The most unexpected growth strategy you will read about this week.
Many organizations set out to create a book about their history because it will boost their brand in the marketplace. It can frankly be a way of stroking the ego, too. But a considered, well-crafted book can do so much more than that.
When his family celebrated 125 years in business, Fred Mouawad (one of three sons who share leadership of the Mouawad jewelry, diamond and watch empire) set out to interview uncles, brothers, cousins, and his mother and father. His intention was to create a book about their family enterprise.
The Mouawads produced a book that is both beautiful – showcasing the gems and jewelry that have made them famous – and full of insights into an enduring family enterprise. There are tales of adventure and sacrifice, generosity and perfectionism. Chapter by chapter, the book details the way in which this business grew from its roots in a simple workshop in Beirut to become a global leader in jewelry and gemstones; how Fred’s great-grandfather brought back watchmaking skills from the United States before the First World War; why his grandfather risked everything to move the business to Saudi Arabia; and how one brother came to be an unexpected leader in the third generation.
Over the course of a year, the project offered unexpected benefits for Fred as a business leader.
“Creating a book … has been a deeply valuable exercise in digging into our roots, identifying our core values across generations, and documenting our heritage for future generations. By better understanding our history we were able to set a better trajectory into the future.”
Through working with Fred and with other family businesses on their stories, I’ve come to believe that the very process of writing a book can deepen the qualities that have ensured their success, and that can apply to other kinds of businesses too.
- Handing on core values. Members of successful family enterprises not only understand why they are in business together, they are able to articulate those reasons. Typically these values are stable but not static, being redefined in a unique way by each succeeding generation. Writing a book about the business history demands an analysis of how those values play out over time.
- Unity within the organization. In the face of fierce competition and financial fluctuations, the business family’s first loyalty is to each other. As they hand over control to a new team of leaders, business leaders of all kinds can ensure their successors have a personal connection to their history by writing down their story.
- Actively seeking and fostering talent for future leadership. In family businesses that succeed through many decades and even centuries, there is a strong sense of stewardship: of preserving something for future family members. The same can be true of any organization, whether family owned or not. Handing a well-defined and considered story to future leaders is a clear way to ensure their mission is communicated clearly and openly.
- Commitment to long-term sustainability. An in-depth written account will bring to light the kind of sacrifices made by founders; it will also evaluate their role as stewards ofthe business, and relate that to the leaders of the future.
Shared values, unity, fostering talent, commitment to the long term. If you could capture those four qualities and bottle them for your own organization, wouldn’t you want to? The process of conceptualizing and writing a business book allows you to do just that.
Creating a good book takes time and contemplation. As you develop the plan for your book, you will be forced to scrutinize the key turning points for your organization: what sacrifices were made, what trade-offs permitted? When conflict loomed between co-founders, did loyalty win out? How did a retiring business leader identify leadership qualities in their successor, sometimes against prevailing opinion?
For a business with the courage to ask the difficult questions about their past and a vision for stepping into the future, writing and producing their story can be a growth strategy that transcends every expectation.
This article is adapted from this piece I wrote for Medium.