Stories of entrepreneurial success live for centuries

The name Jonathan Hale likely won’t sound familiar to you, unless you’ve visited Hale Farm & Village, the subject of this month’s Uniquely Akron/Canton.

More than 200 years ago, Hale, a native of Glastonbury, Connecticut, purchased land in what is now Bath, Ohio, sight unseen. He then walked — yeah, walked — more than 550 miles, a trip estimated to take seven days, to claim his land and set up a family farm. Passed down through several generations of Hales, the more than 200-year-old farm is now a testament to old-world entrepreneurship, reflecting many essential values of what it takes to form and run a successful business.

Taking risks, leaving a legacy
The profiles of the heads of the successful businesses being recognized among the Smart 50 honorees, this month’s cover, echo stories that are similar to that of Hale’s — hard work, sacrifice, risk-taking and the cultivation of a legacy.

Take Jon Park, for instance. He’s largely responsible for the creation of Westfield Bank, a financial institution he started, literally, out of a trailer in the parking lot of Westfield Insurance.

The bank has since grown to mange more than $1 billion in assets. He took a risk when he employed the strategy of utilizing online banking as the primary exchange mechanism, choosing to forgo the costs of brick-and-mortar branches in favor of a more nimble approach.

Similarly, within the subject of this month’s Building Stronger Communities, Hattie Larlham is an example of the cultivation of a legacy. This nonprofit began with one woman providing services to one child with developmental disabilities in a farmhouse.

From its meager beginnings, the organization has grown to serve 1,500 people in 20 Ohio counties with an operating budget of $40 million. And, as the story illustrates, it continues to grow.

The value of failure
Along the path to nurturing a successful business, there will inevitably be failures. Columnist Deborah D. Hoover, president and CEO of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, writes that studied failures are inextricably bound to success.

“While we still have a long way to go, a shift is underway in Northeast Ohio to accept failure as a necessary step in the journey of the entrepreneur,” she writes. “Instead of focusing on the fact that a venture did not gain traction, the attention is shifting to recognize the value of the lessons learned from failure. The more forward-thinking terminology is ‘learning opportunity.’”

I’m not sure Hale could have envisioned his venture would become a platform for entrepreneurial education that some 25,000 school children would visit annually some 200 years after he set up in Ohio. Not many businesses make it that long. It’s said that the average life expectancy of a Standard &Poor’s 500 Index company is 18 years, and the multinational corporation’s lifespan is between 40 and 50 years.

Still, we celebrate success and innovation in the hopes that these stories will inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs who will carry on a legacy, or create one. ●

Adam Burroughs is executive editor at Smart Business Akron/Canton.