Secrets of Success: Don’t be seduced by growth

Amish farm where our wagons are made

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.

Modern wood cutting equipment run by hydraulic oil pressure to avoid electricity.

Modern wood cutting equipment run by hydraulic oil pressure to avoid electricity.

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.

Giant diesel engine powers the hydraulic pump system and a generator to run the welders.  Fuel cost: $1000/month.

Giant diesel engine powers the hydraulic pump system and a generator to run the welders. Fuel cost: $1000/month.

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.”

Paint room (parts are dipped to ensure thorough coverage)

Paint room (parts are dipped to ensure thorough coverage)

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.

Final assembly. Here pneumatic pressure is used for power tools.

Final assembly. Here pneumatic pressure is used for power tools.

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!”

“We all make mistakes”

 

Galen Lehman

About Galen Lehman

Lehman's CEO and son of founder Jay Lehman. Homesteads on five acres. Believes in a Simpler Life...rewarding relationships, fresh, local (preferably homegown) food and the gratification of hard work. Plant a tree!

2 thoughts on “Secrets of Success: Don’t be seduced by growth

  1. My husband works with a family owned Mennonite company that sells mini barns and cabins and they too are a company that has fun, understands the need for quality work and yet they all enjoy their work. My son works for the brother of my husbands company, they actaully are only 15 miles apart and sell the same items. Always friendly competition between the two companies.
    Thanks for having my blog as one of your links. Just orderd the High Wheel Cultivator from you folk and look forward to its arrival. I suspect there will be lots of pictures on the blog of us using it. Just like there are of all the lanterns we have from you folk. Some of which my son purchased when he was still part of the Amish Community out your way.

  2. Patty,

    I was excited to find your blog this morning and add it to our list. Would you mind adding us as a link on your blog? We’d love it!

    We hope you enjoy the high-wheel cultivator. It’s been one of our customers’ favorites for many years.