By Paul Carter
Mark Willes: the Career, the Controversy, the Compassion, and the Candor
PROVO, UTAH -- In his 59 years, Mark Hinckley Willes has shaped a
high profile, successful career for himself. His has been the kind of
career which many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints would see as a model for balancing success with church and
family responsibilities and which, next month takes a typical LDS
turn for a successful executive: a three-year missionary assignment,
when Mark Willes reports to serve as President of the Honolulu Hawaii
The story of the career of Mark Willes begins with his graduation
from West High School in Salt Lake City. He was accepted to Columbia
College in New York City where, by his own admission, his performance
in his first two years of study was less than stellar.
He actually pondered leaving the highly competitive school,but as Mr.
Willes says, "There was no way I was going to let that schoolbeat me.
My last two years, I was a straight-A student, and I went on to get a
PhD there. It was good for me to know that I could compete in that
After seven years in New York and armed with a doctorate degree, Mark
Willes was hired by the Wharton School of the University of
Pennsylvania to be an assistant professor of finance. In this
capacity, he also consulted to the Federal Reserve Bank of
Philadelphia. He left teaching to work for the Federal Reserve Bank
full-time and became first vice president of the Philadelphia bank.
The Federal Reserve transferred Mr. Willes and his family to
Minneapolis, where he became the youngest person to serve as
president of a district bank. From that position, he was recruited by
General Mills as Vice President of Finance in 1980 and over the
course of the next 15 years was promoted to President and Chief
Operating Officer, then to vice-Chairman of the company.
In describing his friend's success, Dr. Gary Browning, who chairs the
BYU Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and knew Mark Willes
from his years in Pennsylvania says, "Brother Willes represents a
rare combination of exceptional intelligence together with humility
and warmth. His natural gifts attract people to him."
From Minneapolis, Mark Willes was recruited and hired as CEO of Times
Mirror Company in Los Angeles in 1995. As a "cereal company
executive" running a journalism empire, he was looked upon
skeptically by the press. He brought some bold ideas from his
background in finance and economics to Times Mirror and the markets
reacted for the most part favorably to his direction. His 5 years at
the helm of Times Mirror saw the company's stock rise in price from
$18 to over $70, then fall to about $50. However, when Times Mirror
was sold to Tribune Company of Chicago in mid-2000, the merger was
the largest ever in the publishing industry and the sale put the
value of the shares of Times Mirror company at $95 each for a total
company value of $6.5 billion.
Concerns were raised, however, during these years regarding the
breakdown of the "wall" between the editorial department of Times
Mirror and the business department. In particular, a decision by the
LA Times to produce a special section to publicize the Staples Center
sports arena, and share the profits from the section's advertising
with the arena brought cries of "conflict of interest" from
Mr. Willes spoke at a BYU Forum during this past year and offered,
"We certainly did make mistakes. When we did, we moved quickly to
take responsibility for them, fix them, and move on." He further
commented that, "To be successful in business, you must take risks.
You must try new things. It is inevitable that some of your efforts
will fail. But if you don't try, you won't learn. If you don't learn,
you won't succeed."
Now in this past year after leaving Times Mirror, Mr.Willes' career
has come full circle. Out of college, he began as a professor at a
business school -- Wharton. For the past academic year he has held a
position as a visiting distinguished professor of finance at BYU's
Marriott School. He had several other offers, but, about making the
decision to come to BYU, Mr. Willes says, "I thought, 'If I'm going
to go back to the academic world, why don't I go to a place where I
really care about what they do?"
During his career, Mark Willes has served thousands in both his
business and Church responsibilities. He has worked as hard at
maintaining his family relationships as he has worked at his career.
He has been open to sharing what insights he has gained in his
success with those around him. Seek guidance through prayer, he
counsels. "If it takes a tremendous amount of effort to be
successful, it's an incredible help to know that you are doing what
the Lord wants you to do," he says.
And "do" is critical. "If you want to succeed professionally, you
have to exercise the tools and talents the Lord has given you. He
won't do it for you."
Mark Willes Ahead of the Times
Marriott School Magazine Summer01 B2
By Edward L. Carter