At the Helm: Patricia Walllwork

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the chairman and CEO of Milo's Tea Co., Birmingham, Ala.

Generation of family ownership: Third.

Revenue: More than $135 million.

Number of employees: Over 500.

Years with the company: 16.

First job at this company: In high school, I worked in the plant washing crates and buckets by hand and loading jugs on the line. After college, law school and working as a civil defense attorney, I came back to Milo’s as the vice president and general counsel in 2004.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: Everyone deserves the same respect, no matter whether they are the janitor or the chairman of the board.

Most memorable thing I learned from my stepmother: In a family business, it’s okay to sometimes have a “hissy fit.”  

Best thing about this job: Having the opportunity to continue our family’s legacy while making the lives of our associates, customers and consumers sweeter one sip at a time. 

Best advice I ever got: What matters is the outcome, not whether you are right. I wish I had learned that at a much younger age.

Quote from our company’s mission statement: Consistently manufacture, market and produce the highest-quality teas and other natural beverages in the world. 

Memento in my office: Shovel from the groundbreaking of our new plant currently being built in Tulsa, Okla. 

One of my greatest accomplishments: The opportunity to build our regional tea company into the fastest growing, #1-selling tea item in the U.S. grocery channel through a highly engaged and dedicated team working in a family culture. Other highlights include building out an independent board of directors and codifying our corporate responsibility programing, including a 1% giving-back promise, diversity and inclusion programming, and being a zero-waste manufacturer.

Best thing about working in a family business: Continuing your grandparents’ and parents’ legacy while layering on the next generation’s vision for the future of the organization. 

Worst thing about working in a family business: Knowing your family’s legacy and that of the hundreds of associates that dedicate themselves to your mission and strategy depend on you.

My advice for other family business leaders: Exceptional governance with a matching cadence is the key to providing non-employee family shareholders the ability to remain engaged, while giving employee-shareholders and the leadership team the roadmap for success for all stakeholders. 

On a day off: Exercise and reading are my daily outlets, but for real decompression I like to travel to far-flung destinations with my family to remind me how big, diverse and exciting the world and life are. 

Philanthropic causes our family supports: Through “Milo’s Makes a Difference” programming, we focus on women/children/education and environmental stewardship. Personally, we support the arts, the humane treatment of animals and causes to break the cycle of poverty.   
Books I think every family business leader should read: On the family business front, Keep the Family Baggage Out of the Family Business, by Quentin Fleming. My go-to business books are Good to Great, by Jim Collins; Scaling Up, by Verne Harnish; and The Metronome Effect, by Shannon Byrne Susko, our strategic planning coach. On leadership, I think all the Patrick Lencioni books are great to read with your team. 

Future succession plans: Our G4 are all still quite young, so we are just beginning this important process.

Words I live by: Trust and honest communication are the most important elements of any successful relationship.

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: 
March/April 2020


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