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MI Business Centennials Share Stories

Jaimie Blackman • August 2020The Sound of Money • July 28, 2020

Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

The Lennon & McCartney song, “When I’m 64” is apropos to the current COVID environment. We are all trying to determine if our customers still need us, and will still feed us in this new world.

I thought I would check in with three leaders from two legendary music retailers. These organizations have weathered the test of time through, wars, depressions, recessions, and pandemics. No doubt you’ve heard the names below. After all, 100 years of business continuity is a long time.

  • Chip Averwater, past president, Amro Music, Memphis (Established 1921)
  • CJ Averwater, current president, Amro Music, Memphis (Established 1921)
  • Joseph Fox, future president Fox Music House, Charleston (Established 1928)

After a five-year study by the Harvard Business Review, it turns out that businesses that have reached their 100th anniversary, called “centennials,” are all very similar to each other. The type of business was irrelevant to their conclusion. The common theme was behaving in ways that defy conventional wisdom.

Chip Averwater, representing the third generation and past president of Amro Music, wrote the book on “unconventional wisdom,” titled Retail Truths. Unconventional wisdom often means fresh insights or out-of-the-box thinking. What makes this unconventional for Averwater is the belief that retailers do best when they directly learn practical insights and techniques on the frontline. He says: “Negotiating with suppliers, choosing among job applicants, setting profitable prices, resolving employee disputes, sending messages to competitors, designing motivational incentive plans, firing employees, attracting bankers. We learn to solve problems one-at-a-time, in the trenches, under-fire, and with considerable costs and consequences.”

Rather than focusing on growth, Centennials have learned to focus on getting better, not bigger. Perhaps the family work ethic comes into play. By design or by need, Centennials love to work with young family members early. Sometimes as early as six years old.

For example, Joseph Fox, fourth generation future president of Charleston’s Fox Music House told me, “I was folding blankets and straps on the truck and helping my great grandmother file and shred documents at 6 years old.”

CJ Averwater, the newly minted, fourth-generation president of Amro Music told me that by age 10 he was already being groomed. He remembers one of his first jobs was tagging merchandise with new price stickers, which he laughingly said was cheap labor for his family.

With humor and respect, CJ said that when his great grandfather began, he was driving a Model T Ford over rabble roads to deliver his merchandise. By making incremental improvements, CJ is creating a culture that continues to improve and adapt.

The advantage of working in a family business at such a young age is the opportunity to develop one’s character that no MBA can teach, like punctuality, responsibility, and developing skills for working with others. Perhaps more importantly, it offers young adults the opportunity to develop purpose and mission. After all, how many of us go into college knowing what we want to do for the rest of our life? For me, I wanted to be a rock star and we all know how that turned out.

All three Centennials that I have spoken to have a strong sense of stewardship. They are deeply aware of the responsibility that has landed square on their shoulders. The successful continuation of their organization into the next generation is the imperative.

To that end, based on David Friedman’s Culture by Design, CJ Averwater has created a document called The AMRO Way, which consists of 23 fundamentals. “Our fundamentals are a shared belief system consisting of attitudes and behaviors that set us apart,” he writes. “These fundamentals will guide us daily to our mission of being recognizably the best.” The AMRO Way is a living breathing document that was signed by every member of the team. There is team ownership. There is team pride. Centennials also have a strong commitment to sharing. Chip Averwater was not only the past president of Amro, but he was also the past NAMM chairman, a frequent keynote speaker on music education and retail, and author of Retail Truths. CJ is following the family tradition with his ongoing contributions to NAMM and as vice president NASMD.

At 30, Joseph Fox is the youngest of the Centennials. As his managers retire over the next 10-plus years, his focus is now on recruiting and training new managers. Whether your business is first generation, family-owned and managed, or independently owned and managed, listening, honoring, and retelling the business history is an important way of keeping the flame alive. If the business is to remain relevant in a post-COVID world, learn from the Centennials: Think quality, train continuously, and adapt!

Jaimie Blackman – a former music educator & retailer – is co-founder of BH Wealth Management. The organization offers financial advice, insurance, and succession planning services. Jaimie hosts The Sound of Money Live presented by MMR. Discover how much risk is in your portfolio. Visit bhwealth.com/riskvideo. Registered Representative, First Allied Securities, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC

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