There are many reasons why so few companies last.
“It’s hard enough for most startups to survive the first five years, much less 50 years,” said Robert Morris University management professor Marcel Minutolo. “Making it 50 years is a pretty impressive feat.”
Many of today’s most-talked-about companies have a long way to go before they will mark that achievement. Ride-hailing app makers Lyft (2012) and Uber (2009) are less than 10 years old. Twitter (2006) just turned 10. Facebook (2004), Google (1998) and Netflix (1997) are less than 20 years old. Online retailers eBay and Amazon (1995) are less than 25 years old. Microsoft, the granddaddy of them all, is still nine years away from turning 50.
Pittsburgh has several prominent companies that passed the 50-year marker long before many of today’s hot companies were launched. They survived only because they transformed themselves along the way.
The company launched in 1960 when James Droney Sr., a regional manager for the Smith Corona typewriter company, turned down an offer to run the New York City branch of the company -— a leading manufacturer of the machines that served for decades as a primary tool used by office workers and just about anyone who needed to create letters, reports and other written material.
The losses that Henderson Brothers Inc. sustained in 1986 are the stuff of textbooks, with pages missing. The story begins in 1956, when Thomas E. Grealish went to work at Henderson, a venerable property and casualty insurance company with offices Downtown. He bought the independent agency in 1961 and ran it until his death from bone cancer in April 1986. He was 62.
Tom Friday’s Market traces its origins to a cluster of small businesses that lined East Street Valley in the mid-20th century. “Back in those days, little areas like that had everything,” Mr. Friday said. “They had a bar, pizza shop, barber shop, dairy store, bakery.” Moreover, “Everyone sold sides of beef.”
In the age of Google Earth and email blasts that can reach thousands of prospects, Rich Beynon has found there’s one thing that still sells real estate — the personal approach. That approach — doing the basics right — has served Beynon & Co. well. It will celebrate its 105th year in business in 2017, surviving two world wars, the Great Depression and numerous changes in the real estate and insurance industries.
Since its founding in 1945, Ricci’s Italian Sausage has survived four moves, landing at its current location in 2014. What hasn’t changed is the seasoning recipe — a secret mix of pork, paprika and various spices that has been handed down from Ernest to Ernest since 1945.
Many black-owned businesses in the Pittsburgh region have come and gone in the seven decades since Dorsey’s Record Shop opened its doors in 1946 in Homewood. But the fine line between failure and success for this landmark inner city enterprise has come down to constantly readjusting to changing markets.
In the front of the store, customers buzz about the counters, emptying the self-serve doughnut cabinet, picking up holiday orders of cookies and cakes, and showing John Walsh pictures of friends in common. Mr. Walsh runs this place. It’s in his genes. He’s the oldest of seven children of Anna and Morris Walsh, who started Bethel Bakery in 1955 on South Park Road out of three attached garages — one for the supplies, another to mix and bake, and the third to sell.
Bobby Dudley was out for a life of adventure and ended up in the awning business. A young man in the 1950s on his way from his childhood home in North Carolina to claim free land as a homesteader in Alaska, the Dudley family patriarch stopped for temporary work in Pittsburgh. He took a job hanging awnings for Ruben Rothman, who had established Rothman Awning Co. in 1921.
Stepping into Cummings Candy and Coffee in downtown Butler is like walking into a vintage soda fountain shop: tin ceilings, hardwood floors, an original cash register from 1914. The Cummings family has been making candy since 1905. The family, which emigrated from Sparta, Greece, moved the business to its location on Main Street around 1915 and the operation has been in the family since.
Like many older cities, Pittsburgh is littered with the names of iconic, home-grown businesses that aren’t around anymore — Kaufmann’s, Joseph Horne Co., J&L Steel, National Record Mart, Duquesne Brewing Co., The Pittsburgh Press to name a few. In the 1920s, companies on the S&P 500 could expect to remain in the index for 67 years. The average fell to 33 years by 1965 and to 20 years by 1990. In 2016, the average is projected to be just 14 years.
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