The Heart of the Bonsai Business Model

Early in my business career, I spent several years with the U.S. Steel Corporation in its executive management training program. We were a supposedly elite class – 10 of us handpicked from marquee universities – being groomed for upper management.

As someone disposed to reflection, I was struck by how little reflection I found in this corporate world. Questions of integrity, meaning, purpose and contribution seemed to be left out, relegated to the fields of government, education or other corners of the non-profit sector.

Reading social ecologist and management guru Peter Drucker at the time, I found a contrasting view. This was a man deeply concerned about how organizations could best serve society. He viewed governments, corporations, hospitals, churches and schools as distinct classes of organizations. Each organization, Drucker held, was uniquely charged with serving society – what I would call “the common good.”

At the time, I did not see find this flavor of reflection in the corporate sector. At their worst, I found shareholder-based corporations to be steered by an obsession with quarterly returns. I was struck by how good people in cubicles all around me got pulled into this game.

So, I left the corporate world and moved to the non-profit sector, and then ultimately made my way to private enterprise, where I currently reside. For the past 20 years I have owned, led and managed a highly successful niche group travel business, with a client base that remains 90 percent repeat and referred, year after year, and annual revenues in neighborhood of $6 to $10 million.

Like any business owner, I have developed my own approach to business. Eventually, I codified my way of doing business into what I call “The Bonsai Business Model.” In choosing the term “Bonsai,” I intentionally pose an alternative approach to growth, choosing as a namesake plants that grow to be strong and beautiful, and live a long time – but which don’t have to be “big.”

The Bonsai Business Model proposes an alternative approach to business, less focused on size and more focused on caring for the customer, which is at the heart of what makes a Bonsai – and a business – grow.

About J. Scott Scherer

Scott has been an entrepreneur and business owner for more than 30 years. He began his career in marketing with then-United States Steel Corporation (now USX). He later served in various non-profit posts before starting his own boutique religious travel company, which became an industry leader. He continues as a business owner while serving as a Certified Integral Coach, helping individuals to match their unique passion and talents to their work choice, while encouraging business leaders to adopt a more benevolent, conscious approach to their roles.

Scott received his undergraduate degree in Economics from Duke University
and his Master’s degree in Management from the Executive Management Program at The Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. He received his Integral Coaching certification from New Ventures West in San Francisco.

A resident of Pasadena, California, Scott devotes his time to leading his pilgrimage business, writing, coaching, consulting, and caring for the hundred-plus potted succulent plants circling his condominium home.