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Not all companies built to last

Is your company built to flip or built to last?  While it has been over a decade since the Internet bubble fueled the idea that incredible wealth could be created overnight, part of the hangover of that period is the built-to-flip mentality. Jim Collins, bestselling author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great,” has noted that certain companies are not necessarily meant to be built to last such as those which are merely a vehicle to introduce a new technology or device into the world.  However, many other companies who have the potential to last fall short of fulfilling their opportunity by having a shortsighted vision. 

Collins reframes the real question and challenges entrepreneurs by asking the question “is your company built to work?”  By this, he means whether your company is committed to excellence, contribution, and meaning.  One of the most common features of the built-to-flip mindset is a lack of attention to establishing core values and purposely developing a culture that will endure.  When you view your time horizon for building your business in terms of months or a couple of years, there is often a complete disregard for building a great culture.  In contrast, when you think that your company may be around for decades, it helps to think about what really matters.  Providing consistent quality and service to your customers and treating your employees with respect and dignity takes on a new sense of importance when you have a long view. 

Miller Transporters Inc. is certainly a great example of a company that is built to work.  The company was founded in 1942 by Harold D. Miller.  Miller started the company with one truck hauling gasoline from Vicksburg to Jackson.  The company has endured wars and recessions, deregulation and widely fluctuating gas prices to become one of the largest  bulk tank operators in the country.  Today, the company has over 600 employees and contractors, 15 terminals across the country and is one of Mississippi’s largest privately held businesses.  Even though Miller passed away in 1976, his legacy endures as the third generation of family members, Lee and Hal Miller, lead the company today and two fourth-generation family members are in training for future leadership. 

Miller was often quoted as saying “every load’s safety in a courteous manner takes priority over all else.”  The current generation Miller family leaders are stewards of a culture that Harold D. Miller developed, which emphasized safety, customers, quality, employees, suppliers and integrity.  Miller practiced what he preached and hired great people and allowed them to do their jobs.  According to Hal Miller, executive vice president, “we were taught early on that people are our most important asset.”   Lee Miller, president, added that “we strive to hire great people and to let them do their jobs without micromanaging them.”  The company’s commitment to its values is evident by its numerous industry awards including the 2006 National Tank Truck Carriers Safety Award. 

Harold D. Miller certainly had a built-to-work mindset as he and later generations have truly built a great and lasting company.   As noted above, not every company is meant to become an enduring enterprise; however, I would certainly argue that every organization should focus on the core principles that make a company built to work including laying a solid foundation.  As a business owner, you never really know the time horizon of the life cycle of your company.  Even if you are venture backed and have the pressure to “exit” to provide your investors their return, I believe that everyone is better served building a company with a long-term view to make sure the fundamentals are firmly in place.  


Martin Willoughby is a business lawyer in Jackson. He can be reached at mew@msbusinesslaw.com.


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