becoming the preferred financial institution is just the by product and trailing indicator of Truliant’s much bigger mission: enhancing the quality of its customer’s lives.

Finally, in Steve Jobs and MTV: Nine Steps to All the Power You’ll Ever Need I argued for the power of storytelling in business and in life. All great religions, movements, and super successful organizations like the Marine Corps and Alcoholics Anonymous use storytelling to reinforce the mission among old timers and to attract and acculturate newbies. Through Marc Schaefer’s stories, a video story from customers, and participants telling their own stories Truliant effectively bypassed heads and went directly to hearts. It was through story that Truliant’s mission moved from abstract principle into flesh and blood reality, and only these stories could’ve sent that new board member to the parking lot to wrestle with what the 1960s called “an agonizing reappraisal.” Man does not live on bread, money or facts alone. We want to be moved, and moving people is precisely what Truliant’s stories accomplished. These stories turned what easily could have been a typical business event into the religious experience that made a true believer out of me.

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After my talk I headed for Washington, D.C for my nephew’s graduation from college. When I arrived, my brother Mark asked about my talk. When I mentioned Truliant he interrupted. “Wow, you’re working with Truliant? Everywhere I go someone’s gushing over those guys. Truliant’s one helluva’ company.” Amen.


Follow me on Twitter @augustturak, Facebook, or check out my Forbes blog for more tips and strategies for becoming a great leader – and to discover how service and selflessness is the secret to success in business and in life.