Learning From The Success of Century Old Businesses


If you are starting out in business, isn’t it nice to think that 100 years from now, you will have left behind a legacy and successful enterprise that future generations – even those of your own family – will continue to enjoy? The good news is that there are many examples of successful businesses that have been in existence for more than a century. This article aims to examine three such examples.


Bacardi is known the world over as a popular brand of white rum, but you might not know that Bacardi Limited is the world’s largest family-owned and privately held spirits company, with a portfolio of brands numbering more than 200. Such an exalted position is a far cry from the company’s more humble origins in 1862, when founder Don Facundo Bacardí Massó bought a distillery in Cuba and began making rum using pioneering techniques, including the use of a single strain of yeast acquired from local sugarcane plantations. That sense of innovation has run right across the history of Bacardi Cuba, not least in its response to adverse developments that might have defeated a less ambitious enterprise. During the prohibition era in the US during the 1920s, Bacardi successfully promoted the Cuban capital, Havana, as a tourist destination, where visitors were free to enjoy the company’s already famous rum. In October 1960, the rise of a revolutionary communist regime in Cuba saw company assets on the island confiscated. However, aware of developments, Bacardi had already taken the step of moving assets, including its yeast strain, offshore and was able to continue trading successfully. As an entrepreneur, you must always be aware of larger trends and forces that can affect your business, for good or bad.


The Ford Motor Company has been around since June 1903, when it was incorporated by Henry Ford. A household name in auto manufacturing, this once quintessentially American company has expanded to become a global player. The manufacturing techniques pioneered by Henry Ford eventually acquired his name and became known as Fordism, such were their impact on modern production. In recent decades, the company has embarked on a number of joint ventures internationally, including ones in China and Russia. As an entrepreneur, you may discover that tapping into new markets is best done with the help of local knowledge and expertise, and Ford is an excellent example of such an approach.

The Weitz Company

Beautiful doesn’t necessarily have to be big, and there are many smaller companies a century old or more that remain successful to this day. A good example is the Weitz Company. Its origins stretch back to 1855, when German emigrant Charles H. Weitz came to Des Moines and set up a small carpentry shop. The company remains family-owned but has expanded significantly, becoming a full-service general contractor, design builder and construction business, weathering more than one serious recession on the way and building its success with a series of collaborative relationships with partners, subcontractors and suppliers.

As the 19th century English poet William Wordsworth put it, “Let us learn from the past to profit by the present.” As a business owner, you have the benefit of hindsight in knowing what successful businesses a century old or more did right and what they did wrong.

Featured image credit: Man in Suit/ShutterStock

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