Having just celebrated the 20th anniversary of our business life together, Stuart and I have found ourselves spending some time of late thinking about what our legacy will be.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not planning on going anywhere, but as businesses grow and change the role of founders inevitably changes too and it’s just as important to plan for that as it is to plan for any other business activity.
Founders hold the DNA of a business – it started it’s life as their baby, born of their passion and inspiration. But just as a real baby grows and increases in independence, so does your ‘business baby’, and if you keep it tied too tightly to your apron strings you rob it of the chance to achieve it’s full potential. Sure it might dance with some unlikely suitors at times during its adolescence, but if you’ve instilled the right values along the way it will find it’s way to become a healthy adult.
We’re really fortunate at Icon Group to have an absolute abundance of founders. Every constituent business of the Group still has founders who are actively involved, and this ensures that we are always to tap into what the ‘true north’ of what that business’ activity is – the need that it was intended to fill, and the passion that went into creating the solution.
The value of a founder driven legacy was reinforced on Sascha and my recent trip to Paris. I know it may have seemed at face value that we were completely consumed by the fun and frivolity of fashion week (and let’s be real, there was plenty of that!), but at the same time it’s impossible not to recognise the important role that founder DNA and legacy plays in these luxury brands.
We had a great example of this when Louis Vuitton hosted us at the ‘family home’ at Asnieres, which has been maintained by LVMH post its acquisition of the brand. The house is a beautiful showcase of the brand, but is also home to the workshop where master craftsman still build the trunks which form the heart of the company’s DNA. The company has expanded into men’s and women’s ready to wear, jewellery, accessories and homewares, but has never forgotten its roots as a master packer – delivering solutions that allow people to safely transport the things that are most precious to them.
This is both a differentiator and a driver, and the founder legacy lies heavy in the air. The large number of millennial employees learning the craftsmanship that has stood the test of time for generations is a strong indicator that the founder DNA holds firm, regardless of the change in ownership of the core business.
It can be really challenging for founders to step away from the day to day management of the business – handing your baby over someone else to raise can be tough! – but at the same time, it’s a minority of founders who have the discipline to stick with the ongoing requirements of execution of the vision without getting distracted by the shiny objects that inevitably present along the way.
My recent Paris experiences have reinforced Stuart and my shared view that founder DNA is an extremely valuable business asset, and one that can shape a culture that lasts for generations past the personal involvement of the founder themselves. For two people who’ve always viewed our culture as our number one business asset, this has has crystallised the belief that our commitment to culture will ultimately be our legacy.
How do we deliver on that? We think it’s via a mix of leadership and inspiration – sharing the lessons we’ve learned along the way so that others don’t have to leave some of the flesh on the fence that we have, but also continuing to stretch and challenge the business in terms of what’s still possible. In terms of tangible actions, this has led to the formation of the Iconic Women program earlier this year, and some other soon to be announced initiatives.
Founder DNA is clearly an asset if handled and managed correctly, but clearly also has the potential to be appear on the opposite side of the ledger, as some high profile global founders have illustrated recently….
We all have the power to create our own legacy, but attention, energy and effort is required for it to be a successful one – not that dissimilar to building a business really!
And for fun, here’s a few more photos from the amazing Vuitton family home.