Organizational transformation

Becoming a 250 Year Old Company

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • It's difficult to think 250 years in advance.
  • Designing organizations to focus on people is one of the few areas you can directly impact.
  • A clear model for attracting talent can be one of the most important areas to focus on.

I noticed the founding year on the bottom of my Villeroy & Boch NewWave cup the other day and it got me thinking. What does it take to survive as a company for over 260 years? Founded in 1748 in France as Boch and then merging with Villeroy in 1836, Villeroy & Boch is one of the world’s oldest companies. But you wouldn’t get that from looking at them today.

 

With a focus on human capital, research and development and innovation, Villeroy & Boch seem to be continually pushing forward using their knowledge and expertise to not only develop award-winning products, but position themselves to attract the best talent to continue the cycle. Here is what their employee competence model looks like (2011 Annual Report).

Looking across the Atlantic for a comparable in the United States, I came across Bromwell Housewares. Billed as “the oldest housewares company in the United States,” and now called Jacob Bromwell, Inc., the company is certainly modern, but the product line focuses on nostalgic products saying on its website that, “For over 190 years, the only thing that’s changed are the memories you create with Jacob Bromwell.”

 

One model focuses on using its history to propel itself and expand its knowledge and capabilities. The other model focuses on using its history as a way to market to people looking for “authentic relics”.

According to one model’s annual report, it enables the employment of almost 9,000 people generating almost $1 billion in revenues (€743 million). The other model had no annual report to speak of.

It’s hard to think 250 years in advance because it’s impossible to know exactly what the world will look like and that makes planning a bit of a challenge. But if Villeroy & Boch are any guide to ultra long-term success, we know that designing the organization to focus on people is the only way to ensure the success of any future product.

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