Some businesses survive less than a year. Others, like Gentile Pastificio, survive for hundreds and more. Only days ago, my family and I visited Gragnano, the tiny Italian town celebrated for its air-dried pasta. Nunzio, our charismatic Italian tour guide, had led us to this charming place he also happened to call home. As we entered the massive stone building, I couldn’t help but wonder what the workings of an 1876-founded business might look like inside. Just how antiquated might they be? To my surprise, other than a small area set aside to display historical photos and original stone dies, the factory was contemporary and sophisticated with highly automated presses spewing belt-loads of rigatoni under the watchful eyes of attentive workers. On one hand, I felt a sense of disappointment that there were no ancient practices to observe. On the other, I felt admiration for Gentile’s ability to continually grow and progress. Since 1876 times had changed, and to survive their business had evolved.
By comparison, Coates Kokes is a young company having “recently” been founded in 1978. And to make it 43 years, our business has had to grow and progress too. The type we once ordered from outside vendors, the film we once sent out for week-long processing, and our carefully penciled accounting ledgers have all given way to the digital revolution. In the faint corners of my mind I remember pink phone message slips, Day-Timer planners, felt markers and layout pads—all of which have been gone for decades. Even our once-revolutionary IBM PCs and iMacs are now relics fit only for computer museums. Since 1978 times have changed, and to survive our business has evolved.
Though Gentile and Coates Kokes have been subjected to generally different pressures over the years, the world changed in 2020 when a common enemy named Covid unexpectedly stepped in to challenge most every business on the planet. No business leader alive today had ever faced managing a business through a worldwide pandemic. In a moment, every human being’s daily pattern changed, and we too were forced to change with the new reality. Today we meet with our colleagues and clients through the lens of a small back-lit screen. Only on rare occasions do we meet personally, mindfully keeping our six-foot distance and donning masks that cover half our faces. Nowadays, our filing cabinets are all housed in The Cloud. It wasn’t that many years ago that “The Cloud” would have been two wrongly capitalized words predicting rain was possibly on the way.
So, what’s next? No one knows for sure, but it’s definitely something. Something that will challenge our viability and livelihood in new untested ways. But whenever that happens, whatever it is that happens, we know this for sure—strong businesses will survive by evolving once again.
And, so, the beat goes on…