Building a business that lasts a century—and beyond
I marvel at organizations that stand the test of time, and enjoy learning from and being a part of them. For example, my Rotary Club recently celebrated its Centennial, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been an active member for nearly five years. General Electric and IBM are two other marquee entities that have operated for more than 100 years that I greatly admire.
I’m also a big fan of lesser-known, but long-standing companies such as insurance brokerage Barney & Barney in San Diego and the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver for what they’ve achieved this past century without any expectation of fanfare or recognition from anyone else but their customers.
I’m not sure any of these organizations ever planned on being around for 100 years. Truth be told, I would imagine all of them were just wanting to survive in their early years. However, I am equally certain that all the entities I mentioned have one thing in common; a strict adherence to core values that have allowed them to grow in good times and withstand the hardships of challenging days. This has enabled them to continue long after many of their competitors have come, gone, returned and left again.
What I think differentiates these entities over others is their commitment to a philosophy that focuses on building a solid culture with altruistic ideals. Those that are looking to “build and flip” generally flop without recouping the initial investment made by its founders. So as my firm celebrates its 10-year anniversary in 2012, I am working hard to create a company that is built to last by adhering to these five basic principles:
• Practicing servant leadership: I feel my primary role is to take care of our people. Those in a managerial role keep their position by getting others to follow them. Employees will not perform at their maximum potential for bosses they do not believe have their best interest at heart.
• Showing a sense of community: Organizations that care about their neighbors display a concern for others that is not only the right thing to do, but elevates brand recognition and value while also improves business development and employee morale. I strive to lead by example and be active in various entities, be it for my own backyard or for various places around the globe.
• Providing clarity of vision: I take care in ensuring that I clearly articulate my organization’s purpose as well as its big, hairy, audacious goal in a passionate and inclusive manner. I feel that this will serve as a rallying cry for others to follow that will generate buy-in and action that will exceed everyone’s expectations.
• Fostering a sense of higher purpose: Companies that continue for generations do so with the understanding that what they do as an organization matters not just for current stakeholders, but future ones and, quite possibly, others with whom they might never encounter. I want our team to know that they are working for a cause far greater than ourselves and a feeling of being a trusted steward to something that we can pass on to those who follow us.
• Showing genuine respect for others: A Florida State University study found that people “leave bosses, not jobs.” While a paycheck is important for most everyone, having dignity and respect from their employer and peers reign supreme. I make sure that I openly express my sincere gratitude to staff members for their contribution. I feel that the two most common phrases I should use are “please” and “thank you.”
• Planning for my successor: While I don’t have this etched in stone quite yet (I plan on sticking around for some time), I feel it is essential to my company’s long-term viability to help team members develop their leadership and business acumen with the idea that one might replace me at some point. Some may view this as distracting, but all the great, longstanding companies do this with due care and consideration. GE is a prime example, where past chairmens identified and trained their potential successors as much as 10 years ahead of the actual transition.
I’m of the firm belief that focusing on building companies that will be around a century later is a good way to ensure both short term as well as long term success. It’s not a question of whether I intend to be around that long, but rather a desire to remain a vibrant and competing entity throughout its lifetime. A company that does not adhere to tried and true principles will undoubtedly mean that its life will end prematurely