What’s Left After The Founder Leaves [By Joshua Chia]

The world’s oldest businessman lived to a ripe old age of 109 years old. One of the world’s oldest brand – is still surviving at the age of 326 years old.

The story of an enterprising young person who built a profitable business from humble beginnings is not unheard of. In fact, it is common in a country like Singapore where foresight, tenacity and resourcefulness form the building blocks of success. However, what is also common is the thinking that all you need in business is a ‘good product sold at a competitive price to people you form relationships with’.

While it has proven to be successful for some, this viewpoint has positioned the brand as something that happens by chance and not by design. As a result, the active management of a brand takes a backseat and before we know it, the business loses control over the perceptions that are being formed by customers about the business.

When The Brand Is Just A Shadow Of The Business Owner

When a business is managed without the brand being the central guiding system, stakeholders and customers form perceptions about the brand based on their only point of interaction with the business. In the case of small-to-medium businesses where the business owner interacts directly with customers, these perceptions are often mere projections of the business owner’s traits rather than about how the business excels in delivering something that others can’t match.

Brands should therefore be actively managed as a personified representation of a business’s uniqueness and not a shadow of its founder.

There are, of course, strong brands out there that are deliberately crafted and actively managed to build upon the traits of its founder but it is surely not something that is left to chance. Otis makes a good example. In 1854 at New York’s World Fair, Elisha Otis demonstrated his invention of the elevator safety brake system by actually cutting the hoisting platform rope in the form of a dramatic, death-defying live demonstration. Needless to say, he survived and Otis is now a brand that’s known in the industry for its breakthrough innovations and its boldness to stand behind what it claims to provide.

Its products are therefore built around the brand idea. The way Otis services its customers is built around the same brand idea. Every other part of the business is built with the Otis brand in mind.

Not the other way around.

What’s Left After The Founder Leaves

A common finding among small-to-medium businesses is that business owners rely heavily on building personal relationships rather than building the brand’s relationships with its customers and stakeholders.

However, the morbid but realistic truth is that personal relationships don’t last forever – simply because there’s an expiry tag on our lives. Brands, if managed carefully, live long enough to form new relationships with people and its customers, over and over again.

The brand, the therefore what’s left after the founder leaves the business.

Irving Kahn was an American businessman and investor who was active in the field until he passed away at the age of 109 making him one of the oldest businessman in history. On a separate note, the Barclays brand has lived through major world events over the span of 326 years – the Industrial Revolution, the invention of the telephone, two world wars and will most likely continue to build new relationships with new customers in time to come.

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