Is 150 years too much time?

This month two businesses turned 150 years old and one innovator would have turned 153.

  • Did they do it with one product?
  • Did they do it with one specific feature?
  • Did they do it with one call to action?

One of them did it with effectively the same product for the entire time. The other two continued to modify, adapt (more on that in a minute ), and to really think about what customers wanted. And, the third did it with pure style and attention to detail.

imageAll of them did it with ONE THING.

That one thing morphed over time.

That one thing took work to understand and appreciate.

That one thing took time to appreciate and ingratiate itself into the consumer psyche.

Is 150 years enough to consider yourself a viable long-term company?

I think the obvious answer is yes.

Can you imagine your business surviving to be 150 years old?

In the technology space where I spend the majority of my time IBM has broken the hundred year mark and Microsoft just passed the 40 year mark. Many others in tech space are nowhere near 20, let alone 50 or 150.

Can you imagine Facebook at 150?

How about Snapchat or Twitter?

Is Built to Last still a thing?

Jim Collins wrote the seminal book "Built to Last" a few years ago. No, not 150 years ago. In it he described businesses that were, surprise ... Built to Last" and shared examples of their long term study. This is not a diatribe on Built to Last.

Rather it's a reflection of three companies that have found the One Thing that allowed then to persevere and succeed. Two of them for 150 years and one for 110 years. My suspicion is that these companies will continue to plug along. General Mills did almost $18 billion in revenue last year. However, I wonder if some of the "upstart" companies that are doing well today can make it to 50 years. Or even if they want to.

The three companies I'm looking at today came from a few segments on the CBS Sunday show and one was from a commercial I happen to see.

  • imageGeneral Mills - From flour to organic mac-n-cheese. And, the invention of the Nerf products too. The Big G is a great example of a company that has found growth in commodity products by continuous innovation and adaptation. They never seem to rest of their laurels.

    This video from CBS Sunday about their 150 Years in business explains where they started, how they've grown and where they are going.

    Ken Powell, chairman and CEO of General Mills, said it best:

    "By adapting" That is how the company has survived this long.
  • 20160415_015703373_iOSJack Daniels - The venerable maker of whiskey has made effectively the same product for 150 years.

    Over time, and especially in the past few years, there has been more adaptation and innovation to attract, capture and secure new markets. Both in the US and in overseas markets where the brand practically sells itself.
  • imageRolls-Royce - Not quite 150 years for the company, but 153 years ago motorcar legend Henry Royce was born near Peterborough, England.

    He developed THE STANDARD for automotive luxury. Their brand and their reputation for building automobiles with impeccable attention to detail remains the gold standard ... even 110 years after the famous brand built their first automobile. Here is an interesting Almanac view from CBS Sunday

Full Disclosure: I saw these two video clips on the same day a few weeks ago and have been noodling around this idea for the desire of any company to make it to 150 years.

I'm not convinced any of the relatively young companies of today can make it. Or even want to make it to 150 years.

While I was noodling this idea I saw a commercial that showed Jack Daniel's is also 150 years old. Which caught my eye and intrigued me.

Is 150 Years Too Long?

I used each of the companies above as an example. Which leads to a few questions about longevity and whether there is a market force that would prevent a company today from making it to the advanced age of 50, 100 or 150 years.

  • Can today's "modern" companies survive to be 50, 100, or even older than 150 year old enterprises?
  • Do the economics work against them?
  • Do market forces reward longevity?

Time will tell ... literally.

The One Thing


The CEO of General Mills said it very eloquently and aptly. He said the way they have survived and grown for so long is by constantly seeking to adapt.

Which leads me to a few questions for you to consider. As I mentioned above I'm not sure any of the current spate of companies that are doing quite well today have any desire or intention ... let alone a plan ... to grow to be ever 50 years old. Let alone 100 or 150 years old.

What do you think?

  • How will your company adapt for the future?
    • Whether you own the company or "just" work there.
  • How will the companies that you trust and respect (and maybe even love) today adapt for the future?

Discuss. Drop your thoughts here in the comments. Or reach out to me via social networking or email.

Image Credits: CBS Sunday

clip_image001Jeff is an expert in the Enterprise Content Management industry. He brings over 20 years of Channel Sales, Partner Marketing and Alliance expertise to audiences around the world in speaking engagements and via his writing. He has worked for Microsoft, Kodak, and K2. He is currently the consulting with Microsoft and partners to drive Community Engagement and Alliances.

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@jshuey or connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+ He is active in the Microsoft Partner Community and is the co-founder and President of the IAMCP Seattle chapter. He is also active with the Women in Technology and STEMWIT efforts.

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