Thursday, December 19, 2013

Working for Old Companies

I just returned from visiting my parents (who are in their 80s and living in Florida).  Though my father has been retired for many years, the visit reminded me that my work background must have subconsciously influenced my research on old companies.  For all but two years of his life, my father worked for and then owned a small, country bank.  I worked there during high school - the beginning of what turned out to be a career of working for 100-year old companies: they were proud of the fact that - despite an armed bank robbery and the great depression - this little bank had always been open for their customers.   It was only when I was preparing a presentation for the Forbes/IBM conference a few years ago that I realized every organization I had worked for during my 45-year career is over 100 years old:  The Bank of Birnamwood (now Banner Banks but still independently owned); The Bank of Madison (subsequently M&I Bank, unfortunately a casualty of the recent financial crisis); Bunte's Pharmacy (a college gig - great fun working the soda fountain); General Electric; Herman Miller, Inc.; and now Hope College.  Given my research that has shown how the organizations that have survived for over 100 years tend to exhibit behaviors focused on building relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, and their communities, I feel privileged to have had such positive work experiences.  As we prepare to enter a new year, my wish is for more organizations to understand and begin to model the behaviors the old companies embody.  These companies are national treasures I feel we should honor - they deserve more attention and appreciation than our country gives them (as compared to Japan, where old companies are such treasured institutions they even have a name for them: shinise.)  So next year I will dedicate this blog and my twitter entrees (@vtenhaken) to profiles of our 100-year-old companies.