In a captivating panel at our recent Change Society Summit, four leading change agents and S&S associates shared insights on how finding purpose has shaped their career journeys and driven their work.
Moderator Navneet Bhatia, Strategic Practice Lead at Sullivan & Stanley opened by reading a quote from Steve Jobs on the importance of doing fulfilling work you believe in. This set the stage for a thoughtful discussion on what purpose means for today’s leaders and how it manifests in their professional lives.
Trusting intuition to find purposeful work
Emer Wynne, an experienced organisational psychologist and change management consultant, described her winding career path guided by intuition. She started in technology but felt it wasn’t the right fit. After battling expectations to become a lawyer or marketer, she followed her interest in psychology.
Later, a transformative masters degree in organisational change led her into consulting. “I think I followed my intuition,” she reflected. “I want to do work that matters.” This intuition has led her to pro bono work leading experiential leadership programmes at historic Windsor Castle.
From material success to helping humanity
Serial entrepreneur Kubair Shirazee explained his profound personal pivot around 2010. After achieving outward success building and selling start-ups, he shifted focus.
“My purpose really was, I’m a bit ashamed of saying it, but I’ll say it anyway – make more money, have a bigger apartment in London, have more friends,” he admitted. But later, his perspective expanded. “As I grew older and more mature, my purpose changed from enterprise transformation to something bigger, to social transformation.”
Following a personal tragedy, Kubair sold his businesses to devote himself to the social impact space. His purpose became clear: “This is the only home we will ever know. This is the only community we’re ever going to have. So we have to look after each other.”
Purpose as an anchor
Strategy and transformation consultant Jane Bates traced how purpose has anchored her multifaceted 34-year career. Early roles at values-driven employers like Tesco ignited her sense of purpose.
“I can remember very early on going to a conference with [Tesco leaders] Terry Leahy and Tim Mason,” she recalled. “They stood at the front and said the reason we’re all in this room today is because we are going to bring safe and great quality food to the nation, and we are going to make that affordable to everyone.”
Their words about democratising quality, affordable food “spoke absolutely to the very core of how I was brought up and what I stand for.” From then on, purpose became her guiding force.
Jane eventually left corporate life to focus on projects bringing purposeful change, from tackling bias in criminal justice to helping public services collaborate during crises. “The work I’m going to do now is about making a difference,” she asserted.
Advice to find purpose from an early age
When asked what wisdom they would share with young professionals seeking purpose, our associates emphasised listening to intuition and finding work you feel proud of.
Kubair stressed the importance of alignment. “Once people are aligned on a shared purpose, magic will happen because you will make it happen,” he said.
Emer recommended giving voice to purpose: “I want to do work that matters. And then I follow my intuition.” She also highlighted the power of collaborators on the journey.
Meanwhile, Jane traced her sense of purpose back to her beloved grandfather’s advice to “live with yourself” and do work that makes you proud.
The future of work demands purpose
The Change Society Summit made clear that purpose-driven work is becoming the new north star guiding today’s professionals.
Throughout the summit, leaders gave voice to an evolving perspective: purpose is becoming the guiding force shaping modern careers. Younger generations increasingly seek meaningful work aligned with their values. And companies that don’t lead with purpose risk losing top talent.
As Kubair observed, “My purpose grew with me.” The panellists’ journeys reveal how careers and purpose align over time, sometimes unexpectedly. By listening to intuition, pivoting bravely, and finding work you believe in, purpose can manifest at any stage.