Create A Company That Is Built To Last

Great companies aren’t born great. They become great as a result of doing, not ordinary, but extraordinary things. Organizations like Disney, Nordstrom, BBB, and others have been in business for more than 100 years because they aren’t just any other entertainment company, retailer, or non-profit. They aren’t average or even good. They are GREAT, each possessing a remarkable ability to make a difference in the lives of their customers, each and every day.

Any business, large or small, has great potential. You might think, “I own a small gift shop in a rural town in Idaho. I’m not going to be big like Nordstrom or Disney.” You don’t have to be. Find your own niche and be the best at that. You don’t need to achieve world recognition or be a huge corporate enterprise to delight your customers.

Most people love well-known brands like Disneyland, Coca Cola, and Apple. However, they become insignificant to a family whose water heater goes out on Christmas morning. At that time, it doesn’t matter if Walt Disney himself shows up at the front door. If he can’t fix the problem, he’s useless. The only person they care to meet is their friendly and reliable HVAC technician, who arrives promptly and quickly fixes their problem. He becomes a hero, bringing happiness and relief to his customers by saving them from another day of ice-cold showers and dirty dishes. That is what it means to be great.

So what’s the secret to achieving greatness? Well, it’s not much of a secret at all. Every small to mid-sized company can benefit from several key principles used by “the greats” (i.e. BBB, Nordstrom, Disney, etc). The opportunity to be a business that is built to last can be had by anyone. It’s your choice to go out and take it!


“Core ideology defines the enduring character of an organization–its self-identity remains consistent through time and transcends product/market life cycles, technological breakthroughs, management fads, and individual leaders” (Collins, J. (2004). Built To Last: Successful Habits Of Visionary Companies).

A company that has purpose calls its people to action, earns their commitment, and influences their behaviors. Standing for something meaningful inspires others to give more than they’ve got. It brings meaning to life and gives life new meaning. Companies who consistently communicate a deeply rooted purpose tend to be leaders and innovators in their industries

A brand’s core values are its heart and soul, inspiring a deeper level of achievement that goes beyond ego gratification and the accumulation of wealth. The greatest accomplishment for enduring organizations like BBB, Coca Cola, and Amazon is the company itself and what it stands for.

The Walt Disney Company’s greatest achievement isn’t Cinderella, Snow White, or even Disney World. Its greatest creation is “its uncanny ability to make people happy.” For Merck & Company, business success “means victory against disease and help to humankind.”

Standing for something also helps keep organizations honest and focused on the needs of the company as a whole. They aren’t easily swayed by tantalizing offers and opportunities that don’t support their principles. “We’re still here after one hundred years, doubling in size every six or seven years, when most of our competitors from fifty years ago don’t even exist anymore. Why? Because of the discipline to not compromise our standards” (Collins, J. Built To Last).

Core values are also extremely vital in navigating businesses through challenges. When storms come (and they always do), having a strong foundation of values will help keep your company rooted firmly in the ground. Toyota’s guiding philosophy of the “Passionate Pursuit of Perfection” helped the embattled company regain its lead in the global automotive market after facing several setbacks caused by the devastating 2011 Tsunami (Business Insider).

BBB is another great example of a company maintaining their core values, which they’ve had for more than 100 years. Dana Badgerow, CEO of BBB Minnesota and North Dakota says, “We were founded by forward-thinking business owners more than a century ago, when fraudulent advertising claims were rampant and trust in the marketplace was ebbing. In the space of that time, our role has grown immensely, because we have remained true to our core values. Consumers and business owners alike know ours is an organization they can trust.”


According to Forbes, the average lifespan of a company in the 1920s was 67 years. Today, it is 15 years. Enduring companies recognize that their longevity and prosperity “requires more than treading water, and that the companies that were once great are now gone or on their way out largely because they stopped innovating.”

Remember Kodak? After they invented the digital camera, they contracted the “FDH” syndrome, Fat, Dumb, and Happy. They decided to bask in their glory and success instead of looking forward. They stopped innovating. As Bill Gates is fond of saying, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

“Over time, cultural norms must change; strategy must change; product lines must change; goals must change; competencies must change; administrative policies must change; organization structure must change; reward systems must change. Ultimately, the only thing a company should not change over time is its core ideology.”

You can still be progressive, while maintaining your core. In fact, it’s vital that you do both. “A company can have the world’s most deeply cherished and meaningful core ideology, but if it sits still or refuses to change, the world will pass it by” (Collins, J. Built To Last).

Keep envisioning the future. Keep innovating. What works today, probably won’t work tomorrow. As the world evolves, the needs of customers change, creating new demands and expectations.


“When a calamitous event clobbers an industry or the overall economy, companies fall into one of three categories: those that pull ahead, those that fall behind, and those that die. The disruption itself does not determine your category. You do.” – Jim Collins & Morten Hansen

Have you ever wondered why some businesses handle challenges better than others? What do they do differently? Great companies don’t run from adversity, they embrace it. They recognize that change, failure, or misfortune are stepping stones in their journey to success. Challenges are seen as opportunities for growth, rather than hindrances.

Most great companies have experienced not just one but many failures. However, those that persevere, become better people and better businesses. “History has shown us, time and again, that the world’s most resilient organizations are those that do more than just prepare for change and turbulence. Instead, they see–and seize–opportunity in the eye of the storm” (Rockefeller Foundation).

“In its early years, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, now known as 3M, was a dismal failure. After years of mining losses and red ink, company founders and investors came to a crossroads. They could close the business, or change course. 3M executives did what most successful executives do when faced with failure. They used it as an opportunity to find a path to success. Today, the company generates nearly $30 billion in revenue selling over 55,000 products and employing roughly 84,000 people” (Business Insider).

Those that buckle in the face of hardship, find it “easier to quit than stare down that abyss.” When things are going well, we coast. We are not fully engaged. Adversity wakes us up. “It reveals genius, while prosperity conceals it.” Part of becoming an exceptional brand is showing up each day armed, ready, and willing to fight for your company. A company’s true character is often revealed through strife. Resistance is an opportunity for growth. Don’t waste it. “You can’t snooze your way to greatness” (Seth Godin). Great companies are willing to risk failure to achieve great success.


With a new year, you have a fresh start. You have what it takes to be a business that is built to last many years and even generations. The choice to be better than good–to be great–is yours.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs

Click infographic to view full size

core values exceptional brands infographic preview