top of page

Business Success Techniques Used by the Amish Communities

Book corner: Success Made Simple, An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive, written by Erik Wesner

Success Made Simple
Success Made Simple

Can old stereotypes disappear? That’s the question one faces when reading Success Made Simple, An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive, by Erik Wesner. Wesner, a sales and management professional who has done business with the Amish in several states, plus interviewed and studied them, changes our perspective of the Amish as he sets out to explain a staggering statistic: 95% of Amish businesses succeed as opposed to 34% for the remaining population.

A few words about the Amish. A U.S based Anabaptist Christian community with roots in Switzerland, the Amish are closely related to Mennonites and have traditionally believed in simple living, pacifism and non-violence, rural life, manual labor, Bible study, and the eschewing of modern technology. Easily recognized by their traditional clothing, they speak a form of Old German between themselves. They are literate (and speak English, which they learn at school) but their education stops at the eighth grade, where they begin working full-time. Perhaps the most well-known portrayal in the media is the 1985 crime drama Witness, starring Harrison Ford as a Philadelphia police detective seeking shelter with the Amish from corrupt rogues on his force. A major success, the movie cast into the public’s consciousness a rigid community of simple farmers and craftsmen who minimize all encounters with the outside world and look at the English – their word for all non-Amish – with extreme suspicion.

Erik Wesner’s book, written in 2010, presents a very different, or rather changed, group of people. Wesner interviewed fifty Amish small to medium business owners, some who he already knew personally. They were accommodating, friendly and content to discuss their success stories and business philosophy, although true to Amish form, they were modest in their achievements and strict about not coming across as showing off or bragging in any way.

Wesner explains that as the twentieth century drew to a close, the Amish realized that their high birthrate and limited remaining available farmland left farming as an increasingly unrealistic option for newer generations. They also realized that they can maintain their way of life and values while benefiting from the increasingly unavoidable interactions with the English, so they began turning to creating businesses that serve the outside world. As Wesner explains, what they lack in education – there is not a high school graduate or an MBA among those interviewed – they make up for with a hardcore work ethic instilled in them since birth. (Just a note – a few of the those interviewed have attended business lectures and seminars.)

Wesner divides his findings into eight chapters, with each chapter explaining a different business concept and containing personal stories as to how the Amish run their businesses and embody that concept. I was surprised to learn that although modern technology plays no part in their homes (for example, their home lighting and dairies are powered by gas), those who maintain offices, stores and workshops outside the community are completely well-equipped, with computers, internet, phones, etc.

The common sense wisdom espoused by the interviewees is powerful. The Amish wisely believe in staying with what they know and what they are good at, such as crafts, construction, restaurants, supermarkets, furniture, etc., and will not stray beyond the sphere of familiarity. Wesner credits this homey approach to producing a more quality product. This is just the beginning. The book describes their wise, old-school approach to, for example, customer service. They believe in honesty and integrity with their customers (their religious beliefs forbid them from any dishonest dealings anyway) and giving excellent service. They are always eager for constructive feedback from their customers, and strive for a good reputation and repeat business.

Additional subjects are hiring/firing (they tend to give lagging employees chances at success), nepotism (they believe in family businesses but are just as demanding with their families as they are with their other employees), job training (their lack of book education gives them a natural inclination and leg up in using “hands-on” approaches to training), leading from the front (Amish bosses will do the most menial tasks when needed), staff relations (they are quick to praise their employees), expense control (their frugal background gives them a natural advantage at controlling what goes in versus what goes out), and employee benefits (they have summer campouts, picnics and paid breakfasts for their teams).

So can old stereotypes disappear? With the Amish, they certainly can. An absorbing and interesting read.

If you want to read another Book Corner article, please visit this review by Evan Rothfeld:


bottom of page