When a business has foresight

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Many years ago, in another life, I attended in the same month, the Birthday party for the company I worked for, and the Anniversary party for the company that my (then) husband worked for. What was the difference?

My company was young. Its staff were young. Its technology was new. In fact, a new division was writing new software to manage the innovative and new-to-the-South-African financial market that we were operating in. Our product was so innovative in a country with a well established and respected financial services industry, that we were mocked and told it would never work. By the time I left that company, it had been bought out by one of the biggest players in SA and now I challenge you to purchase a regular retirement annuity that doesn’t have these features that we were told wouldn't work.

We were turning 10!

The other company was a law firm. It was old. Its staff were old. It had original, hand written bonds and intellectual property registration documents in beautiful, heavy wooden frames in the stately and well stocked library.

It was celebrating 80 years in existence.

Clearly there was one party with considerably fewer balloons and more considerably more gray hair.
But what struck me at the time, was how both companies looked to the future. This was a long time ago. I was brand new to business and often astounded when I stumbled across an insight about how this world worked.

When we discussed the old law firm, I discovered that they had a committee set up to look at the future of their niche, in South Africa and across the world. They wanted to know how legislation, international trade, cross border legal issues, and economic challenges would affect their 80 year old business. They wanted to make plans that included: do they take on, or reduce the number of their articled law clerks. Do they take on or freeze the number of new associates and partners. How do they find, and more importantly, retain good non-white professional staff who were so often snapped up by firms in other industry where the individuals did not have to work through long articles. And very importantly, how did developing technologies and trends affect the world of intellectual property law.

I am fairly sure, looking back on my experience of the working world, that it was this appreciation for what the old law firm was doing, that inspired my interest in looking to the world of the future. That and a love for all things sci-fi, but we can discuss that at that another time.

In the meantime, our company with a young, arrogant and constantly changing work force, was busy using those technologies to create new products, new operating systems and even influence entire markets. I thought that my company was more innovative than his old law firm.

Here’s the rub. My company was bought out by a bigger fish. And that company was bought out by another which has subsequently merged with a third. We may have strongly influenced our industry but few people will remember that we even existed.

And the old law firm?

Well that still exists, is celebrating 100 years, and has a thriving proactive voice in the technology field too.

My take away from all of this? Sometimes flashy, modern, cutting edge businesses do not survive because they do not have a solid plan in place.

I have a well founded respect for the fact that sometimes more experienced firms have people with better foresight, and can apply some solid and reliable methods to anticipating the future and planning properly for it. I am grateful for that. My children’ school fees are being paid for because of that foresight!

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