Relatives on my father’s side of the family have long been in the shipping business. They not only build huge ships, they also transport people and goods. Today the RICKMERS family owned business is a major transporter of goods between Europe and CHINA. The RICKMERS Group provides maritime assets, management services and logistics.
As you can undoubtedly imagine, the family stories that have been passed down through the generations are fascinating, including stories about how they made the transition from wind to engine propelled during the industrial revolution. Somehow I can picture the artisans who crafted the wood, created the sails, and carefully placed the three massive masts on the schooners. Think about how different those people would be from engine mechanics, the folks who shoveled coal, and sheet metal workers.
The RICKMERS family had earned a great reputation based on crafting beautiful sturdy wooden ships. That is what paid the bills, attracted employees, and kept customers coming back. Should they actually turn their backs on the business they loved and understood to take a chance on something so strange? The leaders of the enterprise wondered how quickly metal would replace wood and engines would replace cloth sails, and they cared deeply about their extended family of employees. Could the artisans who worked in fine wood accept the changes and learn new skills? Would the company need separate workgroups with younger people applying the new technologies and the more experienced employees doing what they knew how to do? But if they did that, wouldn’t their loyal employees be left behind at some point? Would trying to build both types of ships hedge their bets or be too expensive to sustain?
To this day, my relatives remain convinced that the decision to combine approaches helped the RICKMERS enterprise and the extended family to survive two horrific world wars…despite the fact that they were/are based in northern Germany. Employees who had been forced to disperse when Hitler took over transportation companies returned to work together after WWII. They are convinced that the family’s commitment to lifelong learning and mutual respect across generations has made a huge difference in their long term resilience.
So often we think that today’s technology driven changes in businesses are unique to today’s generation(s). The scenario sounds the same to me. I can’t help but wonder if more companies could value experience AND new technologies while embracing lifelong learning AND respect across generations?
Do we really need to treat so many people like they are expendable?
Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called THE GROWTH STRATEGIST®. She has won over 2 dozen national and statewide “entrepreneur of the year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across 4 recessions. Her midsized BtoB clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. She owns and operates a suite of companies that help privately held midsized companies achieving accelerated growth with sustained profitability® through opportunity & resource analysis, 4 approaches to strategic planning, executive advisory services, growth financing, and targeted search. 2012 is Ambler’s 8th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer syndicated on line talk show that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of midsized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. An archive of over 300 interviews is available at www.GrowthStrategistShow.com. She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna or at Aldonna@AMBLER.com.