One hundred thirteen years ago today, the Ford Motor Company received orders for the first three Model A’s to roll off the company’s iconic assembly line in Detroit. The $1,320 generated by the sales came not a moment too soon, as the fledgling company had just $223.65 left in its bank account after burning through its entire seed capital of $28,000 trying to bring the car to market.
While Henry Ford undoubtedly breathed a tremendous sigh of relief at the time, it’s unlikely he yet grasped the far-flung and transformative nature of the enterprise he was launching. Within months, the company had sold enough Model A’s to turn a profit of $37,000, setting up Ford for an even greater success with the Model T, one of the best-selling cars in automotive history — even considering that it hasn’t been produced in nearly 90 years.
Since that first Model A, Ford has manufactured more than 350 million vehicles and generated hundreds of billions of dollars in sales. It’s almost impossible to imagine what those first three cars would be worth to Ford today. Luckily, we don’t have to wonder. The first and second Model A’s produced in 1903 are no longer in existence. But, the third car, originally sold to Herbert L. McNary of Britt, Iowa, resurfaced in 2012 when it was purchased at auction by none other than William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman of the board for Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford’s great-grandson.
The winning bid of $264,000 reflects the book value ascribed to the worth of this vehicle, but Ford’s use of this car as the centerpiece of a year-long celebration of Henry Ford’s birthday demonstrates the priceless heritage value it brought to the Ford brand. Forward-thinking companies and their iconic products or symbols — like Ford and its Model A, Wells Fargo with its stagecoaches and Coca-Cola with its polar bears — are examples of organizations that have come to recognize the value historic artifacts from their past, leveraged through well-maintained archives, can bring to a contemporary enterprise and its brands.
And, while conventional accounting calls for archives and heritage assets to be valued based on their appraised or replacement value, the bottom line is that their intrinsic value to an enterprise can be priceless. The best companies understand and respect the hidden value that can be extracted from those assets.
There have been numerous attempts to link the intangible value of heritage assets with brand value and even market value. The market value assigned to companies that embrace heritage as part of their branding efforts, in our view, should be reflective of the kind of visionary enterprise-wide leadership that resonates favorably with investors and other financial audiences. By interweaving brand with heritage and together harnessing their power to advance business objectives, leading organizations are driving stakeholder and market value.