At the Helm: Paul Darley

A few minutes with the president and CEO of W.S. Darley, Itasca, Ill.

A few minutes with Paul Darley, president and CEO of W.S. Darley in Itasca, Ill.

By Patricia Olsen

Generation of family ownership: Third generation at the helm with some owners in the fourth generation.

Company revenues: $185 million (2016).

Number of employees: 240.

Years with the company: 32 full-time.

First job at this company: Cleaning the shop and offices on the weekends.

At what age? 8 or 9. After that I double-checked envelopes to make sure invoices and checks had been removed. I had to cut the stamp off to show I had done it. I emptied garbage cans, swept the floor and even cleaned out the water tank we used to test fire engines. You know you're at the bottom of the totem pole when you clean the test tank. At age 12 I moved into the office, making collection calls and working on equipment orders.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: Customer service at all costs. Make sure you delight the customer, and treat people the way you'd want to be treated.

Most memorable thing I learned from my mother: Help others. Reach out to them in their times of need. They will remember it.

Best thing about this job: Our Team Darley employees have a high sense of purpose because we contribute to society by supporting war fighters and firefighters.

Our greatest success: The ability to attract, retain and grow talented people while still having a large number of family members on board.

Best advice I ever got: First, if there's something that someone else can be doing just as well or better than you, then you should be delegating that task, particularly if they're not being paid as much as you. Even today, if I find myself doing something more than once or doing something that's not high-level, I delegate it. Next, monitor employee engagement and address issues quickly. Lastly, cash is king.

Quote from our company's mission statement: To passionately serve the world's first responder and tactical communities by providing high-quality, safe and innovative products with unmatched commitment and service.

On my wall: One of the original Army Navy E Awards (E for excellence) given to our company three times during World War II for helping equip the Department of Defense with fire trucks and fire pumps. We built hundreds of trucks and thousands of pumps during this time for the military.

Two of my greatest accomplishments: One, having a smooth succession plan from our second to third generations. Two, the way in which our team has worked together to land several major orders that were game-changers for our company.

Best thing about working in a family business: Working with the family.

My mentor: Jim Liautaud, a successful businessman who handpicked nine CEOs and mentored us over a five-year period. He taught us the importance of emotional intelligence.

My advice for other family business leaders: Overcommunicate, be transparent and don't get greedy. I've seen so many family businesses fall apart because a family member gets greedy.

On a day off I like to. . . golf, hunt, fish or work. On days when the weather is bad, I enjoy being in the office. I like to say I've never worked a day in my life because of the passion my family members and I have for the business.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: We have a formal social responsibility plan in place and a Darley foundation. We support over 250 charities annually. Currently we're making a concerted effort to give back to the communities we serve, whether that's firefighting or the military. The Special Operations Warrior Foundation (specialops.org), which pays for college for the children of Special Operations Forces service members killed while on duty, is also important to us.

I realized I had emerged from the previous generation's shadow when. . . My father was an incredible man, and even though he hasn't been to the office in about 10 years, I feel honored to always be in his shadow.

Future succession plans: We don't have a formal plan in place yet, but we spend a lot of time grooming the fourth generation and preparing them and other non-family members for leadership roles.

Words I live by: Work hard, play hard and give back.

Copyright 2017 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 bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

Article categories: 
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Issue: 
September/October 2017

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