VTCRC Business Brief with Jim Flowers, Executive Director of VT KnowledgeWorks

This post was originally published on the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center website.

Welcome to “Business Brief with…” Business Brief asks presidents and CEO’s of companies at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (VTCRC) one question…

“What key lesson have you learned in business that would help others?”


Businesses That Matter

Jim Flowers, Executive Director of VT KnowledgeWorksIn this age of social media, our various forms of in-boxes are awash with flashy stories of remarkable business growth and vast fortunes made almost overnight. It is tempting to envy, and try to emulate, the strategies that the new billionaires employed to accumulate their riches. But it is important to remember that these stories go viral because they are truly unusual, because they really are news.

Hidden on the back pages of the newspapers and on the third and fourth pages of Google searches are the stories that do not go viral. These are the tales of patient enterprises that grow slowly and steadily for years, even decades, and quietly create multi-millionaires without ever making headlines. They aren’t news because they are everywhere. Yes. Everywhere. They are the heart and soul of our global economy.

Obviously, to have a business remain successful over an extended period, it must address an ongoing issue. It must solve a real problem that doesn’t go away quickly and is reasonably tied to general economic vitality of its community, large or small. And it cannot extract unreasonable profits from that community without encouraging new competitors and substitutes.

Have you ever wondered who made the gutters on your house? How about the clay drain tiles that channel away rainwater from summer thunderstorms? How about the wires that connect your headset to your iPod? Or your plastic milk jugs? Or your doctor’s stethoscope?

I have a Doonesbury cartoon on the wall of my office – first published in 2001. In it Doonesbury’s tycoon friend Bernie declares that he has abandoned “leading edge applications for wireless handhelds” and adopted a new paradigm focused on “boring stuff that people actually need.” That was 2001. Stethoscopes, drain tiles, and milk jugs haven’t changed much since then. I imagine the quiet companies that were making them then are still making them.

And this even applies in “high-tech” industries. The companies that dominated computer-aided engineering software 20 years ago still quietly dominate that field. Do you know what a slip-ring is? A quiet enterprise in Blacksburg has been making them profitably for years – Moog. The Corning plant on North Franklin Street in Christiansburg makes ceramic substrates for the catalytic converters that clean up our automobile exhaust. A leading medical diagnostic company, TechLab, was founded here in Blacksburg in 1989 and is quietly chugging along saving lives and making money.

So, when you think about business, one you might join, one you are thinking of starting, or one you might invest in, remember the ones we all actually need, the ones that make the boring stuff that sustains our everyday lives, that create good jobs that last, businesses that matter.

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VT KnowledgeWorks

VT KnowledgeWorks encourages and enables creative entrepreneurship world-wide, through innovative curriculum, local business resource centers, and a global network of cooperating regions, all focused on three essential contributors to success: clear understanding of fundamental business principles; access to timely, relevant information; and meaningful personal and corporate relationships. It is a subsidiary of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, supported by the continuing confidence and enthusiasm of its clients, sponsors and friends, both corporate and individual. Its world headquarters are in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.

VT KnowledgeWorks Sponsors

Automation Creations, Inc., BAE Systems, BB&T, The Branch Group, Inc., Brown, Edwards & Company, LLP, CIT GAP Funds, City of Roanoke, Fox 21/27, G.J. Hopkins, Inc., Interactive Achievement, Inc., Meridium, Montgomery County, Virginia Economic Development Department, National Bank, New River Valley Intellectual Property Law, Plastics One Inc., Rackspace, Shentel, SimulTV, SunTrust Bank , TechLab, Third Security, Town of Blacksburg, Town of Christiansburg, Union Bank & Trust, UXB International, Inc., Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, Virginia Tech’s Outreach and International Affairs, VPT, Inc, Wordsprint.

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