ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Mission control


Published: 18 May 2012 Updated: 24 Feb 2022 Update History

Exclusive content
Access to our exclusive resources is for specific groups of members.
True strategic thinking can only exist where a company has clear principles and is able to articulate them, says Morgen Witzel. So it’s a shame many companies lapse into vague mission statements and bland values.

What is the purpose of strategy? Textbooks tell us that strategy is the means by which an organisation attempts to achieve its goals. We decide where we want to be – more market share, higher profits, expansion into new markets, new products, and so on. Then we map out a strategy that will help us to achieve these goals.

That seems simple enough. But problems start at the outset, with the setting of those goals. Do we always set the right ones? Do we remember, when talking about profits or market share, what the company is actually there to do? Are goals congruent with the company’s mission? All too often they are not. The mission and purpose that sustain the company are set aside in favour of a short-term pursuit of quick profits or growth.

In the 1990s the supermarket chain Royal Ahold was a household name in the Netherlands. The company had been trading for more than 100 years and had a reputation for quality food and service. It had built a close relationship with its customers. By some accounts, one in ten Dutch people owned shares in the company.

Then in the late 1990s, CEO Cees van der Hoeven embarked on a new strategy. The new goal was rapid growth – through acquisitions and geographical expansion. Royal Ahold embarked on a buying spree, acquiring supermarket chains around the world. It entered tough markets in areas such as the USA and Latin America, where it had no experience.

Debts mounted as some of the new acquisitions ran into trouble and did not perform as expected. In 2003 the bubble burst. Royal Ahold teetered on the brink of collapse, van der Hoeven lost his job and the value of their shares dropped to almost nothing.

Royal Ahold forgot what it was for. It chased short-term growth and neglected the things that made the company great in the first place. The same thing has happened, before and since, to Marconi, Ratner, Woolworths, Royal Bank of Scotland... The list goes on.

This is an extract from the Finance & Management Magazine, Issue 199, May 2012, p.32-34.

Find out more

Full article only available to ICAEW members and students.

Download the complete article Mission control.

Latest research

Since Morgen Witzel wrote this article in 2012, he and others have carried out further research into strategy and mission statements.

These articles and others are available below to logged-in ICAEW members and ACA students.

Online articles

The Library provides access to leading business, finance and management journals. These journals are available to logged-in ICAEW members, ACA students and other entitled users subject to suppliers' terms of use. 

More support on business

Read our articles, eBooks, reports and guides on strategy, risk and innovation.

Strategy, risk and innovation hubeBooks on business strategy and planning
Can't find what you're looking for?

The ICAEW Library can give you the right information from trustworthy, professional sources that aren't freely available online. Contact us for expert help with your enquiries and research.

Changelog Anchor
  • Update History
    18 May 2012 (12: 00 AM BST)
    First published
    24 Feb 2022 (12: 00 AM GMT)
    Page updated with Latest research, adding related articles on strategy. These new resources provide fresh insights, case studies and perspectives on this topic. Please note that the original article from 2012 has not undergone any review or updates.