Interview with three generations of a family business

Luck Companies, one of the United States’ largest producers of crushed stone, sand and gravel, was founded in 1923, and has thrived under the leadership of three generations of Lucks by embracing Creativity, Commitment, Leadership and Integrity as its core values. These values serve as the foundation to the Values Based Leadership culture, which promotes igniting the human potential of others by engaging everyone in a personal journey of developing their leadership skills and a personal mission to live a life of meaning and purpose. Values Based Leadership is the Lucks’ version of leadership, and it starts with the uncompromising premise that leadership is a choice and not a title. The family business believes that everyone of its 800 employees is a leader. Three generations of the Luck family give their perspective on what VBL has meant to their business and family, and Wanda Ortwine, Chief Family Officer at Luck Companies, explains the concept behind Values Based Leadership (VBL) and how the Lucks witnessed a transformation of their family and business.

[ms-protect-content id=”4069, 4129″]

The story behind the Values Based Leadership concept – The account of Wanda Ortwine

“I want everyone to have a job at the Company that exceeds their wildest dream”. This was the vision of our current President and CEO, Charles “Charlie” S. Luck, IV when I joined the company in 2007. Caring about people is a core value that has transcended three generations of the Luck family, starting with Charlie’s grandfather, Charles S. Luck, Jr., who lived by the philosophy that if you “take care of your people, they will take care of you”, and fostered by his father, Charles S. Luck, III who coined the phrase “We Care”, which became the trademark sticker on the Luck Companies’ hard hats for over 40 years.

Luck Companies is comprised of four distinct business divisions: Luck Stone, one of the largest producers of crushed stone in the nation; Charles Luck, a leading architectural stone supplier with
a global sales and distribution presence and locations across the mid-Atlantic region; Har-Tru Sports, the leading provider of clay courts, lighting and court accessories; and Luck Development Partners a real estate development company. We are located throughout the mid-Atlantic region and headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. While we are principally in the “rock” business, it’s how we do what we do that is most important to us and that is why leadership matters.

Our version of Values Based Leadership was born out of a transformation phase for the company that began in 2002. We had experienced exponential growth over a five-year period, and while performing very well financially, the leadership team was at odds. The long held family values and culture were at stake. That’s when Charlie decided to take action and engage a leadership consultant to help him with his team. He solicited the assistance of Guy Clumpner, from the Holt Development Group who brought the executive team together and they began their work by defining the problem. If there is something wrong with a company or the culture, it usually starts with the individual; it starts with the “me”. For the next two years, Guy worked with the team to develop a greater understanding of “self” – personal behaviours and attributes, individual core values, personality styles, understanding of each other’s life stories, and collectively articulating and defining the long-held company values. As the team learned more about themselves and each other, they realised they had to lead and communicate differently. Leadership was not about their title; it was about how they behaved, and the choices they were making. It was about how they were authentically ensuring the success of others before themselves and reigniting the long-held family legacy of valuing all human beings.

Our people noticed the change in leadership and wanted this training for themselves, and “The Values Based Leadership Journey” began for the entire organisation. Over the next five years, every person in the organisation, from the loader operators to the President, participated in extensive leadership training. The impact on the organisation and the associates was incredible. The stories started rolling in on how VBL was changing conversations in the business; people were working better together, serving customers better, innovating together, and delivering a strong bottom line.

An even deeper impact was evident when associates shared with Charlie how VBL saved their marriage, allowed them to have a great conversations with their teenagers, and/or gave them the ability to talk to their parents more effectively. The reality that three family generations could become more united and at peace with one another, furthered Charlie’s aspirations and desires to develop VBL into a more robust and deliverable program.

Over the next five years, Mark Fernandes, our Chief Leadership Officer, and his team have worked tirelessly to grow VBL’s process, tools, and impact. Our mission today is to “Ignite Human Potential through Values Based Leadership and positively impact lives around the world”. The world is calling for a change, and we believe the change lies in developing Values Based Leaders who live, lead, and work in alignment with their core values and thereby live a life of meaning, and in turn help others do the same.

The Luck Companies and the Values Based Leadership Journey
Image courtesy of Luck Companies

Over the years, we have learned that being a great leader isn’t easy. It takes a lot of work to keep your head and heart present for others. We are so busy that we often fail to “simply notice” the people who need us the most or we respond in a way that deflates instead of inspires. Values Based Leaders intentionally create and maintain awareness of what they are thinking and feeling in any given moment. How we think and feel about a person or situation directly impacts our ability to be of service to others. Seeking to understand others first, in a deep and profound way, allows a leader to adapt their leadership to whatever the situation calls for and then consciously act in a way that aligns with what you value and ignite human potential in yourself and others.

Even the best leaders have a bad day or moment from time to time, however, the more conscious we become in our leadership, the greater success we experience because we are making choices that align with what we value and serve the greater good. Great leaders strive to get a little bit better each day. They are resolute and dedicated to personal growth and development throughout life. Leadership is not hierarchical or an event, it’s a journey.


How does it make you feel seeing your son building the family legacy around people?

My son and I have been working together closely over the last 30 years. He is well grounded and has a passionate mind. VBL has become a big part of our lives and I am very proud of Charlie for how he has implemented it throughout the company.

How has VBL changed your perspective as a leader?

I have always cared about other people, but VBL has made me even more aware of recognising and “enlightening” people I come in contact with in my daily life, regardless of where I am. As a leader you can never be satisfied. Always look for ways to improve yourself and others around you.

In the future, what beliefs would you like your family business to stand for?

We want to be strong leaders in the world; personally and in our company. We want to be humble and listen to the “winds of change”. Also we hope to keep a “positive outlook” about how we lead our life and be an example for others. The constant application of VBL helps us relate to our customers and I feel confident that it will have a positive impact on our future.


What has the implementation of VBL meant to your company and to yourself?

During the 80 years before we began the Values Based Leadership (VBL) journey, our company had a clear set of guidelines around our values and expectations. The company grew exponentially and we lost our way. As a result of the work that we have done with VBL we have a very clear mission and we have clarified our values and the behaviours and expectations that support those values. It has also attracted the right people into our company. VBL has also had an impact on building and maintaining meaningful relationships. It has delivered world- class engagement scores for our associates, which is one of the key predictors for customer satisfaction and ultimately financial performance. When we started the VBL journey, I had no idea that we would experience all these benefits. My initial goal was to try to get 12 officers working in a more productive and effective fashion and it became so much more. Our family and associates have worked intently and diligently with many generations to develop a reputation for supporting others’ success, first and foremost, followed by quality products and a solid financial performance. We believe in doing good first, and doing well will follow.

The Luck Companies and the Values Based Leadership Journey
Image courtesy of Luck Companies

In the last 10 years we have taken leadership development to a whole new level of clarity, tools, skills, instruments, which ultimately has resulted in people using these new skills to be more effective in all walks of their lives. I always felt that running a highly respected business was very important to me, but I also want to leave behind a company that stood for more than financial performance and that really made a lasting difference in the lives of others.

What was the greatest challenge you encountered when formalising this approach?

We have had a number of challenges in doing this work. The first challenge was to get our 12 officers to enhance their leadership development. Getting them motivated initially to do was the first obstacle. I would say the second challenge would be that associates in the field wanted to know if this would be a real commitment even in the face of possible recessions.

Now that you have implemented VBL across the company, what is the next stage of development for the Luck Group?

When you have an organisation that has over 800 associates you deal with an ever-changing environment. Our goal is to continue to provide the appropriate training, skill development, feedback and leadership development that is appropriate for people at varying stages from being a new associate to someone who is highly skilled in this area of leadership. Plus, we have continued to learn more about the science of leadership. We are regularly finding better techniques and training. A big focus of ours for the next several years will be to continue to share our VBL work, model, and tools with other companies and organisations so we can make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

What does your legacy to the next generation consist of?

We are building a legacy of developing people using VBL to ignite the potential in others. We have reached people at a much deeper and more profound level than I would have ever imagined. Today, people are so hungry for strong leadership both for themselves and in the world around them. When I think about VBL, it really is all about starting with yourself first. Finally, we are also in the beginning stages of building a VBL Institute, which will be giving people globally the opportunity to advance their leadership. At the end of the day, my personal mission is to develop leadership in others so they can exceed their wildest dreams.


How have you witnessed the implementation of VBL in your family business?

I am not yet active in the family business, but while growing up and visiting the business I witnessed the conversation shift towards values and purposeful leadership. As a result, I think that the associates are much more fulfilled. It has had a huge impact on recruitment, as VBL has enabled us to get the right people on board. Our associates are not just looking for a job; they’re looking to make an impact. VBL has helped make their work meaningful and given them the ability to work on themselves and impact others. I have seen in many instances how my father’s own belief in VBL has touched peoples’ lives, and know that the VBL style conversations are going on throughout our company everyday.

The Luck Companies and the Values Based Leadership Journey
Image courtesy of Luck Companies

How has VBL affected your family life and the way you see your family members?

VBL has had a huge effect on us. VBL has given us a common language and a set of tools for talking about the way we behavior, communicate and make decisions. One of the most helpful tools we have used is a personality test called “Insights.” It has allowed us to recognise how each of us acts, and how we can best communicate with each other by adapting. This is just one of many tools we have used that has drastically impacted our relationships, both inside and outside our family.

What do you expect of yourself once you join the family business?

My goal is to have people look at me and see someone with the leadership ability, the competencies and the wisdom to take our business to the next level. The only way to achieve that is if I hold myself to a very high standard, work relentlessly and continue to grow and develop, all of which I am fully committed to doing. Too often in family businesses it is taken for granted that the next generation will take over. I will do everything I can to get to the point where people can look at me and see that I didn’t base my career on my name but on merit.

The family business provides us with such a great platform to have an impact on our associates, our families, and our community. I am very grateful to have a chance to do my part.

Tharawat Magazine, Issue 22, 2014