The Higher Purpose: Dave Ciesinski

  • Season 1, Episode 6
  • August 24, 2021
  • 42 minute listen

The Higher Purpose: Dave Ciesinski

​“If you can create greater clarity around the 'why,' you could penetrate that much farther into people's hearts and minds.”


“Why does your company exist?” That’s the question Dave Ciesinski, CEO of Lancaster Colony, faced when he realized there was more to becoming “the better food company.”

Episode Notes

As the factory manager gave David A. Ciesinski, CEO of Lancaster Colony food brands, a tour of the facility, he led the company’s top executive into a locker room with collapsing ceiling tiles and rusted fixtures. “Is this befitting of a ‘better food company’?” the manager politely asked, reflecting the company’s slogan.

That was one of many moments that drove home for Ciesinski that his company could do more to walk the walk of a better food company. He strove to lead an organization that treated employees well and, by soliciting their involvement, produced better products. His prior experience in other packaged goods companies led him to an epiphany: That employees demanded and expected more from the companies where they worked. Leaders needed to be dialed into what’s important to their people.

“We were leaving effort on the table,” he said. “I could just tell we were 25% of the way penetrating through. I had an intuitive sense we weren't getting everything we could out of people. And we could go a click deeper.”

He felt the company was getting traction behind its mission statement, but at an abstract level. They’d articulated the “what”—what was Lancaster Colony—“but it didn't answer a fundamental question for us: Why does this company exist? What do we owe each other?” he said.

Those conversations found their resolution after Ciesinski was exposed to an article in Harvard Business Review. Subsequent conversations with its authors—Olin’s Anjan Thakor and the University of Michigan’s Robert Quinn—exposed him to their research-based philosophy of “the economics of higher purpose.” Ciesinski tells the story of this turning point, what it took to get there, how he made it happen and what it has meant to the future of Lancaster Colony.

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This podcast is a production of Washington University in St. Louis’s Olin Business School. Contributors include:

  • Katie Wools, Cathy Myrick and Judy Milanovits, creative assistance
  • Jill Young Miller, fact checking and creative assistance
  • Hayden Molinarolo, original music, sound design and editing
  • Nate Sprehe, creative direction, production and editing
  • Angie Winschel, production assistance and project management
  • Lexie O'Brien and Erik Buschardt, website support
  • Mark P. Taylor, strategic support
  • Paula Crews, creative vision and strategic support

Special thanks to Ray Irving and his team at WashU Olin’s Center for Digital Education, including our audio engineer, Austin Alred.

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