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What’s Between Your Dash?

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July 24, 2019

This may seem like a strange question.  But, it becomes increasingly relevant in light of the sky high rates of business failure.  According to HBS scholar, Shikhar Ghosh, 75% of venture-backed startup fail. According to the Small Business Administration, 30% of new business fail during the first two years of operation and 50% during the first five years and 66% during the first 10 years.

So perhaps the odds are not ever in favor of founders.  Absent making failure a self-fulfilling prophecy, the questions entrepreneurial leaders might ask is: how might we maximize the time between launching a venture and bringing it to a close? 

So this week we’re exploring a few experiential teachers that might get you thinking about what’s between your dash.

Evaluating your dash is more about the legacy your company will leave than its lifetime of revenue, ROI or acquisitions.  Take, for example, the stories of two companies, one living and one dead (i.e., bankrupt):

If you were born before the 2000s, then its likely that you remember the Enron scandal.  Not only is it a case study for business ethics, but it remains a go-to for identifying fraudulent accounting practices.  Indeed, Enron shareholders lost $74 billion during its final four years where shares plummeted from a peak of $90.75 to $0.26 at bankruptcy. Enron’s legacy though storied with criminal convictions precipitated new national legislation to prevent the repetition of such large-scale corporate fraud.  (Enron used special purpose vehicles or special purpose entities to hide debt and liability-ridded assets from investors and creditors). 

Sure we don’t have mountains in South Florida, or much cold weather for that matter, but chances are you are familiar with the environmentally conscious apparel company, Patagonia.  Through its Worn Wear program, Patagonia sends a biodiesel-fueled repair truck around the country to repair worn apparel and also buys back used clothing items.  It has recently produced two documentaries exploring the environmental impacts of fish farming.  Finally, it has an over 50% gender ratio among its employees including senior leadership.   Patagonia’s radical approach to sustainability, gender equity and minimizing adverse environmental impact makes for a talking points if or when it is ever eulogized.

Is your company headstone or headline ready? What would it read? Here lies Company X.  It left the world better (or worse) than when it started.

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