At the Helm: G.A. Taylor Fernley

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the chairman and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, based in Philadelphia.

Generation of family ownership: Fifth.

About the company: We’re an association management company with the distinction of having founded the industry in 1886.

Number of employees: We have 10 employees as well as strategic partners.

First job at this company: Assistant to the assistant to the leadership team.

At what age? 26. Still young and finding myself, I painted houses for a year after college. I was one of five sons, and in the early 1970s my father asked me if I wanted to work for the company. He said I’d have to work for another company first, so I joined an industrial supply house for two years. When I started at Fernley & Fernley I drafted letters, worked on special projects, and sat in (quietly) on management meetings. I learned a lot about every part of the company in a short time, otherwise known as “trial by fire.”

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: Never forget the most important part of being in a family business is that you have the opportunity to work twice as hard as anyone else. It was good advice because it’s a 24/7 job.

Best thing about this job: Changing employees’ lives by developing them to go out in the world and contribute to society. When employees leave, some of my colleagues here get upset. However, they should be happy because we have positioned someone to broaden themselves professionally and go out and continue to grow. Support those who depart. Never burn your bridges; keep those relationships going. Some people have come back, a tribute to our organization. 

Our greatest success: The fact that we’ve been in existence for 134 years and we’re still a family business.

Best advice I ever got: “No” is just the first step to “Yes.”

Quote from our company’s mission statement: We ruthlessly adhere to four core values: Integrity and Ethics, Client-centric Philosophy, Thought Leadership and Social Responsibility. 

On my desk: I keep a 3 x 5 card on my desk that says, “The quality of a leader is reflected in the standard they set for themselves.” I can’t expect anyone to maintain a work ethic that I don’t model daily myself.

Best thing about working in a family business: The ability to launch fresh, entrepreneurial ideas unencumbered by a long, drawn-out hierarchical structure. I like it when people throw out ideas and we can implement them in short order.

Advice for other family business leaders: Even though it’s a 24/7 job, never forget — family first, business second.

On a day off I like to … go fly-fishing, play golf  and do yard work. I love yard work because you’re free to think. Fly-fishing and golf are therapeutic. They relax me and give me time to think.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: I’ve served Big Brothers/Big Sisters as president of the local chapter and a national board member, and my wife has been very involved in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. We’re very active in the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, and I’m on the board of the Philadelphia Police Foundation.

Books I think every family business leader should read: Lincoln on Leadership, by Donald Phillips; Execution, by Larry Bossidy, and Creating Competitive Advantage, by Jaynie Smith.

I realized I had emerged from the previous generation’s when … my parents stopped asking questions about the company at Thanksgiving.

Future succession plans: My son Kyle has been with us 10 years and has largely been running the company for three years. I focus on strategic partnerships and business development and am gradually turning the reins over to Kyle.

Words I live by: In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years. 

Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact    

Article categories: 
July/August 2020

Other Related Articles

  • Ensuring Your Trust Is Exactly as You Plan It — Through Generations

    A trust can serve as one of the most powerful and enduring instruments of your legacy.  Whether providing a financial safety-net for your family or supporting the philanthropic causes that matter...

  • Resolving the rising generation paradox

    Every generation has its defining moments, particularly for the youth who are coming of age. For the Silent Generation, it was the Great Depression and World War II. For Baby Boomers, it was the civil...

  • Yields are near 0%. Why should I own bonds?

    Since 1981, when the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield peaked at over 15%, investors have enjoyed the benefit of holding Treasury bonds in their portfolios. Longer-maturity Treasuries have been the perfect ...

  • Family-owned retail chain stays strong during pandemic

    Robert Matthews (Matt) Beall III’s promotion to CEO of Beall’s Inc., a retailer based in Bradenton, Fla., was announced in December 2019. Just three months later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the ...