The Future of Elm part 3 of 4: ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it’

By Bob Bacon

It’s not possible to predict the future. Anyone who says they can is a liar! I’m not a fortune teller or a liar, but I have a good understanding of how Elm has been successful over the last 50 years and how it will be guided into the future.

Peter Drucker, the great business consultant, said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Elm of the future will be created by all of us and we have shown that together our future should be promising. Those of us that lead Elm will often put forward goals and objectives we hope will move the company to be better. But, it is everyone that makes Elm better by achieving our collective goals.

We have never been a company that focuses on being bigger, but we do try to find more of the right kinds of clients. What we do and how we do things is always being expanded and improved. This is a continuous process and I expect it will not change. Our best ideas for improvements, new services and clients are generated by everyone. I’m happy to admit that I don’t come up with the ideas — I just support them.

Elm has always been a company that wants to keep our customers happy and to do skillful technical work they can count on. Our clients keep calling because they know we will provide great service at a fair price. They consider our services a good value. Elm has never wanted to be the cheapest; we prefer to be the best value. Not all potential clients appreciate our value and will choose to work with other organizations. We think that is OK, because prefer to invest in safety, training, retaining great people and standing behind our quality and workmanship. This philosophy has been working for 50 years and I expect it will keep working. We prefer to be a valued organization than to be a big company.

We do lose clients. We certainly work very hard not to, but it happens. Sometimes like the paper mills we used to work for they close, or they no longer think we are the right solution. The way to think of this is what we are doing today may not be what we will need to do tomorrow. As Tim outlines in his column, this is how we evolve as a company. Not everything works out. Sometimes we don’t get the market right, but sometimes we do. We moved into the solar market with a 10KW project that was $7/watt. PV System costs are about 1/5th of that today. I have included two diagrams we use to visualize how work and projects fit in to the business development philosophy I have just described.

Early on as technical people, we thought we could do anything — the more complex and new, the more exciting it was. We soon came to the realization that doing something you had never done for someone you didn’t know was a very bad idea. Our quality was inconsistent and the financial results were usually horrible. Doing things you have done for people you know is a way better idea.

What we realized about 20 years ago was it is much better to try many small things. Test out ideas and see if they work. Prefab would be a good example. We tried it, it worked. We moved it from the gray trial area into the light green area where it was expanded and is now a valuable part of our core business. The market axis is not only where we do things, but what type of clients.

Good service and consistent reinvestment and renewal of our business is not rocket science, but it is engrained in our company DNA. It’s who we are and should keep us healthy.