Mary Wall Yeager
We recently interviewed Mary Wall Yeager, Sibling Team Owner at Wall Family Enterprise. Mary and her family have been involved with the Center since its founding in 1990; she currently serves as the FBC’s Chairman of the Board and has been an advocate of the Center and its mission for many years.
Why did you join the Loyola Family Business Center?
My father got involved 25 years ago when he bought the company he was working for in a leveraged buyout. He was determined to keep it privately held and family owned. Dad was humble enough to know he needed some assistance. He was open minded and interested in learning, so he sought help from John Ward and Loyola FBC to develop and effectuate a long term generational succession plan. He offered me, and my 9 siblings the opportunity to join him in learning about governance and stewardship.
What is the most valuable part of your Membership?
The conferences have been offered over the years, but the most valuable part of my membership was gaining opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and experiences with other business owning families. I’ve enjoyed many conferences with my father and siblings. We made a practice of going out for an enjoyable dinner the night before the conference with our family members or other Loyola FBC families, and shared ideas and talked about all sorts of things! Networking and meeting peers from other families at conferences and events is always insightful and valuable. If I felt discouraged about a sibling challenge or other family/business issues I usually go home energized with renewed optimism.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from the Family Business Center?
The most valuable thing I learned from the FBC probably isn’t what you’d expect! Because I respected my father and what he had accomplished, and sensed he wanted a leader with his style and in his image, I tried (unsuccessfully) to emulate him. What I learned was that I could be a good leader with a different outlook and style from my Father’s way of leadership. Early on, because I knew I was very different from my Father, I didn’t have the confidence to think that I could be a leader. It was only after years of learning and sharing experiences with Loyola families, and also getting some positive feedback from our company managers and independent directors, that I realized differentiating myself from my Dad, earlier on, would have been better for me and that I could be a good leader with my own style and passion for our family business. And then along the way, I learned so many things about stewardship, governance, strategy and entrepreneurship, family councils, conflict resolution, etc. all of which have helped me in a challenging and competitive large family environment.
Why would you recommend the Family Business Center to other Family Businesses?
We all know the dismal statistics of how few family businesses make it into the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations (under 5% make it into the 4th)! I do believe from what I’ve seen, that most family businesses fail or succeed based on how effectively the family works together, and how unified the broader family is in support of the business. We have had many struggles since we became a family business; most of the challenges have been on the family side, not the business side, which has been a sadness for me as we were always a large, loving family. There will always be these kinds of challenges. Loyola Family Business Center is the best confidential forum I have been involved with over the years; they provide informed, hands-on expertise in every aspect of family business, with the added benefit to develop a network of peers (who you can call on at any time). I would like to add that we have a predominantly independent Board of Directors, and have hired at least two directors through the Family Business Center network!
Where do you hope to see the Family Business Center in 5 years? In 10?
We’re at a great place now with about 95 business owning families as members. And the FBC Board and staff have recently renewed our vision to be the top regional family business network in the country. With that as our goal, we need to up our game with the quality and caliber of the annual conferences. Our Next Generation Leadership and Family Business Stewardship Institutes are the best in the country and our two new Institutes (Legacy and Governance) will be great in depth education/learning opportunities for family members in the business or in the family. I’d like to see us focus on these goals so we can keep a vibrant, active membership.
What’s the secret to your family business’s success?
The secret to our success is staying privately held, focusing on people, and having an independent Board of Directors. We have work to do with our 2nd and 3rd generation in terms of unity and encouraging 3rd generation to come into the business.