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Strong Values Have Kept This Family in Business for 154 Years

Guest: Bill Betts, President of Betts Company, which has been owned and operated by Bill’s family since 1868.

Overview:Think COVID was rough? When your company is strong enough to survive for 150 years, a pandemic (or two) is just one blip on a timeline that includes Reconstruction, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and everything since. That kind of longevity is only possible when a company knows how to use its values as both an anchor to its heritage and a catalyst for keeping pace with BIG changes.

On today’s show, Bill Betts talks about the values that have guided his family business for six generations. He also shares some practical advice on maintaining ownership and succession planning that have helped the family business stay in the family’s hands.

Bill Betts on the key to keeping a family business together for over 150 years:

“If we want to continue to live what the founder really wanted to see happen, you have to take that into consideration. William the First was proud of this business he created, passed it along to William the Second, and really wanted to see it go on. Trying to have something that can last a long time, there’s trade offs to that. You have to be willing to think longer term and be patient. One of the things we have to be mindful of as well is ownership and how we manage that and not dilute it to the extent where ownership becomes so meaningless to someone who has it that their vision is disconnected from the overall intent of the company. So we’ve had to make conscious decisions for how we manage that as a family. We keep the ownership group very, very small in that regard.”

Bill Betts on maintaining and developing values in a family business:

“One of the primary purpose statements that was originally created by our founder was, ‘Building well, serving better.’ And we still use that purpose statement today. But a little over a decade ago, I led a reflection exercise. We reaffirmed our purpose statement, and it’s really about ‘Improving the way things move,’ and everything we do being attached to that statement. It speaks to the industries we’re in, the sorts of products we manufacture. And the big ethos of our company is lifelong learning. In order to remain relevant and adapt and evolve, we have to be willing to change. And the only way to change and to do it mindfully is to be willing to embrace new things, ask questions, be curious, and learn along that journey.”

Bill Betts on the importance of perseverance and compassion during adversity:

“The pandemic has been a really good opportunity to reflect on the world in which we live. And it’s been really interesting to be a family business that’s been around 154 years. The 1918 pandemic happened during our time in business. For a lot of the team today, no one’s really experienced something of this magnitude. And so I just think having our purpose statement and a culture that embraces change, but is also trying to be compassionate about the things people are going through, is really, really important. The pandemic caused everybody in the entire world to really reflect on and think through the emotional wellbeing, the mindfulness that comes with something we’ve all endured. I’m proud of the way we’ve responded. And we still have a lot of work to do to make sure that we’re taking care of our team and providing meaningful opportunities for them to grow and for the company to grow.”

Links:

4 Tips to Help Family Businesses Leverage Tradition and Grow BIG The best family-run businesses follow their values as they bridge the divide between the past and future. Here are 4 tips for helping your family preserve its legacy while working towards a BIG tomorrow.

Does Your Family Member “Fit” the Family Business? The next time your nephew is knocking on your door looking for a seat at the table, use these four principles to decide if the people you love are ready to hit the goals your company needs to get BIG.

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