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Enduring Trust Lights the Path

There’s a professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, who’s dedicating her scholarly research to lessons learned from companies that have been around for 100 or more years. It's really cool.

As a second-generation leader of a business that’s just halfway to this lofty “Century Club Company” goal, my own interest is piqued by Professor Vicki TenHaken’s study and findings.

Specifically, TenHaken identifies five factors that these centurions of the business world have going for them:

  • Strong Corporate Mission and Culture

  • Long-Term Relationships with Business Partners

  • Long-Term Employee Relationships

  • Active Members of the Local Community

  • Unique Strengths and Change Management

And without giving a too-lofty “State of the Business” speech about Forest Packaging’s successes over its first 50 years (because every organization would like a few do-overs along the way), I can say that I’m really enthused about our longevity prospects. Because we do our best to ascribe to the practices of good people doing the right things and taking care of our employees, business partners and neighbors. And these account for the first four of TenHaken’s five criteria, as listed above.

“The emphasis on long-term relationships does not prevent the old companies from seeking out new business partners,” she writes in her book, Lessons from Century Club Companies: Managing for Long-Term Success (available here). “In our research, old companies place even more importance on developing new customers than younger ones do.

“However, the old companies truly believe they cannot maintain their success for a long period of time without their business partners. When customers and suppliers become trusted business partners, both parties are willing to share information and do favors for each other that don’t necessarily result in any readily apparent financial gain. The willingness to share information, technologies, and ideas becomes a two-way street, resulting in mutual learning, mutual success, and enduring trust.”

My last blog entry focused on the fifth of these practices: Unique Strengths and Change Management, with a nod to the uber-entrepreneur, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and the practice of Continual Wonder.

But today, I’m really struck by TenHaken’s phrase, “Enduring Trust.”

Isn’t that the thing very thing that exemplifies the best parts of our lives—business and personal? And isn’t it the absence or breaking of trust we expected to endure that brings about some of life’s greatest pain?

A few years back, United Airlines ran this advertisement:

May we never have to answer the question: “Where are you going?” with the response: “To visit that old friend who fired us this morning.”


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