Industry Research

How to Survive For 30 Years: The Art of Reinvention

Sara Eastwood-McLean
Posted on February 3, 2014

2013 marked the 30th anniversary of LCT Magazine. Now, we celebrate the 30th birthday of the first-ever industry convention – the International LCT Show. While I was still in braces when this portfolio first launched (smile), I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of its growth and change for more than 22 years.

Many of you, I know, are also celebrating milestones, whether you’ve been in business 10 years, 20 years or more. With an average national failure rate of 80% for start-up businesses within the first three years, anyone who has made it past five years should be proud. Moreover, anyone who has lasted decades probably already knows the true secrets of longevity.

While successful companies lasted an average of 67 years in the 1920s, they typically exist for only 15 years today. So, just how does a company, service or a product stay relevant and withstand the tests of time?

First, it takes passion and desire to execute a company vision that is destined to carry on for generations and ages. Examples still exist. More are emerging. Given the sobering odds, we should acknowledge these great ventures still further, and even redouble our efforts to learn what long-term companies understand that the rest of us need to learn. In that spirit, I dedicate this column to the great wisdom of companies that are built to endure. 10 key points:
1. It’s about the ideas. Enduring operators strive to create ideas that have life in and of themselves.

2. It’s about the principles, too. Long-term owners are able to surpass their near-term self-interests to recognize that a successful idea must evolve in a way that outlasts the lifetime of its creator.

3. Build a strong company identity through careful management of the company’s culture. If you expect your company to enjoy longevity, your company culture is vital. Your company has a “personality” and even a persona that reflects the people within it but is stronger and more durable than the sum of its parts. A strong company culture determines the level of an organization’s success, and must be cherished and protected for it to survive.

4. Maintain a laser-sharp customer focus. For example, the Girl Scouts of the USA focuses on understanding how each generation of girls lives so the organization can stay relevant.

5. Be willing to chart new territory. You must always be assessing your unique value proposition. A trait inherent with almost all long-term owners is their ability to act on logic and not on emotion. They don’t get dangerously attached to old methods. They don’t reject change. Denial is not in their vocabulary.
6. Forge long-term community relationships. Communities are able to trust and uplift the organizations that are willing to work, to give and to make sacrifices to meet the community’s needs.

7. Emphasize tradition and core strengths. When large-scale change is called for, take ample time to plan and implement it. Core strengths and priorities of a company should be nurtured to last, even if the products change with the times. Traditions should be applied to changing circumstances.

8. Develop future leaders (and create a solid succession plan). Companies built to flip have no succession plans. In fact, the “succession” is typically enacted by force, directed not by the company but by the investors and the board of directors. These are harsh realities that lead to many anguishing experiences by the entrepreneurs and employees who have given their lives and service to create a winning company. In a company built for the duration, leaders are not discarded — they are fully developed — and their sacrifice and efforts are rewarded with greatness.  

9. Use conservative financial practices. A company that is built to last will emphasize bottom-line profitability over high volume “churn.” To create a 100-year company, you should be highly conservative about borrowing money. Allow the richer seasons to create reserves your company can call upon in the leaner cycles. A compensation plan that pays everyone in the company a combination of base pay and commission can be a great strategy for maintaining the company’s financial health, with the help and involvement of all of its members.

10. Forget the sacred cows. Even a much-respected, venerable business can’t rest on its laurels or guarantee profits from an illustrious history. It can be difficult to “shake up the establishment” but that’s what good leadership is all about.

Most importantly, look ahead, stay informed and pursue a vision. No company will succeed if it doesn’t survey the big picture.

Related Topics: anniversaries, business strategies, How To, ILCT 2014, LCT Publisher, Sara Eastwood-Richardson

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