My great-grandfather lived to be older than most. He lived into his 96th year. And that’s how he would answer the question of his age. When he was 90 and someone asked him his age, he would respond with, “I am in my 91st year.” He was proud of his age, proud of his longevity.
I work for a company that is far older than most. Walker is in its 79th year. Walker has been led by the Walker family its entire existence. Walker is currently led by the third generation of Walkers and the fourth generation is now on board and playing increasingly important roles.
Few companies live this long. In fact, the average age of the companies in the S&P 500 is less than 20 years. And, according to the Conway Center for Family Business, only 12% of family businesses survive the transition from G2 to G3 (Generation 2 to Generation 3). Walker is going strong and planning the transition from G3 to G4. By the way, Conway’s statistics show that only 3% survive to this transition.
So what makes Walker different? Why has Walker lived this long? What is Walker’s secret to longevity? I think 5 critical characteristics allow Walker to thrive.
A Willingness to Change. A company doesn’t last 79 years without going through a few changes. And over the years, Walker has changed in many areas and in many ways. Walker has changed the way it collects data. Tommie Walker collected data by going door to door. Later, the company brought people to its centers to collect information, then built phone centers to call respondents, and invested in collecting and reporting data via the web. Each of these transitions was a life-altering change. Walker has changed its focus several times as well, responding to market trends and demands. Walker has been willing to change to provide the type of information about customers necessary to succeed in business and to provide it in the most efficient and reliable manner.
The Most Valuable Asset. Unlike many companies that possess proprietary machinery or distribution channels, Walker’s most valuable asset leaves the company every evening and returns every morning. Walker’s most valuable asset is its people. Walker’s people operate as a team, working together for the benefit of our clients. I know this might sound like a platitude, but our clients tell us this year after year. What makes Walker different? Its people. The relationships built between company teams and Walker teams are powerful. They are effective, professionally and personally. And it’s been that way for 79 years.
Embracing technology. Walker is a professional services firm. We are not a software development firm. But we do embrace technology – and we were one of the first firms in our space to do so. Walker started collecting and reporting data using the web at a time where our competitors were giving us (and our clients) all the reasons it wouldn’t work. We have always embraced technology as a way to generate, analyze and visualize customer insights more efficiently and reliably. Walker’s latest technological commitment results from forming an alliance with Qualtrics. In this alliance, Walker will implement the Qualtrics platform for clients, use Qualtrics’ software to collect and visualize information, and work with clients to provide extensions to Qualtrics’ tools. By embracing this latest technology, Walker’s focus will remain on serving clients the Walker Way. By the way, the primary reason for the declining lifespan of companies in the S&P 500? Technology.
Conscious Capitalism. There is a movement in the business community that has some traction. It’s called Conscious Capitalism. The movement is based on the fact that capitalism is a powerful system for doing good and creating societal value. Ask yourself what the world would look like today without the many innovations driven by capitalism. The negatives are created by those who corrupt the capitalistic approach. A consciously capitalistic approach focuses on all stakeholders (rather than one at the expense of the others), including customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders. This has been the Walker Way for all of its 79 years and will be for the next 79.
Impactful Value. Walker’s approach has always been based on creating desired business outcomes. From Tommie Walker’s client, A&P Tea Company, asking Tommie to help them remove factors slowing their checkout lanes to companies asking us how to retain and grow their customer base or how to design an experience that creates a competitive advantage, we like business challenges. We believe in bringing the customer into decision-making and strategic planning processes. We believe the customer holds the answer to important, growth-related questions. We believe in creating impact from customer information and that impact creates value for all of the stakeholders of our clients.
As we move into the new year, focus on the characteristics that drive longevity. Just like people, companies that are healthy live long lives.