Innovation

When twin sisters Jenny Dinnen and Katie Rucker took over MacKenzie Corp., an analytics firm in Lake Forest, Calif., in 2013, they immediately realized that the business needed some new focus in order to remain competitive. Their father, Don Vivrette, had founded the company in 1985 and named it after his mother, Kathryn MacKenzie Vivrette.

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Could anything evoke a greater sense of permanence than the phrase “carved in stone”?

A hammer and chisel are still part of a monument maker’s toolkit. Yet monument building, like virtually every other industry, has changed over the years to incorporate technological advances. Modlich Monument Company of Columbus, Ohio, founded in 1936, discovered technology offered a route to diversification.

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These days, growth is at the top of every business leader’s to-do list. For family business owners, growth carries an even higher priority because of families’ focus on future generations and the legacy they leave behind. In recent decades, acquisitions have been a popular driver of family companies’ strategy. As competition for targets across markets has tightened and prices have increased, however, expanding by acquisition alone has become less viable as a strategy.

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You’ve likely heard the old cliché about the buggy-whip maker (or his more recent counterpart, the video rental store owner) who stubbornly sticks to his business model until changing technology renders his enterprise irrelevant. Presumably you’ve taken this cautionary tale to heart and are not relying on typewriter ribbon sales or telephone booth installation to feed your family.

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Betts Company, based in Fresno, Calif., celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Founder William Michael Betts, an English spring maker, sailed to the United States in search of better opportunities, first settling in St. Louis and then moving to California. In 1868, he established Betts Spring Company in San Francisco. The company made springs for streetcars, wagons and horse-drawn carriages.

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Like 6 million other loyal viewers who watch the television show Shark Tank, I am addicted. Shark Tank features budding entrepreneurs who rapidly pitch their new business ideas to a panel of savvy judges who might be willing to invest their own money. Contestants must have a product or service that can be scaled in size as well as a sound business plan and, usually, a patent on the product or idea.

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A PwC survey of 160 stakeholders in U.S. family businesses has concluded that too few family firms are developing formal succession plans, instituting governance structures or planning responses to industry-disrupting scenarios.

In its survey report, the accounting and consulting firm said many respondents appear to be neglecting medium-term strategic planning, which bridges the gap between day-to-day concerns and the family's long-term vision for the business.

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It's almost impossible to walk into a hospital, supermarket or public bathroom without encountering a GOJO product. Though Akron, Ohio-based GOJO Industries Inc. is best known for its Purell brand of hand sanitizer, its owners' mission goes far beyond keeping hands clean. Through a unique broad-based structure called the Kanfer Family Enterprise, the family that owns GOJO has reinvented the classic family business model to create an organization that allows every family member to work in his or her preferred setting, yet still be part of the family business.

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Terry and Regina Locklear started a sock business in a textile mill in their hometown of Fort Payne, Ala., in 1991. They named their company Emi-G Knitting, after their daughters, Emily and Gina. Emi-G makes white sport socks for volume customers that in the company's heyday included Russell Athletic. Regina, 68, does the accounting, and Terry, 71, runs the rest of the operation.

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In 1997—before the iPhone, iPad, iPod, MacBook or Apple Watch—the company then known as Apple Computer Inc. unveiled a new advertising slogan: "Think different." Founder Steve Jobs had recently returned to Apple after an 11-year absence following his forced resignation from the company, which was struggling to regain its prestige. The tag line signaled that Apple had recovered its creative mojo. Many observers interpreted it as a salvo against IBM's slogan, "Think."

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