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ATB Q&A with 4Seasons CEO Brooke Garcia

There is no shortage of evidence to support the dramatic impact that instilling a clear purpose has on business performance.

According to the 2020 Global Marketing Trends report prepared by Deloitte Insights, “purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.”

Yet, many profit-driven companies struggle to uncover their higher purpose and transform their organizations in meaningful ways. Instead, they continue to fall back on familiar approaches in an attempt to overcome the challenges of marginal growth, declining profitability and waning relevance.

A 2016 PWC report titled Putting Purpose to Work: A study of purpose in the workplace may explain one important reason companies transitioning to a purpose-driven model end up returning to their old ways. Researchers identified this major gap: “79% of business leaders believe that purpose is central to business success and to an organization’s existence; yet only 34% agree that purpose is a guidepost for leadership decision-making.”

Since there’s no formula or blueprint (that we know of) to guide business leaders through this process, we thought sharing a real-life example would be helpful. We’ll chart how one executive transitioned her business to revolve around her company’s purpose and highlight some key insights, tips and lessons she learned along the way in hopes that it can be useful to other leaders.

1. Don’t lead a business you’re not passionate about.

Brooke Garcia, CEO of 4Seasons Transportation, a school bus transportation company for students living with disabilities, credits her father’s example as a serial entrepreneur in honing her business instincts and encouraging her to explore her interests early on. “The most important advice he gave me was, ‘Never chase money. Pursue your passion and be the best at it, then the money will come.’”

“Being an entrepreneur is extremely challenging and intense when you love what you do, but it’s even harder if you’re not invested and passionate about your company’s ‘why.’ Business owners and leaders make so many sacrifices and do so much that we’re not paid for, that money isn’t a good motivator. This couldn’t be more true when building a purpose-driven company.”

“The type of passion I’m referring to is the deep, personal kind. It can’t be mistaken as enthusiasm, or excitement or inspiration because it’s all of those but never fades. It’s what makes me ask the question every night before I go to sleep, ‘Did I do everything in my power today to improve the quality of our students’ lives?’ When I wake up in the morning, it’s what makes me excited to go to work and have the opportunity to help change people’s lives for the better, every day. Without passion it’s hard to get past the discouragement and scepticism that is put on you…passion is the fuel that keeps me focused, drives me to keep improving, coming up with ideas and evolving the way we operate to support as many students and their families as we can.”

Garcia has these suggestions to help business leaders uncover the things they’re passionate about:

  • Tip 1: Explore your interests. After closing her first enterprise, a childcare business, Garcia knew she had found her passion: helping to improve the lives of children with disabilities, but realized she wanted to work outside the home. Through her childcare business, she identified how difficult it was for parents of children with disabilities to find quality childcare. With a small child in tow, Garcia started her job search and eventually came across an ad looking for drivers with 4Seasons Transportation. While doing some research on the company, she fell in love with their mission to provide transportation services for children with disabilities. Starting as a driver for 4Seasons in 2010 met all of Garcia’s immediate criteria. First, the role aligned with her passion and allowed her to care for her first child while working outside the home. Being such a small business with under a dozen employees at the time, she dove in to provide further support and learned the requirements of most of the different roles – from payroll to operations. By 2015, Garcia knew the business inside out and decided to buy in and become 4Seasons new CEO.
  • Tip 2: Look at your personality traits, values and talents for clues. Ask yourself lots of questions and ask those close to you for their observations to help uncover your strengths and natural tendencies. Pay attention to the challenges that inspire you because they might reveal something you’re passionate about. From a young age, Garcia showed great disdain for injustice. “I’ve always sided and advocated for the disadvantaged and those without a voice. I’ve been this way my whole life. I think when you align the strongest parts of your personality with your purpose, nothing can stop you.”

2. Find your niche by turning challenges, risks and problems into opportunities.

Alberta is Canada’s leader in developing custom curriculums for students living with a broad spectrum of motor and cognitive challenges. Families who have children living with disabilities are moving to Alberta for this reason. Yet, before 4Seasons Transportation was founded in 2002, students living with disabilities in Calgary did not have access to personalized transportation services. After identifying this gap, 4Seasons Transportation was established to serve this community.

3. Distill then instill your purpose throughout your business before you initiate growth.

After Garcia bought into 4Seasons Transportation and became its CEO, her first order of business was clarifying 4Seasons’ purpose before initiating the company’s next major wave of growth. Over time their purpose evolved again before she initiated another growth cycle.

“By asking ‘Why do we do what we do?’ and other questions like it, we broke down the answers and discovered our purpose, which is to ensure all students living with disabilities in Calgary have equal access to education. When children have equal access to education regardless of their mental or physical challenges, we’re creating a more inclusive society. Our service also helps relieve the stress parents face in transporting their children to and from school while managing their work schedules. By working, they are helping improve their family’s quality of life and are contributing to Alberta’s economy.”

Next, Garcia wove their purpose into 4Seasons’ business strategy to guide and anchor the leadership team during decision-making, to help prioritize business activities, and inform the creation of new processes, procedures and partnerships. Training materials were amended, and special attention was placed on enriching their corporate culture to amplify the importance of every team member’s role in fulfilling the company’s purpose. “It’s about putting people first and uplifting and empowering every team member on the front lines. We work to ensure each one of them knows that they are the most important part of making this company successful. Connecting the dots between a problem that no longer exists because of the service we provide, is very empowering and uplifting. We’re always delighted to witness and share the ripple effect that our work has with our team members.”

During the past six years as CEO, Garcia and the 4Seasons Transportation team have grown exponentially in all areas. Together, they have increased the number of students they transport, tenfold, enriching the lives of students with disabilities and helping their families thrive.

“Before initiating a growth cycle, you have to be prepared or you won’t be able to sustain the level and speed of growth. I spend as much time enriching our culture as I do coaching and empowering my team so our will to do good continues to grow and be sustained. I never lose sight of the importance our people have. I focus on putting together a really passionate team and hire for my weaknesses. You can’t do it all by yourself. I look at growth through a lens of ‘what are things only I can do to improve the business?’ This helps me challenge myself to look at things differently.”

Continuing impact

Selected as one of six companies to participate in Mount Royal University’s Growth Catalyst Program, 4Seasons Transportation has completed their strategic growth plan and are mobilizing to bring that plan to life.

“The beauty of having a purpose-driven business model is that there’s really no limit on how much impact we can have. By transforming our business through our purpose we’ve impacted the lives of those in our community and now have the wisdom and capability to keep going until we can improve more lives around the world. After all, what child doesn’t deserve our service?”

Read the original ATB article here.

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