Ozinga is a fourth-generation American family business. I am joined by my five brothers and one cousin in the fourth generation of ownership. Between the seven of us, we have 32 kids, and the oldest have already started working summer jobs at the company. This year, we are celebrating our 92nd anniversary and are joined by a team of more than 2,000 dedicated coworkers.
As we enter a new decade, we at Ozinga are putting extra emphasis on the company’s purpose—or, put another way, “why we exist”. Ozinga’s purpose is to make a positive impact on individuals, their families and the community for generations.
It is my plan to roll out a five-part series over the coming weeks to explain more about our purpose and why we believe it is so integral to our long-term success.
This purpose emphasis has been germinating with my generation for a number of years, as it has with previous generations of Ozinga ownership in its own way. We give credit to our forebearers for much of what we have learned in this regard. They have done well to carry the torch, passing along the wisdom of generations past.
Leaders need to make numerous intentional choices every day to lead with purpose. I have found that this is a practice that takes daily discipline to execute; it doesn’t happen naturally. It’s a big commitment of time and money that requires a long-term view with regard to its payback.
Background on Ozinga Purpose
As we look to clarify and live out our purpose, it is our desire to honor the past by appreciating the positive aspects of the legacy that lives in us and truly own those aspects for ourselves. We’ve found it helpful to investigate our history, how we got here, what our deepest convictions are, what has informed the worldview we have and why we believe what we do.
The Ozinga family immigrated to Chicago from the Netherlands in the 1890s. They came from a very small rural farming community to what was then the fasting growing city in the world. A foundational element to the Ozinga family and many other Dutch immigrants was their Christian faith. A particular emphasis of the Dutch faith tradition has been that all aspects of life are an opportunity to honor God – work, hobbies, recreation, community service, etc. In other words, not just religious activities, but all parts of life.
It is this theological framework that has helped shape the Ozinga philosophy on business. The purpose of the Ozinga business is rooted in the Ozinga family’s mission that has been passed down through the generations of ownership: To first and foremost honor and glorify God in all we do and to serve the crown of His creation, our fellow man, represented by our coworkers, our customers and the community.
You may recognize this as a paraphrase of the greatest commandment and second greatest one like it, found in the Bible: “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and with all your mind,” and “to love your neighbor as yourself.”
For the Ozinga family, faith and work are not two separate buckets. Our relationship with God is our strong, common foundation. His character and promises haven’t changed or wavered since the creation of the world. The priority to honor and glorify God first and foremost binds our family together from generation to generation. We seek God to lead and guide us in our day-to-day business dealings, putting our trust in Him and His plan regarding the outcomes that are out of our control.
It is our strong conviction that God has a plan that He is sovereign over. In His providence, He has called us to this time and place in history to do what we are doing for His purpose. We believe that it pleases Him to see us using all that He has entrusted to us—our time, our talents, our treasure—to do good in the lives of others through the everyday activities that the business affords us. This alignment of our deepest convictions to our daily work inspires and motivates us and gives us joy, fulfillment and purpose.
The Golden Circle
I like the “Golden Circle” tool that Simon Sinek uses to communicate how to be purpose focused. I like it because I view the center as the bullseye—”the why”—the most optimal target. We should aim to view every thought, every word, every action through the lens of our purpose.
This inside-out approach to arrive at results helps us live into our stated purpose while we go about work. There are many ways to achieve goals, but if we lose our souls in the process, ultimately, what gain is it? If we identify our reason for existence and then reinforce that identity over and over again with how we train our minds, then our behavior will more naturally reflect who we say we are and why we do what we do.
When we put “the why” as the target, the middle circle—“the how”—starts to reflect it. “The how” is our values and behaviors. At Ozinga, we emphasize our values of service, learning and entrepreneurship. These values manifest themselves for the benefit of others when our why is the target.
The outer circle is “the what”. This is the outcomes, the proof, our track record. We believe it is important to measure outcomes. We manage what we measure, but we also desire to resist finding our identity and value in the outcomes. There are many forces that continually pull us in that direction, but we need to avoid that pitfall.
We are of the belief that we can have a thriving soul and a thriving business that lasts. But as I said earlier, it doesn’t come naturally. It takes individuals all throughout the organization being intentional on a day-to-day basis keeping it front of mind and living it out.
It is our desire as leaders to help our fellow workers identify their own unique purpose and to help each other live into it in order to contribute to the purpose of the organization. It is very rewarding to realize that we as individuals have something that only we bring to the table to contribute for the greater good of those we serve. This creates a sense of belonging and pride in the everyday work we do, which ultimately means higher levels of engagement and productivity.
We are a work in progress
I share this with you here not as an individual or an organization that has this all figured out or one that executes it well all the time. We are learning on the job and are excited to share what we’re learning because we see it working over the long run, one day at a time for 92 years.
We’ve also learned that it is easy to get knocked off course. There are many challenges in work life and family life that can distract us from our purpose. The goal is to reduce the recovery time—to keep coming back to our purpose as quickly as possible. This takes perseverance, determination and a strong belief in the process. It also requires us to believe it is the process itself, not the outcomes, where our purpose is accomplished.
We are into a new decade. This has caused us to reflect and think about the limited time we have here. We want to make the most of it. The investments we make in people are the ones that will last for all of eternity. They have the power to change the trajectory of people’s lives in positive ways. Small day-to-day decisions have a ripple effect in the lives of individuals, which overflows to their families, and then overflows to their larger community for generations to come.
I’m optimistic that our intentional daily decisions in alignment with our purpose will inspire people to play a powerful role in transforming society for good—one individual, one family, one community at a time. I’m optimistic about this because I’m changing due to what others have done and are doing in my life.
Thank you taking the time to learn with us. We look forward with great hope and anticipation to the impact that we will accomplish together!
Marty is the president of Ozinga and the oldest of the fourth generation. He holds a master’s degree in communications from Northwestern University and is actively involved with The Bright Promise Fund for Urban Christian Education.