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Leaders get good visibility at Mudd

What makes a great family business leader? This is a question with no correct answer, and different times call for different types of leadership. Mary Kay Mudd (pictured), director of new business development at her family's business, Mudd Advertising, and a member of the Family Business Network's Next Generation Committee, says she can identify two types of leadership within her own family.

Mary Kay's father Jim Mudd started Mudd Advertising in the late 1970s. "Our business started in a repressed economy in Iowa in the early 1980s. There was no reason it should have taken off – none," she says.

It was her father's leadership style and spirit to which she attributes the company's early success. "His excitement and enthusiasm is not easily tempered, even when people tell him something is not going to work.

He is really positive and optimistic, sometimes when it is not even appropriate, but if you don't have that it is hard to get people motivated or excited. Without his attitude nothing would have happened," she explains.

These specific qualities enabled the business to develop and grow into the international company it is today. Now Mary Kay works with five of her siblings in the business, which, understandably, provides challenges of its own.

"Within our family multiple leaders have surfaced as opposed to just one. And of course working with my siblings has caused conflict. Everyone has some similar skills but then lots of different ones too and we also have different visions – these are all the challenges we face and try to address. We have annual family meetings and we also use some third parties to help us with conflict resolution, they are trusted business associates and friends."

Jim Mudd no longer has an operational role within the business, although he remains involved on an advisory level. Mary Kay outlines the leadership structure the family has developed as her and her siblings' progress within the company. "My eldest brother Jim Jr is the CEO and beyond that we are all on a fairly equal footing in terms of leadership, but we have very different roles."

She goes on to explain what she sees as the key differences between what is needed of leaders today, within her generation, compared to in her parents' generation.

"Leadership today requires a different sort of personality and thought process. Things are changing so quickly and there are lots of challenges being thrown at you all at once. You need to be focused on the future, ready to move quickly and be able to think outside your current geography, because everything today is global."

Jim Jr has a very different leadership style to his father but, as Mary Kay stated, this is necessary to ensuring the business survives through the current difficult and ever-changing economic conditions.

"My eldest brother is very judicious in terms of words and thoughts. He is very focused on the bottom line – thank God because who knows where we would be if he wasn't. If you were to meet him you might think he doesn't seem like a leader but he is and he is really what has helped our business progress and move on."

The example of her brother and other members of her family has helped shape Mary Kay's views on the nature of leadership.

"There are people who have leadership qualities and they may lay dormant for a long time until you learn and gain some maturity. There are some hidden leaders too – I can see that in my own business. Leadership comes in different forms, I think if you don't have any sort of leadership qualities its unlikely you can train or teach someone, but if you can spot them in a person and they can be fostered and developed," she concludes emphatically. 

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