Roy Spence, GSD&M and The Purpose Institute – Hero of Conscious Capitalism

Roy Spence, is a Texan’s Texan whose company GSD&M launched the now famous state rallying cry “Don’t Mess with Texas” as an anti-littering advertising campaign in the 1980s. A conscious capitalist, Roy brings together the best in Texas toughness with the humanitarian spirit of his home of Austin. Now, over 30 years after launching the “Don’t Mess With Texas” campaign, he spends his time teaching others the many lessons he learned—primarily, the importance of running a business for the sake of improving the lives of others. Whether through his book It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For or his consulting firm The Purpose Institute, Roy knows that a person or an organization’s purpose is what matters most. Following the principles of conscious capitalism, Roy teaches that one must have a higher purpose, an inclusive stakeholder orientation, a servant-attitude towards leadership, and a conscious culture for success.

From the beginning when he first co-founded GSD&M he said the point was “not to make advertising, but to help others—clients and employees—achieve their dreams.” He lives to help people discover and live their purpose instead of just selling products or aimlessly doing things because they were told to. His agency helped to grow some of the world’s most successful brands, among them Whole Foods, GE Aviation, Southwest Airlines, NBC Universal, Walmart, DreamWorks, and L.L. Bean. With the example of Southwest, GSD&M assisted with their public relations by emphasizing Southwest’s dream of democratizing the skies and creating a new performance-based award, the Triplecrown Trophy, which was eventually awarded to the airline.

In his book It’s Not What You Sell, Roy argues that without an overriding and humanitarian focal point, many businesses and nonprofits experience “mission drift” or creeping expansion in which they lose focus and forget the unifying why behind what they do and how it matters. This is what makes him one of the greatest conscious capitalists: simply put, he gets it. Without that unifying factor, executives cannot lead effectively and employees do not know why they come into work, and how their part matters and connects to the whole. Roy has said that “Companies that try to motivate employees purely through stock market performance are likely to find a corporate culture where the collective self-esteem rises and falls with the stock price. When employees are driven by a worthy purpose, it’s much more likely to create a consistent level of commitment to the work at hand.”

Roy’s belief that “purpose contributes to a life well lived” has earned him the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Austin Advertising Federation. In 2004 and 2006, he was given the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Texas. Finally, he was named Adman of the Century by Texas Monthly magazine, inducted into the McCombs School of Business Hall of Fame in 2012 and into the National Advertising Hall of Fame in 2016.