A high percentage of businesses fail because of product, market placement, its leaders or the relativity of their business. Many businesses start and do well for several years and then lose their edge because they are no longer relevant. This last point is the one I would like to speak to.
If you have ever eaten at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, you will see corporate advertising signs all over the walls of companies and products that once existed. I would guess that 90 percent of those companies no longer in business. When I see the old corporate advertisements, I always ask myself, how did that company lose its way?
There’s not a better example of what I am talking about than the automobile industry. In the early 1900s, it was so captivating that in 1915 in the US alone, there were 632 automobile companies that tried to build and sell cars. Many only lasted a few years before they went bankrupt and went out of business. Some car companies, like Studebaker, Packard and Hudson made cars for many years and still went belly up. Many people believe that Henry Ford invented the automobile but in 1903 when Ford Motor Company was launched, there were already 68 car companies. Only two of those original car companies still exist today.
Creating a business is one thing, but keeping a business relevant to the consumer is quite another. Staying with the car company theme, Alan Mulally retired a few years ago from Ford Motor Company and was probably the best CEO that Ford ever had, including people with the last name of “Ford.” Alan was an outsider to the Ford family, but stepped in and saved the car company. See, with Ford it wasn’t enough just to have the last name Ford, they needed a person that could almost reinvent Ford Motor Company and reach the consumer in a new, relevant way. That is exactly what Alan did.
So, you may ask how can a company remain relevant and remain vibrant through the test of time. Well, I think Ford may offer the best answer to that. Bill Ford, who was Henry Ford’s great grandson, was the CEO of Ford until 2006. Ford Motor Company suffered under Bill Ford’s leadership for several years and had experienced staggering losses. To Bill Ford’s credit, he understood that he lacked the ability to turn the company around and went looking for the person to take his place and found Alan Mulally.
Think about that for a minute. Here your last name is Ford and your great grandfather founded the company, but you accepted that you were not the right leader to run the company. I have a very high regard for Bill Ford for recognizing where he was good, where he was not, and the fortitude to make that decision.
Side note here: no one is good at everything, but smart people will surround themselves with other people that are good in the areas in which they are weak.
So again, you may ask how a company can remain relevant. I believe it starts with leaving ego and arrogance at the door. No one is good enough or smart enough to act that way. I believe the second thing is to realize when your time has passed and have the foresight to replace yourself. Lastly, the first thing Alan Mulally did after becoming the CEO was call every department head into one room and without any fear of job loss, he asked every department head where Ford was failing and how did that department head think it could be fixed. After hearing that there was no wrong answer and no risk of losing their jobs, they began to tell Alan and the rest of the department heads where they were weak and where they were strong. Alan began that day to build his team and recreate Ford Motor Company into what we know today. Today, Ford is still relevant to its customers.
Whatever your business is or whatever your job is you should ask yourself, are you current and relevant to the times and are you moving toward being better at what you do. The next time your boss talks to you, tell him your ideas on how to improve the company or the work you do. Most people only talk about what is wrong. If you talk about what is right and how to improve it, trust me, he/she will look at you differently and will have a new respect for you. It is my guess that when most layoffs happen, they don’t lay off the ones who try to improve the company and have the right attitude.
There is not a set age where you are no longer relevant. It is an attitude, humility, and sense of being that defines this. In the hotel business, look at Bill Marriott; he is 86 years old and will still stop the conversation in an entire room when he walks in. So, just because you are 50, 60, 70, or 80, don’t think you are no longer relevant just because of your age. That said, know what you are good at and be honest with yourself on what you are not good at.
Be smart, be active, read, exercise and improve who you are and always have something in life you want to strive toward. KT