Why the Lost Manuscript of Dr. Suess Will Make You Think About Your Business Legacy


Oh, the places you’ll go. But a better question might be, what are you leaving behind?

When Dr. Seuss’ widow, Audrey Geisel, found an almost finished project labelled “The Pet Shop,” back in 2013 it created a ripple of excitement but also raised a lot of important questions. 

Seuss wrote and illustrated 44 children’s books in his illustrious career, including notable works like “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham,” and his entire collection has sold more than 650 million copies around the world and is continuing to rise each year. While Seuss is no longer with us, he’s left behind a strong, enduring business legacy.

His last book was published in 1990, and no one at Random House expected to find a manuscript 24 years later. Consequently, no one really knew what to do with it. Since Dr. Seuss never told anyone about the unfinished book, there were no guidelines about what his plan for it would be.

As his longtime publisher, Cathy Goldsmith iterated, there was a lot at stake - both for the publishing house and for Dr. Seuss himself.  

The difficulty the team faced in bringing this work to life was compounded because they didn’t want to go against his wishes. Why did he put it aside in the first place? Was he ever planning on coming back to finish it? Was it discarded because he didn’t like it? 

We’ll never know how Dr. Seuss would have wanted the book to end, and since Ms. Goldsmith had to finish it herself, she wanted to ensure she was doing his legacy justice and honouring him the best way she could. Under intense pressure, she had to navigate many unanswered questions and deliver a product she hoped he would be proud of. 

In the first week, “What Pet Should I Get?” sold over 200K copies and was an instant success. Yet, what would have been different if he had left a roadmap for how he wanted the manuscript to be handled?

What we can learn as business owners

The theme of this book is about making choices. And as a business owner, everything you’ve built revolves around the choices you’ve made. But what happens when you’re no longer there to make those choices? Do your successors know how you’d want the company to grow?

Too often business owners put little thought into what they want to leave behind. So if they’re suddenly taken from the business, how does this business go on? 

“Begin with the end in mind” is how the Seuss-like saying goes. To ensure your business has a lasting legacy you can be proud of, you need to instil the values, mission and goals you have in both your employees and your management team from day one. 

You can’t wait until you have an exit strategy in mind. Instead, your business legacy should be created throughout the course of your career, and communicated every step of the way so that when you do exit, there is a strong, guiding light available to your successors. This will leave no doubt in their minds on how you would want it done. (Learn more about Cathy's story of suddenly being put in the drivers seat after her father unexpectedly exited the business.)

So start by asking yourself: What do you want your business to become? Then start basing all the choices you need to make around that vision. 

The most important thing to remember is a business legacy is not necessarily about the products or services you’re leaving behind, but the people who are going to continue to carry on your vision and build on the successful foundation you’ve already put in place.

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