Sapient Cofounder Stuart Moore Speaks to Incoming Class
J. Stuart Moore, the cofounder and former co-CEO of the consulting firm Sapient, addressed Yale’s newest MBA class on August 17, 2007, and emphasized the importance of values and purpose in a business career, as well as the benefits of setting ambitious goals for oneself.
Using his own life and experiences in business as a springboard, Moore pointed to the critical difference such values and aspirations can make in the life course of a person or a company.
Yale SOM Dean Joel M. Podolny introduced Moore by describing his own experience studying and writing about how Sapient infuses core values into every facet of operations. Moore was the perfect person, Podolny said, to begin to get students thinking about: “How do you think about infusing values and purpose into what you’re doing?”
“There’s not a topic I care more about,” Moore said at the beginning of his talk.
Moore drew a graph on a whiteboard at the front of the room. It showed two lines rising over time. But one line rockets to the top of the chart, while the other slowly creeps above the horizontal. The first line represented the path of a successful, dynamic employee. The second, someone who started with the same background and potential but advanced much more slowly. Moore said he has seen such divergent results over and over. “For the same effort, would you rather have this line or that line?” he asked the students.
But what accounts for such different outcomes? Moore suggested that a person who defines his or her work as being a meaningful endeavor will get more satisfaction from it, generate more ideas, and be more productive — boosting the line on the success chart.
Moore next sketched a history of Sapient, using another graph to illustrate his point. This one was N-shaped. The company started with just Moore and his cofounder Jerry A. Greenberg, grew to 3,500 employees and an $8 billion market capitalization in 2000, then tumbled for two years after the bursting of the internet bubble. The company has since recovered, tracing another upward line, and currently has about 6,000 employees and a market capitalization around $800 million.
His own life followed a similarly twisting but upward-moving course. Moore described wanting to become a world-changing inventor when he was a child, then transferring his ambitions to becoming one of the world’s greatest drummers. Then, when he realized he didn’t have the talent for that path, he set himself the goal of building a company that would use computers to help businesses run more efficiently. But he didn’t want to build any company, he wanted to build a company that changes the way consulting firms operate and complex IT initiatives are handled.
Moore moved to his third whiteboard and drew another graph. This one showed an individual’s progress from past to present to future. An individual without unexpected goals moves along in a straight line. Next Moore drew a circle high above this line. This circle represented a meaningful, even audacious, aspiration, such as his own plans to build a large company. “If you envision your future, it has an amazing effect,” he said. He drew a line up toward the audacious goal, and explained that every decision one makes is different if one is aiming high. Pointing to his own life again, he said he took computer science and business courses in college and started reading business publications. He got a job at a small company. He developed skills in different areas of business. “I knew I needed to learn.”
“At Sapient we did the same thing,” added Moore. From the day Moore and Greenberg opened their shop (then residing in a small basement office), they aimed to go public in five years. They sought out large clients, rather than small clients that would just pay the bills. They hired as many people as they could and poured resources into developing their employees. As a result, they doubled in size every year, and went public two months ahead of schedule. “The decisions we made would have been very different if we’d not set that goal.”
“Why don’t more people do this?” Moore asked. To avoid risk of failure, one student suggested. Moore agreed, but pointed out that by aiming high, even failure could surpass success at achieving a more moderate goal. Another student suggested that some people lack the inspiration necessary to come up with a new idea. Moore agreed and added that in part he found his ideas because he was looking for them, and because he had a sense of purpose. “You have to search. You have to work.”
A student asked Moore how he dealt with his company’s decline after the internet bubble burst. Moore pointed to the company’s core values as something that sustained them and helped them survive an environment that bankrupted most other technology services firms. “If we’d defined ourselves by our stock price, we wouldn’t have had a lot left at that point,” he said.
Moore said that in his opinion values were “business critical” at Sapient. The company’s values attracted both clients and employees. And as specific technological trends shifted, the company’s commitment to delivering an excellent service to its clients, rather than narrow expertise, meant it still had something to offer.
Moore also said that integrating values into a company is hard work. “First you have to articulate values. I spent literally hundreds of hours articulating our five core values.” Next you have to put those core values into practice. Moore said that Sapient developed a “boot camp” for employees, in which they spent one full day discussing each of the company’s core values. He also said that the company used values as the first criteria in making promotion decisions. This could mean firing economically productive employees who failed to embody the values. “You have to live your values and weave them into every process,” Moore said. “If you’re not living your values, they become a joke.”