A Good Business

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

I have talked on this blog before about working for my grandfather in his small manufacturing business. I learned a lot of things watching him run that business. Many of those lessons have come years after the time I spent working with him. One such example came just now as I sat down to write this post.

The thought that sparked this learning tonight came from another Harvard Business Review article that we read this week. The comment that stood out to me the most from this article was:

A good business is a community with a purpose.

The first company I thought about when I read this is Salesforce. Mark Benioff is one of my favorite CEOs. I have watched him over the last few years preach his concept of Ohana. He believes that all of his employees, customers, partners, and so on are all part of the big Salesforce family. More than that, being a customer of Salesforce feels like being in a community. With an incredibly deep and rich partner ecosystem, helpful forums of customers, and other tools, Benioff and team have built more than a product, they have built an ecosystem.  Maybe I am just drinking the Kool-Aid, but Salesforce is a great example to me of this.

There are plenty of other examples of this. iOS and Android have built massive communities of developers and businesses around their app stores. WordPress has a thriving community of designers, developers, and agencies around their tools and platforms. Communities are incredibly important, especially to business.

A purpose is just as important. My favorite purpose of all time comes from Steve Jobs, who has been quoted as saying “I wanted to put a ding in the universe.” As I sit here typing on my MacBook Pro, switching back and forth between this and my handheld device that greatly resembles an old iPod touch, I wonder if he felt that he reached his goal.

What does any of that have to do with my grandfather? Quite a bit actually. When I turned 8 years old, my grandparents moved from California to Kentucky. He brought his business with him. For many of us, the first community we are a part of is our family. Their new house in Kentucky was not only the venue for endless family dinners, parties, sleepovers, and events, it also served as the manufacturing plant, shipping facility, and headquarters for his business.

Sam Brown Shields was a major part of my formative years. All of the work was completed by family members. My mom and her sister did some of the more complex tasks, while much of the work was made available for the grandchildren who were interested in helping. I spent countless summer days sitting in their basement, listening to Rush Limbaugh, while my aunts talked, and I worked. This was a very tight knit community.

But what about purpose? Like I said, any of the grandchildren who were interested in helping were allowed and encouraged to do so. In fact, many of the business processes were tailored specifically to be easy to do with as little strain as possible so the grandkids could help. The entire business ran to provide for our family. This is a big difference from the purpose being to create wealth. The purpose was to create a life. To put food on the table. To pay for summer camps. To help us pay for college, go on missions, move across the country. Whatever we needed, our grandfather taught us all how to work for the means to make it happen.

All of the profits from the company have gone into investments to continue a legacy of working for your needs. My grandfather lived the concepts in The Richest Man in Babylon, and I can only assume he never read the book.

My grandfather has been a great example to me. I hope the lessons he taught me are applicable to your life as well.

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