We have all heard the saying, ” third generation and out.” Statistics show that only about 15% of businesses survive the third generation. I used to think this failure transpired the following way; the first generation worked hard and sacrificed to build the business, the second generation witnessed this process and might have even provided some labor at a young age to contribute to the building process, and then the third generation just reaped the rewards and did not honor the virtues of hard work and commitment. Other points of view on third generation failure include expanding beyond capability, being located in an area that was once good but now is poor, or a kin being put in a position they aren’t fit for.
After spending the last 17 years trying to keep businesses current in technology I have come to another conclusion on why multi-generation businesses fail. Your granddaddy’s business might not exist anymore. Music, video and bookstores, are prime examples of a businesses that became obsolete quickly. Michigan natives remember browsing through Harmony House looking for the latest music. I can download an album to my iPod cheaper than the gas it would take to drive to a local record store.
In a recent interview on Mackinac Island, Bill Ford seems to agree. Ford states, “You have to deal with reality. That’s easy to say, difficult to do. You’ve got to not sugarcoat, not hope for better days to save you. You can’t build a plan on hope and you can’t build a plan on rhetoric. You’ve got to take a cold and rational view of what reality is today.”
If the market you’re currently serving is still viable, newer companies may have better technology providing them with a productivity advantage over your established company. What technologies can I help you with? Reduced physical real-estate requirements, disaster recovery options, objective employee management tools in the inbound and outbound customer service area, sales tools for distance selling, or collaboration applications for your operations department are just a few.
My point is not that your company is doomed to fail if your grandfather started the business you are currently running. It’s that the speed of change has accelerated for every company, in every market, and if your business plan is to become a multi-generational company you better be ready for major business adjustments in the years ahead. Constantly be on the look for new business opportunities, incremental employee productivity gains and decisively execute because your competition is. Just ask Harmony House.