Caroline Lindley (BSBA ’14, MBA ’17) has returned to her roots – roots that grow deep in the Carolina soil thanks to her family business and two UNC Kenan-Flagler degrees.
Lindley is vice president of sales and marketing at Lindley Mills, an organic, specialty flour mill and mix manufacturer in Graham, North Carolina, that serves bakers, processors, distributors and restaurants. It’s known for its revolutionary Super Sprout™ Sprouted Whole Grain Wheat Flour which has improved flavor, nutrition and digestibility compared to traditional whole wheat flours.
Lindley Mills was established in 1755 – decades before there was a United States of America – and remained in the family through the mid-1800s. It had several owners after that, but was purchased and restored by the founder’s direct descendants and current owners in 1976.
Today, Caroline and her parents operate the mill in the same place where – more than 260 years ago – their ancestors first ground their community’s grain into flour for the first time.
However, Lindley wasn’t always sure she would end up working in the family business.
Part of her career exploration began during her Undergraduate Business Program studies and involvement with the Family Enterprise Center at UNC Kenan-Flagler. She applied valuable lessons she learned in the Family Business courses at Lindley Mills, and had meaningful conversations with her parents about the future of their business.
“During the classes you create a life plan and think about contributing to your family business, while also analyzing its opportunities and future,” says Lindley. “I benefited greatly from the community of students considering similar choices within their family firms. Listening to each other’s stories was a great way to apply our newly acquired knowledge and consider the impact we could make on our own family businesses in the future.”
After graduating, she opted for outside work experience at Credit Suisse in the international loan operations settlement group. While she valued her corporate experiences, she ultimately decided to return to UNC Kenan-Flagler to earn her MBA so she could turn her talents to helping her family business expand.
She again tapped the Family Enterprise Center’s resources and network and connected with her professors and center co-founders Cooper Biersach and Steve Miller to explore the opportunities in her business and identify ways to succeed as a next-generation family business leader.
Lindley capitalized on the many networking opportunities offered by the Family Enterprise Center, often using visiting speakers as sounding boards for her ideas for Lindley Mills. She served as the president of the MBA Family Business Club, which brings together family business students to talk about the opportunities and challenges that arise when family, business and ownership are combined.
During her MBA studies, she identified marketing and sales as a need in the Lindley Mills’ long-term strategy, and interned at The Biltmore Company where she learned from a world-class marketing team and further refined her skills by working with their exceptionally loyal customers.
Women in many family businesses have unique challenges, and Lindley joined the Women in Family Business peer group to meet and learn from successful businesswomen. She still interacts with Kathryn Howlett (BA’08, MBA ’14) – who shared her experiences working for Beacon Properties & Investments – and Laura Quinn (MBA ’14), and continues to participate in the group which today also includes undergraduates interested in family business.
While an MBA student, she also worked with NCGrowth, a center at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise that helps businesses and communities create good jobs and equitable opportunities, and stays connected today as a Kenan Scholar Mentor, partnering with students to provide guidance and business insights. She is also helping the Family Enterprise Center design an on-going research panel to answer some of the tough questions that keep family business owners up at night.
After graduating with her MBA and returning to Lindley Mills full time she finds no two days are the same. At any time she can be called on to work on finance, social media marketing strategies, e-commerce, sales and even lab analysis.
She advises individuals working in their family businesses to be “open minded, humble and respectful,” and follow the Family Enterprise Center’s advice “not to go back to your family business and be the person trying to fix everything right away. Take time to listen and learn from the people who have been there.”
She’s also worked at a high level on the long term strategy for the company. “I've dipped my toe into almost every part of the business. I've learned so much and gained experience that I would have had to wait decades for in a company that wasn’t my family business,” she says. “I feel as if I’ve made a difference for our customers and our employees, and I am so excited to get the space and tools we need to be more efficient with our expansion.”
Along her career journey, Lindley has made the most out of every opportunity.
“I am so lucky to get to go to work with my family and so many of our employees who feel like family every day,” she says. “Each day is different and the puzzles change as fast as you can solve them. The bar for producing high-quality flour is always rising and I enjoy the fast-paced environment and the satisfaction of providing our customers with an excellent ingredient for their bakeries. I'm looking forward to the changes our new facility will bring and am so excited for the future of our family business.”