What Does YESCO’s Longevity Tell the Rest of Us?

Business loves the start-up (Apple is the No. 1 customer of OOH). But what can business learn from 100-year companies, the centennials?

“How do they do it?” asked a trio of business gurus who published their findings in the Harvard Business Review. 

Barnes Advertising and Wolverine Sign Works, Lamar Advertising, and others are centennials. Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) soon will be 100.

The experts published by Harvard studied centennials in the arts, sports, and science… finding very similar traits:

  • Centennials stabilize their core while looking ahead. 

    Watch for YESCO to transfer leadership to a fourth generation of the Young family.
  • Centennials work with youth, sometimes as young as pre-schoolers, to help them understand the future. I once called Mike Young (YESCO president and CEO), but the cell connection was spotty. Mike said he was in a remote location, at a Boy Scout jamboree.
  • Centennials don’t employ leaders with large egos, preferring humble stewards who want to learn from previous leaders. One of the centennial organizations studied by the experts put it this way: “No dickheads,” said the New Zealand national rugby team. Rugby execs talk about “leaving the jersey in a better place.”
  • While stabilizing their core, centennials stay fresh and “keep waves of disruption crashing at their edge.” Visiting Las Vegas in 2015, I ran into Jeff Young  (YESCO senior VP). He invited me to visit the YESCO plant, to take a peek at a new emphasis at YESCO. Upstairs, Mike Young was pitching YESCO territory franchises for sign repair. 
  • Centennials open their doors to the world. For example, long-lasting schools seek new types of students, the management experts said.Touring YESCO’s main plant in Salt Lake City years ago with Mike Young, he pointed to a skilled craftsman working in a back shop. “A refugee,” from a far-way conflict, Mike explained. Ryan Young (Mike’s nephew) says a Bosnian and a Somali currently work at YESCO in Salt Lake City.
  • Success makes centennials nervous. “Rather than celebrate it, they unpack it” to search for what they’re missed or what they could do better.

Congratulations to YESCO as it approaches 100, and centennial media companies that teach us about performance over time.