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Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive

ISBN: 978-0-470-44237-1
256 pages
March 2010, Jossey-Bass
Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive (0470442379) cover image


The keys to better business from a thriving group of business owners-the Amish

Business can be discouraging. According to US Department of Labor figures, only 44 percent of newly-opened firms will last four years. Amish firms, on the other hand, have registered a 95% survival rate over a five-year period. And in many cases, those businesses do remarkably well-as Donald Kraybill writes: "the phrase 'Amish millionaire' is no longer an oxymoron." Success Made Simple is the first practical book of Amish business success principles for the non-Amish reader. The work provides a platform of transferable principles--simple and universal enough to be applied in the non-Amish world, in a wide variety of business and management settings.

  • Learn how to develop profitable and fulfilling enterprises as Amish explain how to build fruitful relationships with customers and employees, prosper by playing to strengths, and create an effective marketing story
  • Includes interviews with over 50 Amish business owners outline the role of relationships in business and the importance of the big picture-taking in long-term goals, the welfare of others, and personal integrity
  • Offers ideas on practical application of Amish business practices to non-Amish businesses, with bullet summaries at the end of each chapter reviewing the most important take-away points

With a focus on relationship-building and the big picture, Success Made Simple offers business owners everywhere the tools for better, smarter, more successful enterprises.

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Table of Contents

Foreword (Donald B. Kraybill).

Preface: Unearthing the Secrets.

A Note on Names.

1. Eye to the Horizon: Cultivating a Vision and Thriving Through Crisis.

2. Getting Smart: Hands-On Versus the Hallowed Halls.

3. Market-Bound: Excelling at Sales and Marketing.

4. Doing Unto Others: The Crucial Customer Relationship.

5. Choosing Up Sides: Getting the Right People in Place.

6. Fishing Lessons: Empowering Your Most Valuable Asset.

7. Around the Edges: Honing an Efficiency Mentality.

8. The Big Picture: Getting What You Came For.

Conclusion: Barn Raising.

Appendix: Research and Interview Methodology.



About the Author.


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Author Information

Erik Wesner is an independent expert on the Amish and their business practices, and previously spent a decade as a sales manager and record-breaking salesperson at Nashville's Southwestern Company. He divides his time between Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he has strong ties to the Amish community, and Poland, the country of his roots. He also writes the popular blog Amish America at amishamerica.com, covering Amish business, culture, and other topics.

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More images are available upon request.


"I loved Wesner's comment that the Amish ‘don't need an M.B.A. to run an effective business....There's life in commerce for those more dedicated to the Golden Rule than the Golden calf.’ Nonprofit managers and employees would do well to take the lessons of personal responsibility, hard work, and a cheerful attitude to heart. After all, they really do engage in work that matters."

About.com, April 11, 2010

"Erik Wesner's new book, "Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive," might have been titled "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Being Amish." This fascinating and engagingly written book spells out the principles that guide Amish business owners, based on interviews with 60 Amish CEOs employing about 400 people in various enterprises."

LancasterOnline.com, April 10, 2010

"How can a people whose preferred mode of transportation is a horse and buggy do so well in the modern marketplace? That question intrigued Erik Wesner, a former sales manager. His exploration of the Amish approach to business can be found in his fascinating book Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive. Despite the group's insular nature, Wesner was able to live and work among its members for three years. ‘We're not going to become Amish,’ he says, ‘but I think some of the cultural values that the Amish display consistently are things that non-Amish people can adopt and incorporate.’"
Time magazine, April 8, 2010

Articles, excerpts, slideshows, and mentions with the author also from:
MSNBC Live with David Shuster, April 2, 2010
—Slideshow, FastCompany.com, April 1, 2010
Michael Dresser, Business Talk Radio, March 23, 2010
—Q&A, The New York Post, March 22, 2010

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Press Release

March 08, 2010
An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive

There are roughly 230,000 Amish in America, many of whom live in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The Amish restrict use of modern gadgets and technology, and generally keep to themselves. Erik Wesner, a leading scholar on the Amish, is one of a few who have gained access to the Amish for an extended period of time. He set out to find out why Amish businesses have an astounding 95% success rate over a 5-year period. What he found was surprisingly simple. 

There are roughly 9,000 Amish owned and operated enterprises in North America. Contrary to popular belief, many of them are not mom-and-pop shops selling root beer and rugs, but have more than a dozen employees and annual sales above $5 million. They are in the business of furniture and construction, sell nationwide and overseas, and a few even have contracts with businesses as diverse as Kmart and Ralph Lauren. 

Having a 95% success rate is impressive in its own right, but compared with the fact that barely half of all start ups in modern America last five years, it’s downright extraordinary. Especially when you also consider: 

  • Novice entrepreneurs hold only eighth grade diplomas from one-room schools, not Ivy League MBAs. 
  • Amish cultural taboos restrict many types of technology. That includes telephones, laptops, credit cards, and pagers.  
  • Church regulations restrict advertising on radio and television or any ventures that go against their moral order.  

Amish “CEOs” therefore not only face the common challenges of any regular startups, but the cultural hurdles within their communities as well. In SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE, Wesner takes a closer look at what the Amish do differently. What can modern Americans learn from the Amish? The lessons of their success are rather simple. 

  • Fear and Faith. While Amish, with many mouths to feed and pressures like any other business owners, must face up to the fear of failure, their faith puts things back in perspective and keeps them grounded. The Amish lean on faith.  
  • Sorting out the difference between motives and ambitions before techniques and strategies. Having a vision and a purpose for a business—vision is concerned with the why before the how.   
  • People always come first; the profits will come.  
  • Amish businesses employ many in their family and in their community. It is extremely important for them to be straightforward, respectful, and honest with each other at work.  

Just because these ideas are simple doesn’t make them easy. SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE shows that these people, without common worldly credentials, have applied an uncanny savvy, a dose of common sense, an ethic of hard work, and enduring values to the world of business to quietly succeed and keep pace with the rest of the world.

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