Monday, April 28, 2014

At Least 5 U.S. Generational Companies Over 200 Years Old

In my research to find U.S. companies that qualify for membership in the Henokeins Association, I have identified five so far.  Membership requirements are that the company must have been in operation for over 200 years, managed by a descendant of the founder, and the family still owns the company - or at least the majority shares.  Here are my candidates:

The Avedis Zildjian Company was founded in Istanbul by Armenian Avedis Zildjian in the 17th century.  In 1929 Avedis III moved the cymbal company to America and it is currently located in Norwell, Massachusetts. At nearly 400 years old, Zildjian is currently run by fifteenth generation heirs and is generally recognized as the oldest family-owned business in the United States.

Seaside Inn was established in Kennebunkport, Maine some time before 1667 by John Gooch. Gooch arrived in the Cape Neddick area in 1637, commissioned by an agent of King Charles II to "reside on the ocean-front peninsula at the mouth of the Kennebunk River and ferry travelers across the River."  The inn has been in continuous operation by the Gooch family since its inception and is currently owned by the twelfth generation descendants.

Laird & Company is likely America's oldest distillery. William Laird emigrated to New Jersey from Scotland in 1698. While in Scotland it is believed that he was involved in the production of Scotch and upon his arrival in America applied his skills to the most abundant natural resource available in the area…apples.  Thus began his production of Applejack: the first known commercial record of Applejack sale was in 1780.  During  Prohibition, sixth and seventh generation Lairds kept the company running by producing other apple products (including "medicinal" apple brandy).  During World War II the plant was converted to dehydrated apple products to aid in the war effort, but all along the art of producing Applejack was passed on through the generations and today an eighth generation Laird runs the company. 

Billed as America's oldest hardwood lumber business, Alan McIlvain Company was founded by Hugh McIlvain in 1798.  Located south of Philadelphia, generations of the McIlvain family have provided lumber and millwork all over the world. The company survived the Embargo Act of 1807, the Civil War, and a fire that destroyed its lumberyard in 1906.  Providing lumber to shipyards during both World Wars, then closing its retail store to sell only to industrial clients in 1946, today the company is thriving and seventh generation family members have joined the company with plans to keep the business in the family well into the future.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Henokiens Association

In the process of preparing a presentation on my research to deliver to students at Hanze University in the Netherlands, I discovered an organization whose members are generational family-owned firms that are over 200 years old.  Called the Henokiens Association, this group shares common values which bring them together - values that echo the results of my research on 100-year-old companies in the U.S. and Japan.  200-year-old companies are unique in today's economic landscape and Henokiens members agree that it is these values that have enabled their extraordinary longevity, chief among them being respect for product quality and human relations, and special "know-how" passed with passion from generation to generation. 

The Henokiens Association today consists of 40 member companies, most of them European plus several Japanese firms.  Having identified at least three U.S. companies that qualify (in addition to being over 200 years old, the firm must be managed by a descendant of the founder, the family must still own the company - or at least the majority of shares, and the company must be in good financial health), I'm hoping to see American members in the future.  If you know of a company that qualifies to be a Henokien, please let me know!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Do Old Companies Tend to Exist in Geographic Clusters?

Recently I've been communicating with a woman from Philadelphia who has an interest in the unique concentration of old companies in the Italian Market area of South Philadelphia.  I have noticed a similar clustering in both Grand Rapids and the Holland/Zeeland area of West Michigan. This observation raises the question of whether it is the community that supports these companies leading to their long lives, or if there is some sort of mutual support system going on among the businesses themselves, or if there is something else leading to these clusters.  My research on 100-year-old companies does indicate that these firms feel a deep connection to their local communities, so perhaps this focus on relationships translates into a support system that keeps the businesses going.

Last week I saw the documentary film "Spinning Plates" which profiled a family restaurant (Brietbach's) in Iowa that was founded in 1861.  It had burned to the ground twice in recent years and both times the community and customers rallied to support the rebuilding.  It seems that many of these old businesses - particularly the generational family businesses - become treasured members of the community that everyone wants to see survive.  I can remember walking with my young children in downtown Holland (Michigan) one weekend when my daughter remarked "we are so lucky to live here."  When asked why she felt that way, she replied "because we have the Peanut Store!"  One of several 'century' businesses located on a three-block long main street, this candy store is one of our community's treasured  businesses, so associated with downtown Holland that if it were ever to close it would feel like losing a dear friend - not just for my family but for many, many others.