Meeting the Challenge of a Founder’s Legacy

July 23, 2020


In recent weeks, our bank has been celebrating the life and achievements of our co-founder Harry Barr who passed away at age 84 on July 9, 2020. Honoring his legacy got me thinking about the immense role family-owned businesses have to the health of our economy. From family farms to Fortune 500 companies, family-owned and family-controlled businesses are responsible for a vast portion of our GDP, millions of jobs and heaps of innovation.

Many of these homegrown businesses are struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 recession. But, as we’ve seen time and again, growth often begins with struggle. As families fight to keep their firms alive, the values of their founders may provide that extra push of encouragement they need to keep going.


In my experience, the strongest companies are those that pay strategic homage to the founding principles of the original builder. In Bank Iowa’s case, Mr. Barr was a man of action and adventure. An adventurous pilot, he translated his love for flying into purpose-filled missions. He flew helicopters in support of the Minuteman missile construction project in the Nebraska panhandle and fought fires in Alaska.


Turning passion into purpose is a value that our bank has intentionally sustained through a variety of programs. We reward team members who actively search for and find opportunity everywhere. And, let me tell you, the drive to hunt for creative solutions has never been more sustaining than it has over the past few months.


Ensuring a founder’s values remain a part of the modern culture calls on those leaders who knew the organization’s very first entrepreneur to emulate the qualities that made him or her successful. Importantly, leaders must also inspire that behavior in others. Our co-founder was quiet, thoughtful and built through teamwork. Those qualities are reflected in the people who lead our corporation today, but also in the people we hire to lead it tomorrow.


Maybe it was the aviator in him, but Mr. Barr always stayed the course. He wasn’t easily discouraged, which was tremendously encouraging to our leadership as we mobilized to help our clients and team members through a pandemic. A steady, encouraging force, Mr. Barr knew just what to say, and more importantly, what to do when the going got tough.


All businesses, but especially financial institutions, will have to make difficult choices in the near future. I’m confident our company will choose to listen more than we speak, advocate for our clients and make decisions with compassion. Because that’s what Mr. Barr would do, and that’s how our 270+ team members will meet the challenge of his legacy.