How Sean Reilly, CEO of Lamar Advertising Company (Nasdaq: LAMR), Continues to Build a Company Created in 1902
By Laura A. Roser
“I’m forth generation working at Lamar,” said Sean Reilly in his charming Louisiana accent. The company was originally founded by his mother’s grandfather back in 1902 and is now one of the largest outdoor advertising companies in North America, with more than 325,000 displays across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. “I consider it my responsibility to pass this legacy on,” he continued.
But Sean didn’t start as a Lamar executive. When Sean was 25, he was elected to become part of the Louisiana state legislature which he served on for 8 years. He recommends that everyone should get involved in improving their local community in one way or another. You can definitely see how Sean’s care for social issues has carried on with his leadership at Lamar.
“We try to live by the golden rule at Lamar,” Mr. Reilly said. Lamar focuses on leaving every community better than they found it. This is certainly evident with Lamar’s giving back programs. They offer various community-building initiatives from adding green-energy-producing windmills to their billboards to using their outdoor displays and digital advertising to help find missing persons or alert residents about hurricanes or other disasters.
One experience that stood out for Sean was how Lamar helped people during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, the number 1 and number 3 most devastating storms to hit America in its recent history. “I live in Baton Rouge,” Sean said, “and so we were some of the first responders and I’m really proud of what Lamar did to help the people.” As an example, many homes were destroyed—roofs were ripped out, houses were flooded, the interior was ruined.
When it came to rebuilding, many people would clean out their homes and make repairs, but their roofs were still ruined and it was going to take a long time for FEMA to get there. So, Lamar donated the vinyl they use for billboards to temporarily repair the roofs and give people a dry place to stay while they waited for help. Lamar did this all over the south east, Sean recalls, including Mississippi, Florida and other places the hurricanes destroyed.
Passing on a Culture of Giving
“One of the hardest parts about keeping our family’s business legacy alive,” said Sean, “is transferring our culture to new companies that are acquired to become a part of the Lamar brand.” Sean says he spends much of his time traveling around the country speaking to new employees about Lamar’s golden rule philosophy.
“What about other issues with a multi-generational business?” I asked. “Like systems being hard to change or too much bureaucracy from thinking of the past?”
“Oh, we don’t have any of those problems,” Sean stated. “We are one of the most cutting-edge companies you’ll find. That’s how we’ve grown so fast over the years.” It seems Mr. Reilly and his family have figured out how to break out of the shirt-sleeves-to-shirt-sleeves cycle you see many family-held businesses go through in which the money is completely gone by the third generation. Sean, his two brothers and his sister have all been involved in the current success of the company. Some employees are second or third generation workers as well. It’s like a big family and the plan is to keep it going strong for many more generations to come.
Sean believes much of his success as a leader and father has to do with focus. “My wife and I are constantly serving out in the community. It makes a big impact on our children.” His kids are still teenagers and I asked him if they planned to take on the family company legacy and work at Lamar. “It’s really too early to tell,” he said. But the careers his children select are of little consequence to Sean. What matters to him is their character. “I’m very proud about how grounded they are,” he said.
As well as serving the community, spending time with his family and working at Lamar, Sean is a news junkie— reading 2 to 3 newspapers each morning—and loves classic rock.
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Sean Eugene Reilly is the Chief Executive Officer of Lamar Advertising Company (Nasdaq: LAMR) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. A native of Baton Rouge, Reilly graduated in 1979 from Episcopal High School in Baton Rouge and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with both Bachelor of Arts (1984) magna cum laude and Juris Doctor (1989) degrees. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife and three children. www.lamar.com