by John Abrams
(Chelsea Green Publishing, 2005)

How hard can success be for a quality-focused, small design-build company with highly skilled carpenters and designers interested in optimizing the life-cycle of their product – a house – located on an island with a captive market of the East coast’s wealthiest citizens? Is there really anything more to consider than scheduling the next job?

John Abrams, the co-founder of South Mountain Company, redefines business success as more than just short-term financial success. In his book The Company We Keep, Reinventing Small Business for People, Community and Place, Abrams argues the importance of taking a long-term, global view when making decisions for a short-term world. Driven less by need than by a desire to commit to the long-term health of his business, his community and his employees, Abrams converted a small, design-build firm from a sole proprietorship to an employee-owned cooperative corporation. In this book, he compellingly shares the challenges to and benefits of this difficult decision, and the outcomes almost 20 years later.

Abrams and South Mountain specialize in green and sustainable building practices and are ever involved in finding more efficient ways to recycle and save buildings, materials and energy in their new construction and renovation of homes. Their dedication to providing and preserving affordable housing on Martha’s Vineyard is just one example of focusing on multiple bottom lines in their work and the community around them.

Abrams reflects upon the journey he and his co-founders, co-workers and eventually, co-owners, took to create an organization that represents not only a successful business model but, more importantly, a successful community model. He provides convincing evidence that the courage to lead with strong personal and company values can be the means to a thriving business. With the deliberation of cathedral builders, Abrams and South Mountain take the long-term view on quality design and construction, working backwards from an envisioned outcome, rather than simply measuring input.

The book is written in a warm, philosophical style which makes it hard to put down and leaves the reader yearning for more insights and information from this writer, who provides substantial research and details about his work and ideas.

Rebecca Regan is President of Boston Community Loan Fund, a non-profit organization which finances affordable housing and sustainable building practices in New England.