Evolution: Sustaining Multi-Gen Businesses

I had dinner recently with the owner of a 69-year-old second gen business in the process of becoming a third gen business. One of my favorite things to do at first meetings like this is to ask the owner to explain the history of the company. Why was the business started in the first place? What was the motivation of the founder? What products and services were offered at the time? How have these evolved over the history of the company? What big breaks did the company get along the way? What challenges has it had to overcome? What was the founder doing before he or she started the business? Owners of any business, but especially one this old, a multi-gen business, take great pride speaking about the family business story – and rightly so. Their stories are fascinating.

One of the things that struck me this particular night was how the business has evolved over the years. It made me think that constant innovation is one of critical success factors to sustaining a multi-generational business. “Evolve” is the word that came to mind. Over the years there was a constant advancing of the existing products and services (the core business). They added this and added that – but always as an extension of evolution from of the existing base. As I listened to the future leader of the family business speak to the family values he wanted to sustain and what he wanted to accomplish over the next 10 years leveraging what is already in place, I couldn’t help but get very excited about what the future holds for this business and family.

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