It was hard to miss the 4-page spread in The New York Times celebrating IBM’s 100th anniversary. Ranked by Forbes as the 31st largest company in the world, IBM proves its staying power despite the loss of its founder, Thomas J. Watson, Sr. The company operates on the principle that a business’ long term success hinges not on its current products or offerings, but its institutions of culture and values. Watson and his successors encouraged embracing innovation in order to understand why the organization does what it does rather than simply how it does it.
For IBM, inventing the UPC bar code and developing a computer that understands language well enough to win Jeopardy! were processes motivated by the company’s drive to constantly innovate to improve how technology serves the world. Watson’s legacy continues.
As of May 2011, with 35 years in business, Apple Inc. has become one of the largest and the most valuable technologies companies in the world surpassing Microsoft. A long-time competitor to IBM, Apple differentiated its brand, greatly influenced by its founder, Steve Jobs. The company believes in fostering individuality and excellence in order to be best in breed.
Powerhouse players like Apple will have to face the same inevitable challenge. When a figure such as Steve Jobs comes to the end of his career as its unequivocal head, will Apple preserve the momentum and maintain its lead in the industry?
As valuable a concept as this is for a large scale international corporation, so too is it for the entrepreneur or small business owner. Understanding how a business delivers on its purpose is a key to finding success that goes beyond a clever idea or a sensational product. Businesses must be able to react and adapt to changing climates, leaders, and innovations in the marketplace.
Although most companies will never attain the heights of IBM or Apple Inc., it’s important to identify the values needed to create the ultimate staying power in an ever-evolving business world.