Managing 128 years of business

How does a company survive for 128 years? Constant adaptation, says Charles (Gus) Whalen Jr., who speaks in Nelson next week.

How does a company survive for 128 years? Constant adaptation, says Charles (Gus) Whalen Jr., who speaks in Nelson next week.

He’s the CEO of the Warren Featherbone Company of Gainesville, Georgia, founded by his great grandfather E.K. Warren in 1883.

In its long existence, the company has dabbled in banking, publishing, agriculture, manufacturing — and now community learning.

“What makes the story interesting is it has been in many different businesses over the years, all with a life cycle,” Whalen said in a phone interview from Connecticut, where he was addressing a continuing education group. “I speak on the evolution of the company and how businesses adapt to change.”

Whalen has witnessed those changes first-hand since he began “counting buttons” with Featherbone some 40 years ago.

In 2005, the company switched gears again to focus on philanthropy and an educational initiative called Featherbone Communiversity, which he describes as “a collaborative learning environment where different people and institutions can learn together in an inter-generational setting.”

He has been working on setting up something similar in Sandpoint, Idaho.

“The term communiversity is not unique, but it’s generally not known. It has been used to describe continuing education for universities, but our use is in this collaborative learning model.”

Whalen says one of their key principles is that every citizen in a community is a student, “and in our example, it’s ages two to 92.”

He argues that Featherbone’s latest incarnation is not that unlikely.

“Some of it was convergence of different forces about the same time,” he says. “Some is in the DNA of the company itself that this would be a likely manifestation.

“One point I try to make is that most organizations and people evolve based on who they are, not what they’ve always done.”

Whalen will be at the Prestige Lakeside Resort on Wednesday from 12:30 to 3 p.m. After a meet and greet, he’ll start speaking at about 1:15 and will stay for questions.

Tickets are $20 each, but group rates are available. To register contact the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce at 250-352-3433 or visit 225 Hall Street.