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Lessons From a Gen Zer on How to Grow a 200-Year-Old Company in Today’s Market

Approaching a traditional market with an entrepreneurial mindset has created record growth in his family business.

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BY John White - 07 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I've enjoyed speaking to several of Gen Z's rising star entrepreneurs for my column. These young and ambitious entrepreneurs are leading the way for an entirely new generation that seems to have a strong interest in entrepreneurship.

When I heard about Anton Klingspor, I was excited to meet him. He's created exponential growth in his family's business that is in a traditional market that is literally centuries.

Anton isn't your average 17-year-old -- he's dabbled in both venture capital and social entrepreneurship before sitting in his first college course. His story, intersecting with his family's background, shows his novel approach to developing his family's existing company.

Here's a piece of our conversation:

JW: Your family has a truly remarkable business. What values as an up-and-coming entrepreneur were you exposed to growing up?

AK: My family lineage, dating back to the 1200s, has been entrepreneurial in spirit for centuries, mainly focusing their work in Sweden and Germany.

Originally developing a metalworking company in the late middle ages to produce knights' armor, my family later became interested in industrial production and the innovation of abrasive technologies.

Abrasive technology, a critical component in the production cycle of anything from sportscars to skyscrapers, remains essential in general industry even today.

JW: What tools did you use to develop KLINGSPOR's sales to the next level?

AK: Growing up with a keen interest in computer science and information security, I always tinkered with technology to promote the development of applications or projects that fit my interests. With my wide variety of interests, I considered the steps required for a salesman or executive to complete their daily tasks.

In order to streamline and develop a sense of efficiency for my everyday tasks and stay productive, I've used various tools like LinkedIn Lead Builder and Facebook Workplace to collaborate with my teammates seamlessly and efficiently.

LinkedIn's service is essential to my everyday activities, as valuable web addresses and phone numbers can be collected efficiently with Lead Builder. Facebook Workplace, on the other hand, allows for rapid communication and makes it easy for my team to stay on the same page.

JW: Where did you gain this kind of experience and foster this interest? Didn't you just graduate from high school?

AK: Growing up, I've had the luxury of learning from my parents and grandparents about marketing, finance, and computer science. The best thing is that because we have Klingspor Abrasives running, I was able to practically apply a lot of what I learned from my elders towards a functioning business. This gave me a full-circle learning experience that I really couldn't find anywhere else, including school.

That's not to say that high school or any other level of education isn't important; I think overall, the supplemental education that I received from my elders as well as from applying what I've learned is what has allowed me to really understand what I had been taught.

JW: What do you think were essential pieces of your learning experience that you think may be helpful to other young entrepreneurs like yourself? It would be great if you could share them!

AK: I think oftentimes, we youth are (blindly, I might add) not very receptive to what our elders have to tell us because we feel that we're in a new age and that what worked before won't really work as well now.

However, I think it's a huge strength to absorb the experiences of one's elders; whether they be one's parents, grandparents, or advisors, it's essential to learn from what they've done right and wrong in order to shape the way one operates.

There's nothing more wasteful, in my view, than ignoring the advice of people more experienced than you are. Whether you accept someone's advice is up to you, but hearing people out often saves a lot of time for the young entrepreneurs.

I certainly can vouch for this as I've learned a ton of skills, including patenting, product marketing, raising money, and coding, all from my grandfather in my upbringing that I think ended up not only getting me interested in entrepreneurship but also gave me some level of know-how so I could go out there and "just do it."

Final Thought

Anton has proven that new ideas from Generation Z can be implemented right now in even the oldest of industries. When a company's growth becomes stagnant, innovative ideas are needed to propel the company forward toward increased profitability.

Gen Z may still be coming of age but they seem to be wasting no time in making an impact.