A CEO’s worst fear? Being the last one.

While none of them would likely admit it, fear might be the real driver for those piloting companies that have navigated the myriad obstacles of an ever-changing market landscape that stretches for decades.

There you are, CEO of Company X that your great-great-grandfather built in his kitchen or barn, his picture next to those of his sons and daughters hanging in the hall of the headquarters that you ran through as a child. Then it’s your turn, and you become the person in charge of not screwing up a business that took multiple generations to build.

I imagine the fear was there during the downturn, which ended the existence of many seemingly well-built companies when the books were opened and the realities were there in black and white … or worse, red. I have to imagine the experience was sobering and kept many company leaders awake at night for its duration.

Businesses are sometimes a family’s primary source of revenue. I’m sure the thought of telling three generations of relatives that their checks won’t come anymore is a great motivator to do whatever is in your power to keep the business running.

But it doesn’t have to be a family business. Stepping in to lead any company that’s managed to survive through keen business acumen or strategically positioned market necessity must generate the same fear, the same haunting thought of being the last CEO of a company that managed to survive world wars, extreme technological disruption and manic market swings.

This issue centers on the idea of business longevity and many of the features highlight companies that have survived decades of change in so many categories that affect businesses.

Part of a CEO’s job is to be sure, to make definitive choices that protect jobs, turn a profit and set the business up to run decades after his or her retirement. Successful CEOs have channeled the fear into action, finding a way to survive despite the outlook — driven, likely, by the idea of being the last picture in the hall to be hung.

Adam Burroughs is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Akron/Canton.