At the heart of a business’s success is its longevity and ability to transcend generations regardless of societal or global changes. In a world that is ever-changing and always looking for the latest disruptive company or trend, longevity in business has become somewhat of a unicorn: rarely spotted, but valuable, nonetheless.
While some of today’s most influential global companies were created within the last 20 years, there are others that have surpassed the century mark that are still relevant in today’s world. To last more than 100 years is a significant achievement. As one article by Entrepreneur stated, “These companies haven’t just scraped by. They’ve reinvented themselves multiple times, acquired and sold entire business divisions, and remained at the forefront of branding and marketing. As mass consumption habits and values have evolved and fragmented, they’ve simultaneously leveraged their timeless appeal and adapted to stay current. It takes resilience and willingness to change to weather more than a century.”
The article goes on to call out some of these brands – many of which are relevant in our lives today. General Electric, over 125 years old, continues to contribute in multiple segments of the economy; Coca-Cola, over 125 years old, has positioned itself as the ultimate beverage competitor (read about why we walked away from a $2.5 billion dollar offer to partner with them); Boeing, over 100 years old, leads in commercial aircraft, as well as aerospace and defense manufacturing; Nikon, over 100 years old, continues to contribute to the electronic world; and many others that continue to forge a path of leadership, innovation, and dependability.
When you consider the characteristics needed to survive over a century, it’s not surprising to learn that many of the world’s oldest businesses are found in Asia. According to an article by the BBC, “Back in 2008, a Bank of Korea report found that of 5,586 companies older than 200 years in 41 countries, 56% of them were in Japan. In 2019, there were over 33,000 businesses in Japan over a century old, according to research firm Teikoku Data Bank. The oldest hotel in the world has been open since 705 in Yamanashi and confectioner Ichimonjiya Wasuke has been selling sweet treats in Kyoto since 1000. Osaka-based construction giant Takenaka was founded in 1610, while even some global Japanese brands like Suntory and Nintendo have unexpectedly long histories stretching back to the 1800s.”
The article goes on to explore why so many of Japan’s companies – and arguably many countries throughout Asia – have legacies that have withstood centuries. With cultures steeped in respect for their elders and those who have gone before, those entrusted with family businesses feel a sense of pride and responsibility to carry on the work of their ancestors.
This has certainly been the case with THP. I personally needed to make a decision about my future and whether it would or would not align with THP. I knew a big advantage of working outside the family business would be the ability to own my achievements and failures. But ultimately, I knew how hard my parents had worked and I respected the enterprise they had built; I had so much I wanted to prove to them. After a great deal of back and forth, I chose to follow in the footsteps of my parents and help build THP’s legacy – one that will last 100 years and beyond.
Beyond dedication and a sense of duty, companies that successfully pass from one decade or century to the next inevitably master the following principles:
- They embrace change. Change is a necessary and unavoidable component of life and business. Embracing change can be terrifying, but we were always taught there is nothing to fear. In fact, this is a core value of THP that has been incorporated into how we do business; “Today is better than yesterday, but not as good as tomorrow. Progress is never-ending; each day being a little better than the one before.” Change leads to improvement and different opportunities.
- They evolve and integrate new technology. In an article written by McKinsey, the author touched on this very point, “A failure to adapt to seismic change (whether customer or technology driven) is, I have found, rarely caused by intellectual oversights or an inability to grasp what is happening. More often, the culprit is an inability to escape from a successful past and to accept the huge financial and human costs of responding effectively. Kodak, for example, actually invented digital photography but proved unable to embrace the new technology until it was too late.” I learned the importance of this principle from my father as he planned for a future where THP continued to grow. Right from the beginning, my father’s main consideration was how best to scale up. He always knew that as THP got bigger it would only be able to compete with the multinationals by deploying the same or better technology. I have seen repeatedly over the years the need and benefit of seeking out and integrating best-practice technology in order to be competitive.
- They stay true to who they are. As companies get bigger and grow, the way the founder’s ethos and values percolate down the company becomes very important. For THP, this is represented by seven core values: customer satisfaction; international quality standards; responsibility to community and society; believing nothing is impossible; fostering a spirit of business ownership; adherence to the motto, “Today is better than yesterday, but not as good as tomorrow;” and finally, integrity. The most successful multi-generational family businesses take very specific steps to transfer family values from one generation to the next. We regularly revisit these values, discuss them at family meetings, and then refine them. We all agree to abide by them. We have found them an indispensable checklist. They bound us together at a time when we were fraying at the seams. They have helped keep us close-knit and made our working life far more straightforward.
It’s with these principles that THP has built the legacy that it has thus far. Our willingness to embrace change has led to innovative products that outcompete global brands. Our dedication to core values motivates us to deliver the best possible product to the market. And a commitment to embrace new processes and systems has allowed – and will continue to allow – THP to differentiate itself from its competitors. Learn more about how THP has been doing this at www.phuonguyentran.com/latest-thinking.