5 Traits Shared by Centenarian Businesses

by Steven Mundahl on November 26, 2013

By , Published November 26, 2013

Why are there so few businesses that  live to be 100+ years old? Is longevity due to leadership, good business  practices, or just luck?

In every industry, there are graveyards full of once-good companies with good  ideas and good workforces that did not survive. In the auto industry there is  Packard, Oldsmobile, DeLorean—all good companies, all dead and buried. Yet,  Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler have survived to see their centennial  celebrations. Huge retailers such as Woolworths, Ben Franklin, Coast-to-Coast,  and Kresge’s are forgotten names. Others like J.C. Penny and Sears might not be  far behind.

Interestingly, the oldest company in America is not a giant company. It is  Tuttle’s Red Barn, a farming operation in Dover, New Hampshire, which is located  between the tidal waters of the Bellamy and Piscataqua rivers on Dover Point.  Tuttle’s has been operating continuously for 381 years. The oldest nonfarm  business in America would be The Seaside Inn (formerly the Seaside Inn &  Cottages), a small inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, which has been in continuous  operation under the same family since 1667, making the inn the grand old age of  346. Not surprisingly perhaps, the oldest industrial/retail company in North  America is Hudson’s Bay Company (Canada, 1670), and in the US it would be  Towle’s Silversmith (New Hampshire, 1690).

There are also many examples of big companies and organizations that have  survived to become centenarians. One such notable is IBM. A hundred years ago  the company made punch cards, scales, and clocks. Today, its supercomputers can  beat human chess champions or solve mind-bending business problems. Its valued  at $100-195 billion, just under Microsoft at $200 billion and well ahead of  Google at $165 billion.

Some nonprofit companies have also succeeded in reaching the century mark.  These companies are not based upon products but on mission and services to  fellow man, animals, the arts, and culture. One example is Goodwill Industries,  founded in 1902 in Boston by a Methodist minister, Edgar Helms, who wanted to  help the impoverished of South Boston and the large number of immigrants that  arrived on the shores of America hampered by disability, language, or skills.  Today, the mission continues and there are over 200 Goodwill agencies throughout  North America and in many other nations around the world.

How is it that some companies and organizations survive to become 100 or  older and most just fade away and are buried in business graveyards? Our  research cites five pretty commonsense practices:

Leadership Development

Leadership is vital, and succession planning and leadership development is  vital if a company wishes to get to be 100. Old companies scored significantly  higher in every aspect of developing future leaders and succession planning. The  continuation of mission and service, it is believed, is all about successful  succession in leadership.


Centenarian companies have a solid and ongoing focus on their relationship  network. Old companies put much more emphasis on their relationships with  suppliers, customers, and local communities. Successful older companies realize  that they have an obligation to support their community as well as their  stakeholders and customers. They grow old because they know how to give of their  resources.

Smart Change

Centenarian companies are open to change, but at the right pace. As might be  expected, old companies focus much more on tradition and improving what they see  as their core strengths. However, they are ever mindful that change is  inevitable, and welcome their own evolution. Significantly, however, when  large-scale change is necessary, they admit to taking a long time to plan and  implement such change. In other words, they practice careful innovation.

Conservative Financials

Business old agers specialize in conservative financial practices. Successful  old companies are solid planners that pride themselves in having conservative  fiscal practices. These companies seek profitability over sales volume and are  reluctant to borrow money, opting instead to grow conservatively with cash in  hand.

Purpose and Values

Long lasting companies have a strong sense of purpose and values. They weigh  decisions based upon those values and build leadership that can align themselves  to the values and ethics that the company was founded upon. They have the  ability to move into new businesses without abandoning core tenets, and quickly  align the new business ventures with the established core principles.

Leadership is more than a good idea, hard work, and some luck. The ability to  thrive and survive depends upon building strong leadership throughout your  company, from the ground floor to top floor and from young to old.  Care to  see these principles in action? Plan a visit to Tuttle’s Red Barn in New  Hampshire sometime soon and see why this company is pushing 400 years old.

Author: Steven  Mundahl     Steven Mundahl on the Web Steven Mundahl on Facebook Steven Mundahl on Twitter Steven Mundahl on LinkedIn Steven  Mundahl RSS Feed

Steven Mundahl, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries in Western  Massachusetts, is a leadership scholar, business consultant, and professor of  leadership effectiveness at Baypath College. His new book, The Alchemy of  Authentic Leadership, with coauthor Sharon Massoth LCSW, explores the  attitudes and behaviors that cause leaders to fall from grace, and… View full profile

Read more at http://www.business2community.com/leadership/5-traits-shared-centenarian-businesses-0695027#lqmyDH5SekxbM45S.99

Steven Mundahl

CEO at Goodwill Industies in Western MA
Steven Mundahl is president and CEO of Goodwill Industries in western Massachusetts. He teaches leadership and personal effectiveness in the graduate school of Baypath College.

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