This past week my wife Georgia and I spent some time touring the 116-year-old Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. This 175,000-square-foot home on 8,000 acres still emanates its founder’s–George Washington Vanderbilt’s–illustrious grandeur… and it remains (remarkably) privately owned.
Of course my inquiring SUCCESS mind wanted to figure out how. Although much of the robber-baron wealth of his grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt (earned through shipping and railroads in early 1800s) has dissipated through his heirs, Biltmore Estate continues to thrive because it was founded on a vision of sustainability. While many of the Gilded Age estates have been reduced to rubble, taken over by the state or sold to nonprofit entities, Biltmore remains a privately owned, for-profit working estate.
Sustainability is the capacity to endure; to be diverse and productive over time; exhibiting the potential for long-term maintenance and well-being.
George Vanderbilt’s vision wasn’t only to build the largest private home in America (which it is still today 100+ years later) but to also have it be self-supporting.
In addition to the grand estate, George also had built the Biltmore School, scientific forestry programs, poultry farms, cattle farms, hog farms and a dairy. He also built the Biltmore Village for all those who would work on the estate, complete with a church.
Today the enterprise is not only a profitable historical tourist attraction but also a worldwide brand that includes a furniture line, housewares and it’s own winery, which today is the most visited winery in North America (yes, more than those in Napa Valley!), shipping more than 120,000 cases a year (some of it quite good I might add).
Three Lessons Learned on Sustainable Success:
1) Resource Sustainability: If you evaluate the resources critical to the operation of your business, are they sustainable? Have you vetted several contingency plans? Do you have enough diverse relationships (vendors, bankers, partners, suppliers, internal operational processes, etc.) for long-term maintenance and well-being under the pressure of any market, economic and brand crisis?
2) Marketplace Sustainability: If your market significantly shifted or evolved past your current market advantage or the market need for your product or service went into a recession, would the totality of your success go with it? Are you, or is your business, in enough and diverse markets to allow you to endure and be productive under almost any circumstance?
3) Financial Sustainability: If your income comes from a single dominant product or service, your sustainability is in serious jeopardy. Even dominant products like railroads, oil and banking reclaim the wealth of giants. A diversity of income streams from a multitude of products and service offerings are critical to your long-term sustainability.
In these fast-moving, evolving and changing times, diversity will be key to long-term sustainable success.
What are you doing to make your success diverse and sustainable in the long term? Share your thoughts in the comments below.