October 19, 2016 • Sara Eagin
Being a part of a family-founded enterprise means that your corporate heritage can often become very personal. For that reason, preserving and sharing the history of family businesses can be more of a challenge than for other organizations.
From major corporations to local mom-and-pop stores, many American businesses we encounter today originated as family-run operations. In fact, more than one-third of the companies on the S&P 500 were either founded as family-owned companies or continue to be run by members of their founding families. The common theme between these success stories? A multigenerational commitment to the founding families’ culture and values, and an emphasis on preserving familial legacies.
One of the strongest assets of a family-owned company is its culture. The small, close-knit feel established by the founder often carries through to offspring, partners, colleagues and longtime employees. When family history becomes intertwined with company history, a unique narrative is formed. Preserving and sharing that cultural heritage allows companies to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and is vital for companies during times of transition or difficulty. Oral histories and corporate storytelling become important tools for capturing the core values that businesses can look back to, and lean on, in the future. With today’s emphasis on authenticity in the marketplace, that narrative will help make your company more relatable.
The History Factory has helped a variety of family-owned companies utilize their heritage, including:
Founded in 1866, Huntington National Bank entered its 150th anniversary year in 2016 with plans for a family-focused anniversary campaign based on the theme, “Our Story for Generations.” Centered on the culture and values of founder P.W. Huntington and his sons, the milestone anniversary celebrated the colleagues, local communities, and customers of Huntington’s past, present and future. THF used their diverse stories to create a video series, story bank, personalized exhibits for each regional office and a publication to tell their stories both internally and externally.
When Vermeer, a second- and third-generation-run industrial and agricultural manufacturer, inherited its founder’s farm, the company collaborated with The History Factory to develop plans for an on-site museum, conference facility and children’s science center. After oral histories were conducted to document current family stories and memories, the founder’s stories and values were carefully woven into each of these layout concepts, ensuring that each facility would preserve the founder’s message and effectively educate employees and visitors.
Several years after the death of their founder, Hoffer Plastics’ leadership—members of the founding family’s second and third generations—approached The History Factory to design a heritage exhibit in their lobby. Today, Hoffer Plastics’ custom lobby exhibit showcases the company’s values and enduring focus on its family of employees and doing what’s best for its customers. The exhibit ensures that members of the Hoffer family working for the company, younger relatives, and new generations of employees understand and carry on the company’s values.
It is important for all companies to preserve and use their heritage, but the need for heritage management is even greater with family businesses. Our work has shown us that families can have complex legacy stories. You own your family history, so don’t run away from it. Embrace it, record it and use it to help future generations or non-family leadership continue the values that have made your company successful.
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