For George M. Hiller, Jr., following in his father’s footsteps has been more than a career choice; it has been a way of life for as long as he can remember. His father, George M. Hiller, Sr., is the founder and owner of the highly regarded George M. Hiller Companies, a nationally recognized financial services group based on Christian principles and specializing in private wealth management. They work with individuals, families, and charitable foundations, and their clients range from all-star athletes and award-winning musicians to best-selling authors and prominent speakers across the country. The eldest son of Mr. Hiller, George Jr., 31, has been working at the company for nine years and currently serves as Vice President.
George Jr.’s passion for financial matters started long before he joined the firm, and his father cultivated in him a keen knowledge of economics from a very young age. “As a kid growing up, I genuinely enjoyed being with my dad and was interested in imitating him and learning about what he did,” says George. “I’d tag along to the office on the weekends or accompany my dad on his trips for client supplies and ask my fill of questions. I had such exposure to the business from an early age and plenty of opportunities to learn from my father as I was growing up, that working in the field of finance and investing always seemed natural to me.” By the time he entered college at Samford University, George Jr. knew that he wanted to join the firm and wasted no time getting involved, graduating on a Saturday and showing up for work the following Monday.
George also believes his financial leanings are hereditary. His great-grandfather, George Howell Mew, for whom George Jr. was named, served the Atlanta community in a financial capacity through his role as Treasurer of Emory University, a position he held for 40 years. “I’ve come to the understanding that my instinctual inclination towards finance must have been stitched into my genetics,” says George.
Today, George Jr. plays a prominent role in the company, and his many responsibilities range from client development to overall firm strategy and management. “The most rewarding aspect of working alongside my father in business is the shared sense of purpose we can have together,” says George. “It is wonderful to pursue a common mission, to set similar goals, and to have the chance as the first-born son to honor my father through the diligent application of the skills he’s taught me and the knowledge I’ve acquired from him.”
George acknowledges the numerous practical challenges which arise when working with his dad. “When things don’t go as planned in the office, I find myself having to defend my decisions and it can be quite intimidating to approach my father,” he said. “In relating to my dad there seems to constantly exist – subtly lurking beneath the surface – this ever present psychologically combustible mixture of love and fear, intimacy and distance, dependency and rebellion. The line where respect and authority clash with my drive to assert myself and establish independence and identity can be tough to navigate.” George understands that this dynamic would likely be in place regardless, but says that working closely together in business adds multiple layers of complexity. “We need to be careful to not allow the trials and the stresses of running the business to spill over into our personal relationship as father and son.”
In addition to working with his dad, George also shares his name, something he considers a special burden but also unique privilege. “As a kid I was so proud to have my father’s name and be a junior, but then I realized that my sister and younger brother had it easier,” recalls George. “They had their own names and reputations to worry about, while I was carrying around mine and his. Carrying his name was different than simply being part of the family… I knew that the world would always associate me with him, and like it or not, I was responsible for his reputation.” George admits that he sometimes feels pressure to live up to his dad’s reputation. “I’ve inherited my dad’s name and I am a carrier of his legacy,” he explains. “At times I sense that I have been charged with the task of working towards a vision that began with my dad, and there is an element of unspoken expectations that comes with that assignment.
As we approach Father’s Day, I asked George five questions about his relationship with his father:
RM: What is the most important lesson you have learned from your dad?
GHjr: The most important lesson I have learned from my dad is the importance of faithfulness. When I was in college – away from home – I began to realize how much I was benefiting from my father’s faithfulness. In the nine years we’ve been working together, I’ve been able to observe my dad’s faithfulness up close – through his devotion to my mother and my family in 33 years of marriage, in his 28 years of dedicated service to our clients and employees and, most importantly, by his persevering commitment to honor the Lord throughout his life and work. Although in business and in personal matters there are those inevitable instances when I disagree with a decision he’s made or a course of action he wants to pursue, I draw real comfort from my knowledge that deep down inside he is always striving to be faithful to Christ. A verse of Scripture that relates to my dad’s character is Proverbs 20:6 – “Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?” (NIV)
RM: What is the one thing you think people would be surprised to learn about your dad?
GHjr: That, once in a while, my dad will get mad at me. Over the years friends and acquaintances have asked me a recurring question, “Does your dad ever get angry with you?” The answer is yes. It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then he’ll air his grievances and let me have it. I probably deserve it. I think people are surprised to hear this because my father has such a gentle and tenderhearted spirit. Though those rare heated conversations definitely aren’t pleasant, over time I’ve actually come to view our challenging exchanges in a positive light. I’ve seen how those emotionally charged confrontations can refine our relationship by providing a constructive outlet which leads to greater mutual respect, understanding, and deeper bonding. Usually, after several days have passed and the tension has settled, we will have another heart-to-heart conversation and my dad will say, “Sorry I was so hard on you, son. Sometimes you’re the only person I have who I can really confide in.”
RM: When you were a kid did you envision that you would play such an integral role in the company?
GHjr: Yes. Perhaps a quick story from my early childhood presents an illustrative example. In the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan assumed the Presidency amidst an environment in which U.S. marginal tax rates that had reached as high as 70%, 30 year treasury bonds were yielding over 15%, and Americans were faced with the challenges of nearly a decade of high unemployment and economic stagnation, my father liked to entertain his friends by involving me in the table conversation. My dad taught me how to respond to certain questions. He would say, “George Jr., What’s wrong with the economy?” To which my two-year-old self would dutifully reply, “Inflation!” And then of course everyone would laugh and shower me with compliments. Thus it came to be that from the days just past my infancy I was on a path to follow in my father’s footsteps.
RM: Can you share any memorable reactions from encounters when people have realized you are George Hiller’s son?
GHjr: An encounter that comes to mind is the first time I met Andy Stanley (son of Dr. Charles Stanley) back in July 2008, when a group of social entrepreneurs gathered in Atlanta to outline a plan for the Passion Conferences Global Tour. I was standing in the entrance corridor of the house talking with Chris Tomlin when his friend Andy Stanley walked up, so I introduced myself. “Hi Andy, I’m George Hiller,” I said. “Your name sounds so familiar,” Andy replied. “Well, this is the first time we’ve met but I’m actually managing money for your kids,” I told him. Andy reeled back as his quizzical look turned into a startled mixture of amusement and surprise. We talked for several minutes and shared a most delightful conversation, and Andy invited me to spend more time with him in the future which was very meaningful. I think when Andy realized I was George Hiller’s son, it helped me find favor in his eyes and I was thankful.
Another reason why the events of that day in 2008 are etched in my memory is because I had just arrived at this gathering after attending a reception with President George W. Bush at a private residence less than a mile away. It was the last time “W.” would visit Georgia as President, and a violent thunderstorm had just howled through the neighborhood. The first time I met George W. Bush was in January 2004. I introduced President Bush to my father and he put his arms around us and said, “Three Georges!” On that day in 2004, my father and I were with Andy’s dad Charles. I see a parallel in the lives of George H. W. Bush and his son George W. that relates to Charles Stanley and his son Andy. For me, both of those men represent living models of a son pursuing a calling in a similar sphere as his father – standing on his father’s shoulders – and impacting our world on a grand stage.
RM: What encouragement or advice you can offer fathers and sons as we approach Father’s Day?
GHjr: My advice is to encourage each other. There are times when it can be tough to understand one another and give each other grace, and it can be real hard to seek forgiveness. Learn to treasure this truly special relationship and be grateful for all the shared experiences. Persevere in your loyalty and commitment to one another – through all the moments of happiness and despair, difficulty and pain, trials and joys – because the Father-Son journey is a real-life adventure. It’s a true privilege and a tremendous blessing!
Check out the rest of our Father’s Day series on the Faith & Family Channel: