At the Helm: Sean Reilly

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the CEO of Lamar Advertising Company, Baton Rouge, La.

Generation of family ownership: Fourth.

Revenue: Approximately $1.5 billion.

Number of employees: About 3,500.

Years with the company: Forty since starting part-time. After law school, 27 full-time.

First job at this company: Hand-painting billboards. On a sign such as "Holiday Inn this exit," I'd fill in the white spaces between the letters.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: There are two. One was the golden rule: Treat others as you'd like to be treated, and the rest will take care of itself. The other was to leave everything better than you found it. That could be the company, your community, your country or, frankly, the kitchen.

Most memorable thing I learned from my mother: How to put myself in another person's place and empathize with where they are.

Best thing about this job: The individuals I get to work with every day. We look after and support each other. It's great to work with people who are good at what they do but who also are supportive and can laugh and love.

Our greatest successes: We've had several. We went public in 1996 and completed one of our largest transactions when we bought Chancellor Outdoor in 1999. It made us one of the largest players in the outdoor advertising business. Following that, we pioneered the use of digital advertising in out-of-home [ads that reach consumers outside their homes]. Finally, we did a reconversion in 2014 and became a real estate investment trust.

Quote from our company's mission statement: Again, treat others as you'd like to be treated and the rest will take care of itself, and leave everything better than you found it. We talk about those all the time.

On my wall: The kind of things you'd expect from a company that has been around 114 years—artifacts from the billboard industry like two framed billboard sections that were painted 20, 40 and 80 years ago. They've been scraped and repainted and painted again. I also have old brushes and hooks used by the guys who hung from the billboards to paint them.

One of my greatest accomplishments: I've been involved in all our milestones.

Best thing about working in a family business: Carrying on a corporate culture that is successful and family-oriented. We like to think there's a different feel about us. Even though we have 3,500 employees, just about all of them would say that.

Worst thing about working in a family business: My brother was CEO before me, when the family business was private, which can be difficult because of issues such as who gets to work in the family business and how profits are distributed. Being public crystallizes things. Because I'm CEO of a public company, there has been no downside.

My advice for other family business leaders: Stay true to your family values.

On a day off I like to. . . Fly fish. I also play tennis two or three times a week.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: We donate hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising space to [organizations in] the more than 200 communities we serve around the country, including the United Way and the Red Cross. We allow our local general managers to donate to causes the community feels are important. We also support educational initiatives, such as City Year, a youth service corps that does mentoring in schools across the country. My wife was a co-founder.

Books I think every family business leader should read: Business leaders need to be well-read, so I wouldn't point to a single book or genre. The job is more than just business. I'm reading from Bill Gates' list, including Seveneves, a sci-fi apocalyptic thriller by Neal Stephenson, and Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari.

I realized I had emerged from the previous generation's shadow when. . . I believe I always will stand on the shoulders of others. If you think like that, you're never in a shadow.

Future succession plans: We're not ready to talk about those.

Words I live by: I defer to my father's memorable sayings (see above).

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

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May/June 2017

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