What is a company history?
A company history is a record of pivotal moments in your business from its origins to present-day. It organizes milestones, accomplishments and the work of influential figures into a cohesive narrative.
Your corporate history is built on facts, but the way you present it can bring your company’s strengths, leadership, culture and values to the forefront.
Where do you use a company history?
A corporate history can be tailored to a variety of audiences and formats. It’s a powerful tool to build credibility and trust with employees, customers, potential investors and other stakeholders.
Most companies have an overview page that provides a summary of their business, but it’s useful to provide a detailed corporate history for those who want more comprehensive information. You can combine elements such as text, photographs, timelines and audiovisual content to paint a compelling picture of how your business evolved.
Use a corporate history to provide important background in business plans and proposals. Potential lenders, investors and partners benefit from knowing how a company has grown and changed over the years, especially when considering your future expansion plans.
New employees should know the legacy of the company they’re coming to work for. Add the company history to an employee handbook or company policy manual to give an overview of how the business has developed. This helps staff understand the mission and values of the company.
Journalists appreciate when you make their job easy. Include the company history in a media section of your website or when distributing press releases. This creates an official record so there’s no confusion or misinterpretation of corporate facts.
Annual reports are read by both stakeholders familiar with your company and those who don’t know it well. When reporting on current projects and activities, use a concise corporate history to contextualize achievements.
Some companies mark special occasions such as an anniversary or retirement with a commemorative book. This in-depth history can be published and distributed to staff, clients and other stakeholders.
Benefits of a well-written company history
While your corporate history revisits significant moments from the past, it also plays an important role in positioning your business, products and services in the present. Here are ways a company history supports your overall business goals.
It shapes your company’s core identity
A clearly articulated company history brings your mission statement to life by showing employees how your business implements its vision. Whether you want to emphasize values such as community, innovation or customer service, use your company’s story to get employees working toward common goals and inspire a sense of pride for all that’s been accomplished.
It helps you connect with customers
Customers have diverse reasons for doing business with a company. The more transparent your story, the more you can build a personal connection and trust. Customers comparing two otherwise equal businesses, for example, are more likely to choose the one that provides detailed information about who they are and where they come from.
It establishes your brand image and reputation
Shape your legacy by recording your history in your own words. A corporate history is a persuasive way to build credibility and distinguish your business from others. Use examples from the past to exemplify sound decision-making and management, vision, leadership and community engagement. It’s an excellent opportunity to celebrate your achievements and expertise.
It helps to preserve your stories
Ensure your company history is documented so it lasts through changes in ownership and structure—you don’t want stories lost or forgotten. It’s natural to want to focus your attention on the present, day-to-day operations of your business, but if you compile your history now, the information is on hand when needed.
How to write a corporate history
Here’s how to start documenting your company’s journey.
It’s not necessary to document every minor detail, but do highlight key moments and milestones.
- Company founders: Provide information about who started the company and their background.
- Original idea and vision: Talk about how the founders got the idea and how others were persuaded to support the venture. Has the company changed strategies or focus along the way?
- Turning point: Discuss how the company was received and early signs of momentum. Was there a key moment that sparked growth?
- Influential figures: Identify key people who helped the company to grow, such as investors and partners.
- Innovations: Highlight products that made a splash or helped you stand out.
- Milestones: Make a timeline of milestones such as the opening of new stores, mergers, acquisitions and changes in ownership. You can also mention setbacks that were overcome; for example, the rebuilding of a warehouse destroyed by fire.
- Accolades: Mention any awards or recognition.
- Media coverage: Collect interviews and profiles from print, TV and web sources.
- Community engagement: Focus on ways your business has given back to the community.
- Interesting trivia: Include unique tidbits and anecdotes; for example, the time your product was used as a prop in a movie or a famous athlete stopped by your store.
Compile visual elements
Visual elements are just as important as the stories. As you gather information, compile archival material such as photographs or video footage—perhaps you have an image of the founders working out of a garage or early prototypes of the products. Print ads and logos are also interesting to include.
Sit down with founders, partners, long-time employees and other stakeholders to get their impressions and memories. Ask them about changes they’ve seen, challenges that were overcome and why key decisions were made.
As you look at the history of your company, try to draw out themes. Are there examples of leadership, perseverance, creativity or innovation? Has the business been handed down through generations? Maybe community engagement and charity work are a big part of the company.
Once you’ve identified themes, revisit them throughout your story and consider using them in your brand positioning and marketing strategies.
Determine your tone
Before you start writing a company history, decide how the information is going to be used. Adapt the length, tone and style for the audience.
If you include a company history in a business plan, it should be short and concise. It’s typically written in third-person, in a formal tone and focused on financial and strategic milestones.
You have more flexibility with how you present a company history on a website, as long as it matches your brand voice. You can be more conversational and write in first-person from the point of view of the founder.
Design the layout
Consider the visual design and layout of your corporate history—use photographs to break up text or make a timeline visual. You can also make use of interactive elements on a website, like LEGO does.
Keep the project going
A corporate history is never complete until your business winds up. Be sure to document your history as your business grows and hits new milestones. Take regular photos of employees, products and stores—one day, you will look back on them as a piece of history.
5 real-life company history examples
Before you start writing your corporate story, browse through ones created by other businesses to get ideas. Here are some real-life company history examples to get you started.
1. Randall Knives
Randall Knives, a knife manufacturer, tells its corporate history from the point of view of the company founder. As he explains how he got the idea for the business and its growth, he weaves together values of longevity, commitment to quality and family. The accompanying timeline offers an easy-to-read visual presentation of the story.
2. Melissa and Doug
This toy company presents its company history in a playful and colorful layout to match its brand. Focusing on the company’s namesakes, Melissa and Doug’s company history reveals the thinking behind certain product lines and their vision of creating meaningful, well-made toys for children.
3. Square Books
Square Books is an independent bookseller. Their corporate history is text-heavy and takes a traditional chronological approach, outlining their growth and the notable authors who have visited the bookstore over the decades. There’s a short overview page for a quick summary, and a more detailed history for those interested in more information.
Google’s corporate history shows histories don’t have to be lengthy. Despite becoming a global internet giant, Google has distilled their story into key points.