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What It Means to Stay Relevant

We should aim to keep our companies fresh, always pushing the boundaries and remaining on the cutting edge.


Kostiantyn — stock.adobe.com

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

I was very saddened recently by the news of the closing of a company I worked at many years ago. This company was innovative and trailblazing, and it was where I came into my own. It was a family business handed down from generation to generation. I worked for the son of the founder, a brilliant man who took the business from a traditional motion picture film processing laboratory to a cutting-edge academy award-winning beehive of creativity and commerce.

Working there was intoxicating. Some of the greatest talents working in motion pictures and television came through those doors, and I learned so much. This man was able to identify and service an emerging market in the New York community: independent filmmakers. He nurtured a previously ignored group of talented people and fostered a creative environment that was nothing short of amazing. It is one of those times where you don’t realize how remarkable it is until a few years have passed.

Time does march on, and the company was passed down, but something was lost in transition. The energy and innovation were gone, the company lost its relevance, and unfortunately its key employees and clients. This once great institution closed quietly one year shy of its 100th anniversary with most people not even realizing it was still in business.

It is a lesson in keeping our companies fresh, always pushing the boundaries and remaining on the cutting edge. The world moves faster than ever today, making the challenge even greater. Here are some tips for keeping it fresh and moving forward:

• Never be content. Always search for the next innovation and trend. Push your people to stay current, explore new ideas and workflows. Make yourself an expert at whatever it is you do so people come to you for advice and guidance.

• Have a clear vision for the company. What do you want it to be today, next year and 5 years from now? It is easy to get lost in the morass of daily life, but you need to look beyond it.

• Education is the key, so keep on top of all current trends. Talk to manufacturers in your industry and become their friend so they can let you know when they have the hottest and latest technology. Make sure they give it to you first, and, again, become the expert.

• Listen to your clients and team. Your clients are out there seeing new trends and ideas — talk to them constantly about what they see and what they require. Often, they don’t even know what they need, but with constant communication, you can pull it out of them. Same with your team — all members from the receptionist on up. The people working in the trenches often know the problems and have the solutions — you just have to pull it out of them.

• Constantly evaluate and refresh your staff. Employees who don’t grow aren’t ideal. Many times, when a company outgrows an employee, a difficult decision needs to be made. It takes courage to keep a company growing and on the right path and that involves making tough calls. I have had to let many people I care about go because they weren’t able to keep up with the changes in the company. It hurt at the time but in the long run, everyone was better off.

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• Don’t do it by yourself — delegate. Delegating is the toughest thing for a business leader to do and probably the most important. Companies will stagnate if only one person makes the decisions. The owner of the dearly departed company gave me one of the greatest gifts: He let me fail. He allowed me to make decisions and fall on my face. He was there to pick me up, tell me what I did wrong, and I was a better leader for it. I never made that same mistake twice. I still have those lessons with me today and try to pass them on. Encourage your people to make a decision — you don’t want robots.

• Look for ways to reinvent the company. New people, new ideas, a new way of looking at things can all help your company reinvent itself. Offer a new service or cutting-edge technology. It may sting a little in the beginning, but the rewards could be boundless. Sometimes it is as easy as changing your website or selecting a new logo. Don’t be afraid to shake it up.

• Keep a healthy mix of old and new blood in the company. The idea that young minds are what is needed to keep a company fresh is not entirely accurate. I have found that new ideas from younger employees definitely help the company move in the right direction, but older minds help just as well. A good combination of young and old has always been very successful for me. A good team that can meld various ideas really helps keep the company fresh and on top of it.

It is rare to have a successful company, and even rarer for it to stay on top for long periods of time. Everything has an arc, but by staying on top of trends, people and technology you can keep your organization at the forefront. Running a company is an exciting and scary proposition, but keeping your eye on your clients and staff will keep you on top and in control.

I am saddened to see that company go away. So many who have careers today have no idea of the amazing, groundbreaking work done by my former boss. I remember and I hope to keep his vision alive.


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