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The importance of values in a family business


Leah Wong Ashburn (UNC ’92) and her father, Oscar Wong

6 million bottles of beer on the wall, 6 million bottles of beer… That’s the number of beers Highland Brewing Company, headed by Leah Wong Ashburn (UNC ’92), brews every year. In 1994, the Highland Brewing company was founded by Leah’s father, Oscar Wong, who always had his daughter in mind for succession.

Although she and her family have achieved such a massive volume, Leah will not stop until the Highland Gaelic Ale is the standard ale throughout the Southeast. “If, when someone ordered an ale, the bartender got them a Highland Gaelic Ale, I would retire right then and there,” she says.

To achieve her goal, Leah is focused on three key areas:

Leah believes that the best way to communicate a new message to her employees or to people outside the business is by sharing examples of how the business  conducts itself. By telling a story, her audience gets the message and the spirit of the message without having to use overly complex, redundant terminology – everyone understands a story.

Long-term vision
A long-term vision allows Highland Brewing Company to make decisions that could get blemished by short-sighted shareholders in a publicly-traded firm. In order to communicate this vision, Leah put up a magnetic board where she and employees post major projects they want to accomplish in support of their long-term vision and strategy. This living document and timeline, helps Highland Brewing get key stakeholders to buy in to their vision and helps ensure they accomplish their goals.

Communicating values
When you ask about the values of Highland Brewing, Leah immediately rattles off the three keys to the company’s success:  “Honesty, Respect, and Integrity”. Not only are these qualities integral to Leah’s professional life but also to her personal life. Whenever she tells a story, she always tries to weave these qualities into the narrative. By communicating her values, she can connect with customers and as Leah says, “Grab a Beer and Do Good.”

By Brendon Gallagher (BSBA ’15)

The Family Enterprise Center prepares next generation family business students for leadership and ownership in family firms.