How do family-owned companies survive, and even thrive, through tough times, changes in leadership, shifting markets and even family squabbles?
There's no single business plan that guarantees success. But you can learn a lot from the 33 companies profiled in this special issue of Plastics News.
We put the spotlight on family-owned plastics companies this week because our own parent company — Crain Communications Inc. — just turned 100 years old. We have some stories about our own company's history on our website. But our focus is on the unique stories told by the leaders of family-held plastics companies.
While plastics is still a relatively new industry, we managed to find some fourth- and even fifth-generation companies.
One thing I found fascinating is the balance between being conservative and being willing to change.
As I read the company profiles, I see example after example of company owners who feel responsibility for the survival of their businesses and for the financial well-being of their families. Not only that, they feel responsible for their employees' families, too. It's a huge burden. So they're cautious about expanding too quickly, or taking on too much debt. Better to be like the tortoise than the hare — slow and steady wins the race.
Except … I also see story after story about companies that adapted to a changing market, sometimes completely changing their business plans once, twice or even more, in order to survive in the global economy.
Let's put it this way: You won't find many 50-, 75- or 100-year-old companies today that are still serving the same markets and customers, making the same products, as they did from the very beginning. That's a formula for slow death, right?
So perhaps the secret to being a long-term success is to be conservative most of the time, but to be willing to move quickly and take big risks at the right times.
And, probably not coincidentally, those times of change often happen when managers train and integrate the next generation of workers into the family business. They often bring new skills, new experiences, and when those are introduced to a successful corporate culture, the results can be great.
It's all fascinating to me, and I have a new appreciation for family businesses after reading the stories in this week's report. I hope you enjoy it.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of The Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.