Craig Durosko: Creating an enduring company

How do we pass lessons learned so the next generation will respond better, quicker, and with fewer mistakes?

January 03, 2014

In 1988 at the age of 18, I started my business. At the time, I didn’t have the systems and processes in place that I do now, and I was making mistakes—a lot of them. At the same time, I was watching successful businesses all around me shut their doors from the recession. They had processes, systems, employees, and learned lessons… but the lessons learned are now gone.

A while ago, we were contracted for a challenging kitchen remodel by a homeowner who was also an engineer by profession. He said something that made me think differently about our systems and processes and how we apply them.

He said, “We have mishaps all the time; when there is a failure, we don’t look at the failure, we look at the process that allowed the failure to happen and go to work on the process.”

What if, as an industry, we did that and were able to hand them off to the next generation? When you started your company, or entered this field, what did you start with? How many systems and processes did you have in place? How many learned lessons did you have? What if you started with the knowledge of a successful company? Would you agree, as an industry, we would be better off building enduring companies that outlive the owner, the leader, and creating less-fragmented businesses?

You might have been faced with challenges from the economy in the last few years that you had not had to face before. You had the opportunity to retool your operations, become more efficient and leaner, and might have focused on the client more than ever. How do we pass our lessons learned to the next generation so they respond to market changes better, quicker, and with fewer mistakes?

My business partner of 20 years, Bob Gallagher came on board in the early years and helped plug the holes in the boat one by one as we hired team members, created systems, and put processes in place.  And yes, I made many mistakes along the way. As proof, we now have a database that contains more than 600 lessons learned from our own jobs.

Built to last

As we look forward, how do we transfer our knowledge from one generation to the next? How do we pass this beyond the tangible assets?

We must create an enduring company that lasts beyond the owner, the person, and the product. A company built to last forever. Why? For us, we have been working on improving our business for 25 years. Think about the processes and systems you have created. Now imagine starting your business where you are now and how much further ahead you would be. Think about the experience for the owner of the business, for the client, for the employee, and for the trade and vendor partners. Everyone wins. If you were to shut your doors and lose all of those valuable lessons, no one wins.

Build a culture

Have you ever heard someone tell you their house never looked as good as they day they sold it? What if you decided to keep your house in that condition every day? Or what if you were not worried about resale, and you lived in a culture where you handed down the house from generation to generation? You would make very different choices on the materials you used to renovate your home. Finally, what if I said a Realtor was coming to show your house this Saturday morning. What ongoing maintenance to your house, that long list of “to-dos.” would rise to the top? 

I use this analogy as a homeowner, but what if you applied the same principles to your business? What if you created a business with the mindset that it would last forever, putting the proper systems and processes in place and yet with the sense of urgency and upkeep as if we were going to sell it tomorrow?

This isn’t about selling a business; it is about creating an enduring company that can last beyond the owner, the person, and the product.

Think about the culture of your business. Think about being a commodity business. You’ve probably heard the reference “apples to apples” before. What if you really were selling apples? Think about two grocery stores in your area. The one your family enjoys shopping at the most and the one you enjoy the least. Why? Usually it is the experience you get shopping for your apples. It is not about the apples. They have created a culture, trained and educated their staff, and hired for that experience. What do you have to do to sustain the culture in your business?

What is your why? What is in it for you? Understand why you want to create an enduring company to fuel that passion. Is it to create a company for the next generation in your family, for your employees, for your legacy? Then define how you will do it and go to work at it. You can’t change the past but you certainly can influence the future. PR
Craig Durosko is the founder of Sun Design, a design/build firm located in McLean and Burke, Va., that is celebrating its 26th year in business.The company has won more than 90 design and service awards and was recently named one of the “Best Places to Work” in Virginia for the second year in a row. Durosko can be reached at

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