Larry Weidel: We are speaking today with million-dollar earner Mary Walker from Carrollton, Georgia who’s run a multimillion-dollar business for decades.
What are some non-negotiables that you won’t tolerate that you would fight to keep out of your life, out of your business, and out of your thinking?
Mary Walker: In my business life, I don’t want anybody coming in and trying to change the business that I’ve been built for almost 49 years. I’m a Crusader when it comes to what we do and my business, and I want other people to realize that I’m proud of that.
I can go to sleep knowing that everything I’ve done during my career has helped make people’s lives better. I’ve produced a lot of financially independent people, both through their being clients of mine and by being in business with me.
I wouldn’t ever want to change that. I wouldn’t let somebody come in who was not a good person if I could possibly help that. I want somebody who thinks for the greater good, not for their own pocket. That happens a lot in business.
You want somebody who heads a company to not only have the bottom line as their goal but also to think about the people who work under them and treat people fairly.
I would not put up with anything less than that. I don’t want anybody who works with me to feel differently.
LW: What are your non-negotiables on finances?
MW: I don’t put up with anybody not taking care of their bills, their finances. Whether you want to spend a lot or a little, that’s up to you, as you know what you’re bringing in each month, but you need to take care of that.
I know that people sometimes have to carry forward bills on credit cards. I use credit cards, but I pay everything off at the end of the month because it’s easier for me to do my accounting and my bookkeeping for taxes.
Back then, I had to do that, but I knew that I had to take care of it. I expect people to take care of their debts. How I feel about somebody is based on how they accept their responsibility for the things that they do in life.
I’ve had people who have bankrupted on me before. I still love them. I try not to loan them any more money after that. I tell my folks that if they’re going to loan money to somebody, they need to be able to loan it, knowing that if they don’t get it back, it was a gift and that they have to live with that.
People have to be responsible for what they do in life and how they do it.
LW: Can you think of something that’s the worst advice you ever received or the worst idea you’ve gotten for yourself? What did you learn?
MW: Somebody asked me once, “What would you do over in your life?” I would have lost weight a little bit earlier in life.
But beyond that, I wouldn’t change anything. I told you on another segment a while back that what you do brings you to where you are in life.
I don’t think that I’ve ever made a horrible decision that I would have changed. Everything didn’t necessarily come out right, but I think at the time, the decisions that Randall and I made in our business and in our lives have been the right ones.
I was brought up in church. I was brought up to be nice to people and do the right thing. I don’t have regrets. As I said, I’ve loaned money to people and maybe didn’t get paid back, but I still would do it over if I had to.
You’ve got to think about every decision. Randall and I decided in our business a long time ago to talk over major decisions.
We avoided making snap decisions. Some decisions affect not just your life, but others’ lives too.
LW: Art Williams had this idea that you never make bad decisions. You always make the right decision based on the information that you have at that time.
You always want to call the shots and move forward, but sometimes you get bad information that causes you to make a “bad” decision.
A lot of these sayings are fed to us by people who have no idea what they’re talking about, but they sound so convincing that you swallow it, and then you’re belching it out 20 years later when you find out it was a half-truth.
MW: In our business, I was a partner first and a lot of businesses don’t want a husband or wife to have anything to do with the other person’s part of the job.
Thank goodness I was in a company that allowed that. Angela Williams was a partner who set a good example for me and gave me permission to be really involved and speak up when I did or did not like something or when I thought we should do something.
That carried over into our business so we built everything together. I think that’s important because people know you gave your decisions some thought.
It encourages other people to do the same because having a partner in life that is involved in your making decisions can help a lot.
People do a lot better whenever they have a good sounding board, somebody who’s in it to win it with you, wanting to make sure that you’re pursuing the same goals, the same outcomes.
You’ve got the same objectives in the future on building your business. I think it’s so important.
LW: If you have a successful business of any kind, you’re going to have to move your body, go places, see people, do things. You’re on the move. It’s so easy for businessmen and businesswomen to leave the spouse behind.
That’s a bad idea because what happens when you go to meetings and dinners, meet people, have experiences and interactions, travel, and see different things. You change, you grow, and you develop.
If the spouse is back home, either dealing with a house, the kids, or with their job, they’re not growing in the same direction.
This is one of the reasons why successful families wind up having nothing in common.
Instead, you can grow together through these experiences and deal with problems, sort through things, and have wild things happen to you and encourage you.
MW: One of the keys to the business I’m in is making sure the partners are involved in understanding the goals you’re trying to achieve together because you’re trying to do this for your family.
All of us get into business and decide to do something to change our family’s lives and our circumstances. If you focus on that, then you’re going to have a better chance of having a great business.
Randall and I always made sure that our kids knew what we were working toward. We both talked all the time about what we wanted and that was important.
I could have said, “You do it, honey.” But then I wouldn’t have been a part of this. I wouldn’t have been in a position that I could take over and run the business. (Note: Mary’s husband Randall, passed away several years ago and Mary took over the business and it has continued to flourish. -LW)
All the people in our business knew that if they spoke to me, it was the same as speaking to Randall. Even though he was the name that they saw more, I was always there.
It hit me how great it was that we were in a company that encouraged significant others to be part of it.
Whether I was made welcome or not, I would have butted my nose in any way because I felt like it was my business too because we’re talking about our family.
We are in a people business, and I think women do well with drawing in and making people feel at home and comfortable in a business situation.
People want to know that somebody believes in them.People want to know that somebody believes in them. -Mary Walker Click To Tweet
That’s the thing I do really well. I make people know that I believe in them. I try to help them believe in themselves. They want to feel special. That’s what I bring to this business.
I try to make somebody understand how special they are, how awesome they are, and I can help them dream again.
LW: It’s important to keep growing yourself because the one thing you’ll take into the future, either your current business or another business, is yourself. If you’re constantly developing new skills and new abilities to handle situations—better discipline, better problem-solving skills—you’ve got that for the rest of your life.It's important to keep growing yourself because the one thing you'll take into the future, either your current business or another business, is yourself. Click To Tweet
If the same thing is happening to your spouse, you become more formidable as a couple as you go.
You made sure the kids understood why you were doing what you were doing in case they had to make some sacrifices along the way where maybe you weren’t there as much so they would understand. This gives them the perspective and the context to know that the sacrifices would pay off.
Additional Note: When Sandy Weill was CEO of Citigroup, at the time the number one largest company in the world, he said that before he ever went into business with anyone new he would bring them home for dinner at his house so his wife could meet them. After the dinner was over and they left, he looked to his wife to let him know whether or not she felt that person could be trusted. Even though he was CEO of the number one company in the world he let his wife give the thumbs up or thumbs down on new ventures based on her opinion of the other person’s character.