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Sent on Mormon-News: 13Jun01

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 mission.

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 environment."

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 journalists.

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


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