We live in an age where anti big-business sentiments run strong. Check the daily headlines and you’ll often see large companies portrayed in a negative light. And on the flip-side, there’s a lot of pushes to shop local, find family-owned businesses, etc. Now, before I anger anyone, let me pause right here: I too believe in supporting local businesses. I too believe that companies should treat employees humanely and do their part to serve their communities. I too see the appeal of buying specialized, local products.
Ok, glad that disclaimer is taken care of. Let’s move on. I was thinking about the big-small debate the other day, and realized there’s a bit of inconsistency in how we talk about businesses. We love to hate big corporations, and love to love small, family-owned businesses. But wait a minute, I thought: a lot of big corporations STARTED as family-owned businesses! Walmart. Walgreens. Procter & Gamble. All of those started out as family-run operations. And as they gained loyal customers (who technically shopped local!) and gained in size and influence, they grew into the big corporations they are today. So while their current form may not be immediately recognizable as a family enterprise, their roots are in family-run, locally-operated companies.
It’s a compelling thing to think about, right? What if that small restaurant you love that’s run by that super nice couple expanded into 3 restaurants. Would you still support it? Now what if it began franchising- and expanded into 300 restaurants. Would you still be a fan? Is the shift from “yay it’s a family business!” to “boo it’s an evil company!” a matter of size? Is it a matter of who is in charge? Or is it a matter of how that business is being run? Would we still consider a giant corporation a “family business” if it was run by a 3rd generation family member and was operated more humanely than any other business on the face of the earth?
I’m obviously not trying to downplay the importance of supporting local businesses. It’s just so interesting to think about how a lot of the big companies we see today become that big because they had local audiences who got hooked and boosted their power to grow. So many of the big companies we love to hate started out as small companies people loved to patronize. A curious thought, no?