You describe your mother, Mary Frances Carr, as a heroic figure in your life. And you say that she was one of your most valued employees. She died before you achieved your biggest triumphs in business. What would she think of her portrayal in your book, “Through the Fires?”
She’d be embarrassed, for sure. She’d shake her head and say something like, ‘Oh, I’m just a regular person like everyone else.’ And of course, she wasn’t. She was extraordinary.
In stark contrast to my father, my mother was there for me, from the beginning to the end. She believed in me. And I certainly believed in her. We learn more from what we see people do than from what they say. My mother taught by example. But she also said things that shaped the way I view life and business.
My mother’s view of the world—“nobody is superior or inferior to another human being”—set the example for what I believe is best about our company culture at Heartland. My dear friend and former colleague, Don Lassiter, used to say that everything he needed to know, he learned at his mama’s knee. I certainly got an education from my mother, who worked as a waitress on the night shift, and learned some lessons that I couldn’t have gotten from my professors in graduate school.
When we have a parent who holds such a high bar for decency and honesty, I think it’s important to incorporate that ethos into our lives and our careers. It’s worth stopping every once in a while to ask ourselves: ‘What would mom think?’
When my mother came to work for me, at my request, I really needed her. An office manager had left and I was in a tight spot. And I think my mom—she had retired to a subsidized housing complex, mostly for the elderly—needed to make a comeback, too. She needed to make a mark in her work. And she certainly did.
My mother had an extraordinary ability to relate to people. It came to her naturally. That’s because she truly cared. In the early days of our company, she took calls from our merchant customers when they had a problem. She came to know about people’s lives—someone struggling with a sick parent, say, or a kid going off to college—and these were people she knew only over the phone. At her funeral, there were flowers and kind notes from people she had never seen, but who had been so touched by her kindness that they thought of her as a friend.
She would be amazed to see Heartland today. It would be like something from another planet, compared to the earlier years. And I think she would be very proud.
My mother at one time was the service center. Now we have a gleaming corporate campus in Jeffersonville, Indiana, with hundreds of dedicated professionals who serve our merchant customers.
My mom would be thrilled to see the working environment at the service center. We have preschool for our parents, a fitness center, barbecue grills on patios. We have a quiet room for people who need to retreat and relax. We have an open floor plan that emphasizes our spirit of egalitarianism. Nobody has an office, not even the top managers. And we have Heartland University, with professors who teach at our facilities so that employees can take classes at work, earning credits toward an associate’s degree, or even a bachelor’s.
These workers at the service center, as I see it, are standing on the shoulders of Mary Frances Carr. They deserve respect, gratitude and honesty. My mother wouldn’t have had it any other way.