Recently Galen Lehman took several weeks off from his job as president of Lehman’s. He spent this time visiting suppliers and other businesses he knew and admired. The companies he visited ranged from 1 employee to 300 employees. Most were owned by Amish or Mennonite families. At each stop, he asked, “What is the secret of your success?” This is one of a series of postings about what he learned.
To visit our Amish wagon maker, you really must travel “over the river and through the woods.” His “factory” (really just converted farm buildings) is on the farm where he raises his family. All of his employees are family members.
This ensures a level of commitment to quality that you just won’t find from other manufacturers. Everyone wants to do a good job because everyone is in it together.
I talked to him about the seductiveness of growth.
“Our people,” he said, meaning the Amish, “like to keep things small.” I knew what he meant. Church rules banning electricity and computers make it very hard for companies to grow past 10 or so employees.
The Amish like to keep things small because staying small means they can minimize undesirable contact with outsiders. Being able to provide employment and income for the entire family brings self-sufficiency. Family stands as a single unit, pulling in one direction.
In fact, when I arrived the first person I met was his teenage son. When I introduced myself, he said without resentment, “Let me get my dad. He’s the boss here.”
While he fetched his dad, I weighed his words. What was the meaning behind them? Dad rules the roost? Dad’s a bully who demands respect? Once I met the “boss”, I knew for certain it could not be the latter. He was one of the gentlest men I ever met. I finally concluded that it was just the sons way of humbly stating, “I honor my father,” and, “This is a family business.”
His father told me that at one time they had as many as three employees. But, he didn’t think that worked very well. He found them hard to manage and hard to motivate. In the end, he felt that working with family was just a lot more fun.
And, this is a family that knows how to have fun while they work.
The sign below is displayed in their display area. I asked his wife if it was true that he made a lot of mistakes. Without hesitation or a trace of false humility, she laughed and said, “We all make mistakes!”