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Twenty years later and only four remain

Twenty years later and only four remain

I remember 20 plus years ago watching "old people" walk around the campus of Cornell. At the time I was a student there, studying Operations Research and Industrial Engineering (ORIE), or as one of my basketball teammates better described, I was majoring in "survival". Let's just say that I was an OK basketball player but not the best student. Those "old people" were care-free alumni who were pointing at changes to the campus and laughing about old times. I was none too pleased with them back then, but now I have a little more perspective to go with my graying (and thinning) hair.

Much on the campus has changed:

  • My freshman dorm (University Hall # 2) has been torn down and replaced with what looks like much nicer facilities.
  • The old house that served as an apartment for my last two years has been replaced with an off-campus housing apartment complex complete with gym and access-control security.
  • The limited parking has become even more constrained as the building projects continue. It looks like there is something new on the engineering quad -- which is good as those buildings need some help!

Thankfully the suspension bridge spanning the gorge is still there and Ithaca is still a great place to visit -- in the summer.

After a day of strolling across the expansive campus and being the "old person" buying an over-priced but much-deserved Cornell sweatshirt for my wife, it was time for lunch. For old time's sake we we headed into "College Town" for a bite to eat. That is where we saw a lot of change. Out of probably 40 businesses or so, I could only pick out four that had remained:

  • College Town Bagels
  • Ruloff's
  • The Souvlaki House
  • Alladin's Natural Eatery

As a business owner myself, this really caught my attention. While I was thrilled (for my wife) that Alladin's was open, I could not help but ponder why so many businesses had disappeared. No doubt some of them simply didn't make it for all of the usual reasons of poor service, poor pricing, poor quality, excessive costs, under-capitalized, etc. Others were probably "lifestyle" businesses that did not survive the career of the owner. I guess that is OK, but should our businesses really be only as healthy as the owner? My own dad's business declined and faded into legend when he passed away many years ago, so this idea is familiar but not welcome.

Will my business be around in 20 years? Will yours?

Seeing the carnage in College Town is yet another reminder that it is important that we operate our businesses with intentionality. Not many will make it -- only 10% by my quick observation in College Town. 

If you are a business owner (or key manager with influence with the owner), think about what would happen to your business in your absence. Will it survive? Not everyone will really care, but for those of us who do, what next steps are you going to take to ensure that your business will stand the hardest test of all -- time?

So as to not be the guy who just poses questions without at least some sense of responsibility to answer them myself, here is what I am doing to help make sure my business is not a college-town casualty:

  • Both myself and my key manager are actively engaged with the C12Group, which is a business owner's peer group where we get counsel, encouragement and equipping from other business owners and peers. If you're not familar, C12 is similar to VistageEO, The Alternative Board and others, but with the distinction that we look at things throught a Christian and Biblical world view.
  • As a team we are following the principles of the Traction/EOS system with a little bit of Scaling Up sprinkled in also.
  • We are using to help operate the business for strategic planning, weekly meeting and team management along with relevant KPI scorecards.
  • I have my three oldest children engaged with the business in various capacities including strategy sessions, customer-facing activity and accounting responsiblities.
  • Even the younger children are involved in the business as they help clean the office each week. Yes, some weeks are better than others, but that is OK.

There is no guarantee that we will make it, but we are doing what we can to have influence over our future.


The chicken and steak souvlaki combo is fantastic at Alladin's -- having a great product is one of the many components needed to stand the test of time. And for dessert, I recommend the Cornell Dairy Bar.

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