Since 1979, visitors to Ganahl Lumber's yard in Anaheim, Calif., have been greeted by “the big saw,” a 36,000-pound iron band saw with a 56-foot blade that cut Douglas fir logs on the Willamette River in Oregon for 52 years. “It's our tribute to the history and longevity of our industry as a whole and where it all started,” explains fourth-generation company president Peter Ganahl. In operation since 1884, Ganahl Lumber is the oldest lumberyard in California, and lives by the motto “We're not the best because we are over 100 years old—we're over 100 years old because we are the best!”
Ganahl explains that a fundamental key to that success—and for any company to survive past the century mark—is a bit counterintuitive. “You'd think that you must have been doing something right all that time, but the answer to that is ‘No,'” Ganahl says. “Our industry is so different today than it was 100 years ago, there has to have been people that were willing to remake the business, to change and adapt to the times. If we just did things the way Grandpa did it, we would be gone.” Over the years, adaptation at Ganahl has included moving into resort community construction for depression-era Hollywood stars, feeding the post-war construction boom with a millwork division, acquiring additional yards throughout the L.A. basin, and launching an employee stock ownership plan in 1976.
The rest of the company's longevity strategy leverages basic managerial fundamentals, says Ganahl. “Keep the ownership clean so they are not at cross purposes,” he says. “Ownership can disagree, and that is healthy, but at the end of that conversation, they need to pick a direction and move.” Additionally, Ganahl stresses that every generation must be willing to draft and execute succession plans. “I've got to get started on that myself,” he says. “If I walk out of here and there is no one to take over this job, I have not done the next generation any favors.”