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Roots and Wings

By Connor Kennedy

March 12, 2020

width=411Whether as an individual or an entire company, a common denominator for success is the strong development and cognizance of both. In any business, but especially a family business, it is important to recognize the tradition, dedication, and diligence that drove the company’s initial success. It is also vital that the growth of the organization stems from the vision of innovation, progression, and adaptation to the ever-changing world. Given the current pace of change, the intensity of competition, and the increasing expectations of consumers, future business leaders should recognize that sustainable growth must be supported by the nurture of its roots with a consistent vision of the organization’s direction. In business, it is important to nurture our relationships with competitors, vendors, and of course, customers. But the investment of time in the relationships within our own organization—the roots—is perhaps the most significant investment we can make toward developing our wings of future success. When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago. When is the second-best time to plant a tree? Today.

When I started in the business at age 16, I worked in the plant running some of our equipment, doing hand-labor, and of course, cleaning. Over the next few years during summer and holiday breaks, I continued in production learning more about the equipment and even spending some time in our shipping department until I graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in business and supply chain management. I began my official tenure with the company at age 22 in a sales role (now comically referred to by my mentors as my “bloody-nose experiment”) to use the knowledge and experience from my time in production and shipping out in the real world. That “bloody nose” made me realize pretty quickly that I didn’t know much. So, I then spent even more time with our production team, more time in our shipping department, and time in design and customer service so that I could truly understand and appreciate the tradition, dedication, and diligence of every department’s key members.

As is the case in many successive businesses in our industry, the opportunity to move a company forward often coincides with the challenge of supplanting the key members who helped get them to where they are today. In organizations facing such challenges, developing a plan to adapt to changes requires a clear and consistent vision for the company’s future and its members, which is shaped by the investment of time within the organization. Although the execution of that plan is unique to each organization, it all goes back to the common denominator of success.

The following points are key to developing professional—and personal—success, relative to the roots-and-wings philosophy.

Recognize Your Roots

  • Be cognizant of the core competencies and competitive advantages that drove the initial success of your organization.
  • Use your own inexperience not as a disadvantage but as an opportunity to learn from those before you. Let them guide you through their own experiences to help mentor and coach those whom you choose for the next generation behind them. I think many would be surprised by their appreciation of the care and attention that you have planned to solidify their legacy within the organization.
  • Walk a mile in their shoes. Experiencing the trials and tribulations of the people who helped build the organization is vital to create a clear vision for the future ahead. So when you have to make those tough decisions, the people potentially affected by them know that even for a short time, you lived and breathed it. And if you don’t have the opportunity to walk in their shoes, ask them about their journey.
  • When the roots are deep, there is no reason to fear the wind. Every organization deals with adversity.

Develop Your Wings

  • Using the experiences of others before you is vital, but the only way to truly learn is to do. You are going to make mistakes, and if you don’t, you’re not working hard enough! Your greatest glory will not be in never falling but in rising every time you fall. And as a leader, it’s important for others to see that.
  • You can’t talk your way out of what you behave your way into. Talking a good game is great, but leading by example is the only way to get the best out of your people.
  • Change for change’s sake can be more damaging to your efforts toward creating an engaged and inspired workforce than no change at all. Have purpose in what you are doing and how you are doing it.

width=150Connor Kennedy is project manager for Southern Carton Co. and an AICC Emerging Leader He can be reached at