Sponsored Content

Willson International: A Successful Century

Willson International has been facilitating trade for a century. We spoke with CEO and fourth generation leader Peter Willson about the company's remarkable 100 years

Willson International CEO Peter Willson

Willson International has been facilitating trade for a century. We spoke with CEO and fourth generation leader Peter Willson about the company’s remarkable 100 years.

Only five per cent of businesses make it to the 4th generation. Why has Willson lasted 100 years?
By remaining focused on the needs of a distinct market we have been able to grow, service our customer and manage risk. Being a privately owned business allowed us to manage within our own parameters. We’ve never had any debt other than our operating line to support our government payments, so we’ve never had an external pressure to do anything we don’t want. More recently, we invested in technology to help us drive our efficiencies. We also have had the benefit of long-term, loyal senior team members who have in-depth industry and institutional knowledge. Finally, we have been focused on execution—doing what we say we do.

How important is long-term vision?
Today, the average tenure of a CEO is something like five to seven years. That CEO is making business decisions to grow the business, but with a medium-term lookout, and with an ending payout in the back of his or her mind.  If you are committed to the notion of a family business, our horizon isn’t seven years—I’ve been here 20 years and will be here for another 20. My horizon is decidedly longer when looking at decisions. And in today’s generation, I don’t think anyone thinks about a 20 year, let alone 40 years career at one place.

What does innovation look like for a century-old company?
We don’t always want to be first, but we want to get it right when we do decide to do something, which I think defines our view of innovation—enhancing an existing capability to benefit both us and our customers. People are still the mainstay of how we do the work, but electronic interactions, social media and other technology underpin every aspect of our business, as it does with our competitors.  

What corporate values set the foundation for your success?
You can spend a lot of time trying to define corporate values, but it comes down to what you do and how you act. And in many cases when you look at a company’s values, it’s not rocket science. We have three performance values that we think link to our relationship with our stakeholders:  1) Continuous Improvement 2) Urgency and Purpose, and 3) Courage. And then we have our social values, which are Family First and Community. In simple terms, try to better yourself, get it done, stand up for yourself and your friends, look out for your family, and help others.

What advice would you give to the next generation?
The 5th generation is still young and who knows if they’ll be interested in working here, or maintaining ownership. I like family business and I think it can provide for all the passions you have in and out of it. Work hard, appreciate the people around you, listen and trust your instinct. A few years ago I had research done on a family crest and motto. What they came back with was “ego de meo sensu judico,” which translates to ” I judge, by my own sense.” I don’t know if there is any factual history to that having been used as a family motto, but it seemed apropos to me. In a family business, it can be lonely as the owner and CEO and those are pretty good words to live by.