Around nine in ten current CEOs and future business leaders believe businesses should have a social purpose. But while 86% of current leaders think businesses are already putting this into practice, just a fifth of the younger generation agrees they are doing so – showing a clear gap between the views of today’s CEOs and the next generation.

These results are part of a new study published today by Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) – which manufactures, distributes and markets Coca-Cola products in Western Europe – in partnership with Cranfield’s Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility and The Financial Times’ FT Remark (FT). The study, ‘Combining Profit and Purpose’ is based on the views of 50 CEOs and almost 150 MBA and MSc students and recent graduates across Europe, and will be launched today in London at the Future for Sustainability Summit: Enhancing the Value of Business – a joint initiative between CCE and The Financial Times. The Summit brings together current and future business leaders to explore the challenges of prioritising purpose and sustainability to create the optimum value for business and society.

The research indicates that both current and future leaders agree that a business’ profit and the ability to provide shareholder value are the best barometers of business success today. However, the groups disagree on how that may change in the future. While the overwhelming majority of current CEOs feel that profitability and shareholder value will remain key in the future (94% and 88%, respectively), the findings suggest future leaders have higher expectations of the role business should play, claiming that societal and environmental impact (80%), innovation (61%) and development of future talent (57%) will be more important indicators of business success in the years to come.

The two groups also differ in opinion about the barriers to businesses combining social purpose with profit. Two-thirds of CEOs (66%) view external factors such as government and regulation as the main barrier, while the majority of future leaders cite internal factors, such as current management attitudes (55%).

“Forward-looking organizations are already focusing on how to balance profit and purpose, and there is clearly a growing expectation on businesses to do this,” said John F. Brock, Chairman and CEO of CCE. “Today’s leaders play an essential role in integrating environmental and social issues into strategic decision making, but future generations have even higher expectations of business. It’s clear that social and environmental purpose will increase in importance in the years to come, and that collaborative innovation is the key to unlocking success.”

There are believed to be many rewards for businesses that prioritize social purpose; more than three quarters of CEOs (78%) say it offers relevance to the next generation of customers and employees, and 70% claim it actually ensures business survival. Future leaders identified the key returns as more engaged employees (54%) and increased innovation (53%), while increased trust in business is also seen as a key benefit.

Professor David Grayson, Director of the Doughty Centre, comments: “While it’s not surprising to learn that social purpose is seen as a priority for business, the big challenge is to ensure more business leaders define the real purpose of their business, and identify how they are going to achieve that purpose. By developing clearly defined strategies and identifying new, disruptive approaches now, businesses can better ensure success and relevance in the future.”

To read the full study, or find out more information about CCE’s Sustainability Plan, or to download a copy of the research report, please visit