For nearly a decade, I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Maureen Beal, the third-generation owner and chairman and CEO of National Van Lines, the national company whose brand is synonymous with “moving.” Maureen, who began as a teen switchboard operator at the company and then in 1993 took the helm after her father’s death, is now retiring.

In July 2010, we helped Maureen, then 70 years old, secure the future of her family’s business, the careers of over 100 employees and her grandfather’s legacy. Over the course of this transaction, we became fast friends.

We sat down recently over lunch so Maureen – who has been awarded many industry and professional honors including the Moving and Storage Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Service – could chat about her career, her firm’s ESOP and her plans ahead.

Q: For our readers, can you recap how National Van Lines became an ESOP company?

Maureen: In 2011, my family sold our company to a 100 percent ESOP-owned S-Corp., delivering an ownership and liquidity succession plan that didn’t disrupt the culture or the employees while also providing tax savings, improved employee benefits and financial flexibility.

Q: Looking back at the formation and launch of the ESOP, what might you do differently if you were planning it today? 

Maureen: I wouldn’t do anything differently because it all went so smoothly. With all the thought and pre-planning involved, the solution we crafted met our goals and aspirations.

Q: What are you proudest of as it relates to the ESOP?

Maureen: The ESOP realized a dream our family had since its founding, because we have always considered our employees as family. I’m proudest that all of our employees ran with my dream for what National Van Lines could become and have been by my side all this time. Nothing makes me more pleased than knowing they have the opportunity and power to continue our company after I’m gone.

Q: In what way has the company’s growth since 2011 reflected the benefits and features of the ESOP structure?

Maureen: More of a camaraderie exists today among employees than before the ESOP. It’s interesting that when we hire employees, many are “wowed” when they discover the company is employee-owned.

Q: Does anything concern you about the company’s future as an ESOP?  

Maureen: Because I’m still around, I don’t think our employees fully realize they are the owners. When I’m retired, they will better understand this – that it’s their company, not mine.

Q: You and National Van Lines have long given back to the community in many ways. How has the ESOP contributed to that community involvement?

Maureen: I have long believed that the corporate community has to give back. Giving back promotes teamwork within the company, as does the ESOP structure. Since 2014, Aspire of Illinois has been one of our official charities, serving children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families. One of my favorite things is assisting with its drive to get Christmas presents wrapped for Aspire group homes. Our people bring in tons of presents, including for residents who no longer have family to share Christmas with, and this generosity of the human spirit amazes me.

National Van Lines employees donating gifts to Aspire

Q: What advice would you give the countless business owners contemplating retirement and facing a dilemma about the future of their business, as you did? 

Maureen: Make plans early on to find the best person and connection to lead your company and continue its vision and values. It can prove hard to find the right person. A family business reflects hard-working and wonderful people, and the key is to align these hard-working people under the leadership of someone who fits. I feel fortunate that we had that right person who was already a National Van Lines veteran, Tim Helenthal, who is our president and chief operating officer.

Q: The identities of many CEOs of family businesses are bound up in their business. As the CEO of a successful family business, how do you view your responsibility?  

Maureen: A retiring CEO needs to detach and allow the successor to be CEO. I will still be a board member, and in that capacity, I will do everything I can to ensure he does well. Tim has an opportunity to run the company differently as it becomes more data- and-technology-driven, among other things. He will drive it and be responsible for our employees, drivers and agents.  This is exciting for everyone at National Van Lines and a source of great pride for me.

Q: How will National Van Lines still be part of your life?

Maureen: My brother and I will continue as board members. You can be sure I’ll attend the annual Christmas party, the summer picnic and retirement lunches. Nothing will make me happier than go to a board of directors’ meeting and see that all is working well. I’ll be like a proud grandma.

As for Maureen, a classic country music fan who has touched and inspired countless people in her storied 60-plus-year career, we echo the lyrics from Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish” to capture our own wishes for your retirement:

I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow,
And each road leads you where you want to go.
And if you’re faced with a choice, and you have to choose,
I hope you choose the one that means the most to you.