Terri-Leigh Cassel Interview – Entrepreneurship

Purpose without an action plan is really just an intent’, Terri-Leigh Cassel, Managing Director of SHIFT. In the business world, certain concepts are regularly presented as indispensable tools for success. One such tool is purpose, a powerful but nuanced concept. While the business value of purpose cannot be denied, as concluded by research demonstrating a solid link between purpose and profitability, intent is, in itself, not enough to realise growth.

For it to drive business success and impact, purpose requires delivery through a tangible competitive advantage translated into passionate, holistic and human-centred experiences. The true value and power of purpose is unlocked through developing an actionable plan that brings a business’ intent to market while assuring all stakeholders, both internal and external, of a reliably consistent experience across all experience points. In this interview with Michael Avery from’s Classic Business, Terri-Leigh explains how purpose can and does lead to success.


You can listen to the interview online, or read the entire interview right here:

Classic Business with Michael Avery Sponsored by Alex Forbes for insight, advice and impact.

Welcome back to Classic Business. It’s Monday and that means it’s time to talk entrepreneurship. Today we’re joined by Terri-Leigh Cassel, who’s the Managing Director of experience design firm SHIFT. She’s also the cofounder of the company and is here to share her entrepreneurial journey with us. Terri has extensive experience in the business world, that she’s worked with the likes of Interbrand Samson and holds a BCom in Marketing and Business Management from Oxford Brookes University as well as a design thinking certification from Red and Yellow Creative School of Business, which I hold in the highest esteem.

So Terri, welcome, firstly tell us a little bit more about your journey to becoming a cofounder of SHIFT, and the challenges that you faced along the way.

Thank you, Michael. I actually joined SHIFT in 2015 and it was originally established by the co-founders of Joe Public. And so I came on board in 2015 with my business partner Simon Rossum and that was at the point that we decided that, you know, traditional design agency unfortunately wasn’t going to cut it in the in the future of business. So we looked at growing the business into an experienced design business, which is what we’ve been doing for the past eight years.

But what is an experience design business? What is this vision that you came in with back in 2015?

It’s a lovely question. So, so for us an experience design business is an organisation that creates a seamless and authentic single-minded experience for our clients and of course for their customers, so that when their customers interact with the brand, or interact with the business, they are experiencing a very similar experience across all the various touch points. So to do this, we first go on a journey to identify the purpose of the organisation, which is really the intent but very importantly as well is to define how the organisation is going to take it to market and this I guess is what you call your competitive advantage and through identifying those two important pieces, we can develop a customer experience strategy for our clients.

I was reading a recent study conducted by DDI World that reckon’s purpose set companies outperform their respective markets by up to 40.2% financially in the bottom line. Can you just explain why having an actionable plan for delivering on a purpose across the entire business is so crucial to realising this kind of business success?

So it’s really important, you know, to first set up on the purpose that is your passion points as an organisation and it really fulfills a wound or an unjust in the world and this business has come around to solve that problem. And so, for us at SHIFT It’s to create impact as an example. But impact just in itself is not really going to get you the progress that you need. It’s just a purpose on its own. What you really need is an actionable plan to get you to that intent of creating impact for your clients.

So, it’s setting out what can you be really best at in the world, what can you be exceptionally good at, or best at, should I say, within in your industry. And as I said you know a purpose without an action plan is really just an intent.

What are some good businesses out there that embody this kind of thinking of actionable, purpose driven intent so that that’s really fed through into them being highly regarded in the South African market?

I think for me in particular, and I guess a brand that really inspires me every day is Woolworths. Woolworths, even dating back to Max Sonnenberg, who actually opened up Woolworths in the early 1900s. He was in the Cape and he realised, you know, the quality and the lack of quality of food was really prevalent in that era. And so, he established Woolworths offering fruits and vegetables of very high quality. And it’s actually quite astounding in how quality has remained part of the DNA and blood of the Woolworths organisation.

So, when I say goes into every area of the business, if you walk into a Woolworths store in Port Elizabeth, versus one in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, et cetera, you will experience the exact same level of quality of service and you will find that the quality of their food, they produce as I said their quality of service et cetera is all 100% holistically created and very authentic to the business.

So, I think Woolworths for me has always been a brand that has inspired me and really shown that purpose as well as an actionable plan really transforms businesses, and they’ve been exceptionally well financial last couple of years even through Covid.

Yeah, even through difficult economic times, I think that resonates with people. That kind of purpose driven approach that customer centric approach, it drives loyalty. At SHIFT, how do you ensure that your business continues to align with your purpose? Because you’ve obviously got a walk the talk here. What measures do you take to stay on track with your own purpose led goals?

Well, our unique selling proposition for us, or our competitive advantage, is design that simplifies complexity. So how we stand and we mark ourselves is by taking complex situations and of course there’s a rigorous process so I certainly don’t want to underplay the rigour that goes into the work that we do,  but it is about designing simplified solutions out of very very complex nature, so we should be able to present to our clients very seamlessly on a couple of slides what the solution is, not necessarily having to you know, over explain and so on and that for us is a really important measuring point, are we have to explain the solution in a very clear way.

Well, as a journalist I was always told by my editor to keep it as short as possible. Brevity is an art form and it’s very difficult to do. To keep things simple, to keep things concise, and to convey your message in as few words as possible. Sounds easy. Sounds simple, but therein, I think, really lies the secret very often. Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own purpose led business, and what steps should they be taking to ensure success?

There is a reason why they went into their business and there is there is something that they have experienced as founders. Of that of that business whether it be in their childhood, or you know just experience through life that there is an unjust in the world.

It’s really important for them to unearth what is their strengths, and what is their passion point that could assist in in overcoming that wound because it’s really going set your intent. And going forward, if that is what you strive towards, your passion and as I said for us was impact. Whatever yours may be and you have an action plan in order to attain that, you may not go wrong.

Fantastic advice. Terri-Leigh Cassel, thank you very much, MD of SHIFT in this week’s entrepreneurship chair here on Classic Business.