Monday, November 17, 2008

Scaling up without selling your soul - Part 10


Finally, as we grow, we must never compromise quality. Plenty of great small business grow up to be ho-hum big businesses. Whatever growth occurs, it can never happen at the expense of quality. With clear conscience, I can honestly say that at 20,000 broilers they are better quality than when we did only 300. For sure, our beef at 500 head is better than it was at 20. That’s because our goals are not about sales; they are about quality.

One of our primary goals is that every year, we must have more happily copulating earthworms. Kind of the ultimate agronomic shindig. If the earthworms are happy, everything else falls into place. That goal drives how we handle manure, where we put animals, how we handle the landscape. It drives everything.

Is your business encouraging earthworms? Or a worthwhile counterpart? Change is inevitable. But change can be detrimental or positive, depending on what direction it heads. Too many great little businesses grow up to be bad big businesses. I desperately don’t want to be one of those.

As we grow, our suppliers should be happier. Our team members should be happier, more enthusiastic. Our customers should be more loyal. Our water should be purer. Our service should be better in every way. And our products should last longer, cause less pollution, stay out of landfills easier. At the end of the day, does any facet of our business require us to do some fancy talking? Maybe pull up a partition to hide something. Maybe keep us from full disclosure. Embarrassed? Require cleverspeak?

I’m reminded of Tyson claiming “Raised without antibiotics” on chickens when they figured out how to inject antibiotics in the chick before it hatched. Talk about cleverspeak. Same as those bucolic pastoral scenes on industrial organic eggs when the chickens are actually confined in a 10,000 bird house. Better is not cheaper. Better is not shortcuts. Better is not doctored reports. Better is just better.

As I close, let me confess that much of this wouldn’t fly very far on Wall Street. But if you look at it closely, none of this is anti-business. It just puts ethical and moral boundaries around human cleverness, or human capital. And ultimately, that has to be good for business.

As we consider what this level of philosophical innovation means, let’s be big enough to appreciate that western business thinking has not always been moral or ethical. A little easternism would do us all some good, realizing that the sum is bigger than the parts, it’s about holism, and everything is related. True innovative synergism occurs when we strike a balance between the parts-oriented western discovery and eastern moral, ethical thought. When we find the sweet spot, we’ll be able to SCALE UP WITHOUT SELLING OUR SOUL.

By Joel Salatin

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