A few weeks ago, as I was flying across the country for work, I was looking through one of the airline magazines and I came across a story that caught my attention. The article was highlighting places to visit and the article was highlighting taking a tour of the 116-year-old Biltmore Estate located in Asheville, North Carolina. The 175,000-square-foot home sits on 8,000 acres still emanates its founder’s (George Washington Vanderbilt’s) illustrious grandeur. The pictures of the home were absolutely beautiful and just jumped off the pages of the magazine. Remarkably, this home still remains privately owned, even to this day.
So how in the world could such a beautiful home stay so beautiful and well maintained for such a long period of time? My mind kept going back to this question running through my head.
As I read on, I learned that although much of the robber-baron wealth of his grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt (earned though shipping and railroads in the early 1800s) has dissipated through his heirs, the 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.
George Vanderbilt’s vision wasn’t only to build the largest private home in America (which it still is 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, house wares and it’s own winery, which today is the most visited winery in North America. The visits to the winery each year even exceeds the number of visits to any one winery in the Napa Valley in California, which is considered the winery capital of the United States. This winery located in North Carolina ships more than 120,000 cases of wine each year.
It would seem that George Vanderbilt had the corner market on being successful. That would seem true, but even more impressive than the success he achieved, was the fact that this success could be maintained for such a long period of time. Any one of us can achieve success, but the ability to have sustainable success seems to be a whole other level.
So how do you sustain the success you achieve in life?
Let’s start by looking at what sustainability is.
Sustainability is the capacity to endure; to be diverse and productive over time; exhibiting the potential for long-term maintenance and well-being.
There is the area of personal success that you want to be sustainable, but what I want to focus on today is having sustainable success when it comes to your business. Even if you are not the owner of your own business, there are still questions you should consider, as an employee, to understand and help built the sustained success of the company you work for.
If you are going to have the ability to sustain your success in business for the long-term, here are the three areas you need to consider and the questions you need to ask yourself:
- Resource Sustainability
If you evaluate the resources critical to the operation of your business, are they sustainable? Have you considered several contingency plans? Do you have enough diverse relationships (vendors, bankers, partners, suppliers, internal operational processes, etc.) for long-tem maintenance and well-being under the pressure of any market, economic and brand crisis that might come?
- Marketplace Sustainability
If your market significantly shifted or evolved past your current market advantage or the market need for you product or service went into a recession, would the totality of your success go along with it? Are you, or is your business, in enough diverse markets or with enough different customers to allow you to endure and be productive under almost any circumstance?
- Financial Sustainability
If your income comes from a single dominant product, service, or customer, 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, service offerings and customers are critical to your long-term sustainability.
There are many people and businesses that achieve various levels of success throughout their lives, but the ability to sustain that success is what separates the successful people form the really successful people. I would encourage each of you to consider the position you are currently in. Go through the questions above and see if you are positioning yourself to be successful for the long-haul. Sustainable success is not achieved by all, but for those who do, they will be remembered for a very long time, even after your time on earth is over.