4 Key Trends Found in Successful Century Companies

Brad Swingruber

Brad Swingruber

Chief Revenue Officer

What does it mean to be a Century Company? The definition is clear, a company that has been in business for more than a century. These companies are not only surviving, but thriving, over decades of market volatility, technology changes, and heavy competition.

Your organization's ability to change (aka learn new things) is a competitive advantage used by some of the top Century Companies in the world. At Xyleme, we believe success starts with a strong learning culture.

30% of Xyleme’s customer base are considered 100-year-young companies. Their Workforce Development and Learning teams understand the organization can transform only as fast as its workforce can learn. The primary goal of Learning Organizations is to help people keep up with “the change” and develop the skills they need to be successful. It’s not a coincidence they’ve aligned with a modern solution like Xyleme to support the creation and delivery of mission critical knowledge.

However…what truly separates them from their competitors? After much research we were able to highlight 4 key trends that successful Century Companies have in common.

1. Controlling a Massive Knowledge Base of Proprietary Information

It’s no surprise that a century old company will have considerable amounts of information and data. Have you ever been to your parent’s house and looked in their basement?….it’s similar to that! To ensure these companies have a clear audit trail and understanding of their repository, Century Companies focus on consolidating their content into a single source. Easier said than done, right?

If you think of your content as componentized content blocks as opposed to individual published items, then the basement of clutter and knick-knacks now feels more like a California Closet where things are organized for perfect mixing and matching. By having a single source where your content lives, it gives you the ability to stage and syndicate both structured content and unstructured content from diverse sources and formats. This is vital if you need to support global business use cases and varied stakeholders.

personalize with content blocks

As companies grow, knowledge transfer through the organization becomes harder – more layers, more roles, more regions, more languages, more products, more complexities. Century Companies need a way to manage and organize all these variations. When you take this complexity and layer in distributors, partners, and contractors, the one size fits all solution no longer fits. Century Companies must feed content to an ecosystem of platforms while keeping content current and in-sync. This is where Xyleme becomes an essential part of any infrastructure because we are establishing a single source of truth that feeds content when and where it is needed.

The control of your content to deliver personalized experiences to the right audience, at the right time, anywhere around the world provides the peace of mind that your organization is moving forward. Whether you’re a corporate employee consuming content through an LMS (Learning Management Systems), a field employee accessing performance support, or a customer accessing a user guide — the cohesive strategy of syndicating your content at scale is a competitive differentiator. Century Companies are held to higher standards based on their brand recognition. It’s about consistent quality control and delivery to keep the powerful brand standard that everyone expects.

2. Continued Innovation

If your company is not innovating and anticipating the market trends, then you are slowly becoming irrelevant. No one knows this better than Century Companies. They invest heavily in innovative technology and want to maximize their existing tech stack and brand presence. One of Xyleme’s customers, Ford Motor Company, is a prime example of staying ahead of its competition. Ford introduced the Model T in 1908 and a decade later they rolled out their first truck. They continued to evolve through acquisitions, new models (Model A, Jeep, etc.), and key partnerships to expand their footprint and existence. All these changes have led Ford to the new world of EV with their Ford 150 Lightning.

These rapid innovations happen in the blink of an eye, and the challenge is that a company’s proprietary content is usually an afterthought. Not for Ford! Xyleme allows their teams to author a single source of truth for their product & customer education content, which can then be extended across use cases, geographies, publishing formats, translation, and points of stakeholder engagement. All of this provides faster speed to market than the competition! When the market demand strikes, your organization had better be ready to pivot and provide the necessary product and educational training to execute revenue and performance targets.

3. Change Management — Crawl, Walk, Run

I’ve always been told the best time to make critical company change and digital transformation was “YESTERDAY!” We hear people say this tongue and cheek, but the reality is most organizations are paralyzed with the fear of change. I associate this with the time I introduced my father to the smart phone. He wasn’t against the modern technology, but fearful of the disruption to his day to day. He was so used to using his flip phone, and being in real estate development, you could not pry it from his hands. He slowly started drinking the “smart phone Kool-Aid” as he saw incremental benefits from this technology over his raggedy old flip phone. I was able to point out all the challenges he faced and how they could be solved with this innovative technology. For example: He was still using a map (yes, a map) – the solution? A portable GPS, he was unable to communicate effectively via email — the solution? Outlook directly on his phone, and so on and so on. I introduced bite sized benefits that would inevitably provide long-term advancements. My father did not see the smart phone as a massive change but rather a gradual change of high value wins that provided measurable benefits to his business and life.

Century Companies are proactively identifying challenges that stagger growth, and they create gradual change management processes to address these challenges. They don’t try to rip and replace every aspect of their technology and processes — it’s impossible to do this without massive disruption! They identify the “quick wins” that allow them to adopt new processes and adopt modern technology without completely disturbing the company’s day to day work. Century Companies realize leadership must have the right mindset and willing to get out their comfort zone to consider new ideas and technologies. Albert Einstein said it best, “Today’s problems cannot be solved if we still think the way we thought when we created them.”


Top brands like 3M, Philips, and J&J understand the power of celebrating small wins and keeping an open-mind as ideas flow throughout the org. Do not forget, small wins can have huge long-term impacts, but it starts with change! 

One thing is clear, it takes resilience, patience, and trust in a century long journey. Xyleme supports these brands with a methodology that closely aligns to a high focus on near-term quality successes combined with a steady approach to long-term solution sustainability.

As Century Company L&D leader once said, “Xyleme is like underwear, change is good!”

4. Maximizing Top Talent Across the Workforce

Today’s labor market is quite wonky (I just learned this word). If you’re a Century company, then you’re likely to have an iconic brand. You are also likely to have weathered the labor storm of layoffs, remote working, or compensation because talent is drawn to you. Why is that? First, Century companies don’t just wait for talent to show up at their doorstep. They are heavily involved in community events, advertising, and early age development programs, so their brand is synonymous with strong cultures and career success. Century companies believe in authenticity and surrounding themselves with talented and passionate people. They know that the importance of training and retaining top talent is just as important as finding and hiring it.

Gone are the days of centralized classroom learning. It’s all about a company’s ability to meet their learner where they’re at and serve up proprietary training content when they need it most! If you have different audiences, languages, modalities, and experiences you’re trying to deliver, then this becomes a herculean effort that no company can properly do at scale.

Most companies simply increase their current workforce capacity or hire more people to tackle additional work. This is not a sustainable or healthy approach. Top brands focus on maximizing their top talent by giving them the right tools for the right job.

For example, when I built my daughter’s play kitchen, I only needed a screwdriver and within an hour (maybe 2) she was baking some delicious pretend cookies and cupcakes. However, when my wife and I renovated our kitchen, it was clear that the contractors needed power saws and drills. They could of course complete the job with a handsaw, screwdriver, and more bodies — but the happiness of the employees and lost time (money!) outweighs the cost of upgrading the toolset. Century companies operate on this model because they understand the benefits of ensuring the happiness of their best and brightest people. They ask the question….what are the right tools to maximize the production and quality of my proprietary content?

The answer is an Intelligent Content Management Solution. A solution that supports modern learning content that can easily support a wide range of experiences and be tailored to individual learner needs. Imagine your content is fluid so it can flow between formats, layouts, and systems. Think….content factory able to scale and keep up with your business challenges. What value would this drive for your organization?

Century companies realize they need to adopt this strategy to deliver new standards of speed, personalization, and performance to business processes, learning scenarios, and operational workflows that rely on complex content. This includes Workforce Onboarding & Skills Development, Product & Skills Certification, Customer Training, Enablement, Field Service, Performance Support, Policies and Procedures, and finally…. product documentation and education.

If you are looking to put gray hairs on your company and create a long-term brand that will endure the decades of challenges ahead, then it’s time to think about how you are executing your proprietary content strategy.

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