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One For The Books

Recording your family business history gives you credibility and clout.

The book Brad Robinson published will never make The New York Times' bestseller list. Yet it stands high on his list of achievements because The Story of Robinson Rubber Products Company (self-
published) is a tribute to his parents, who started their business in a Minneapolis garage in 1932. That tribute was what Robinson was aiming for when he first started putting company memorabilia in accordion files in 1994.

For others who have written family business histories, the motivations to record the past vary. Companies most frequently use written histories to celebrate a milestone anniversary or the succession of leadership from one generation to another.

But there are other reasons as well. Frequently, family business leaders see the written history as a way to create cohesiveness among employees and to perpetuate a unique business culture. They may feel the story they have to tell is of historical importance and will provide the founders and those who follow with their rightful place in history--even if that history is only regional or confined to a particular industry. And sometimes companies see it as a way to pass family values to the future generations they hope will someday lead the business.

A business history can also be used as a marketing tool, one that will project an image of the company and inspire confidence among clients. "The history of the family and the business may be well-known in its community," says Susan Mundale, senior counsel of Neuger Henry Bartkowski Public Relations in Minneapolis and author of numerous family business histories, "but if the company does business outside its own geographical area, a written history gives distant customers and clients a sense of the company's credibility and stability."


Patricia Schiff Estess writes family business histories and is the author of two books: Managing Alternative Work Arrangements (Crisp Publishing) and Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage (Betterway Press).

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This article was originally published in the November 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: One For The Books.

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