- In an Isenberg School entrepreneurship class, Tyler and Jean Young worked together on a strategic business plan for Absorbine Jr. Pepper gets free rein to sample their company’s many animal health care products.
Tyler F. Young ’82 is the fourth generation of his family to run W.F. Young, Inc., widely known for its liquid pain reliever, Absorbine Jr. Tyler met Jean McCrum while both enrolled in the Isenberg School of Management; they married soon after earning their degrees in 1982. Today, with Tyler as CEO and Jean as treasurer, W.F. Young in East Longmeadow has changed from a traditional manufacturer of two products to a marketing-driven company with 22 brands, more than 140 products, and annual sales greater than $30 million. Tyler’s UMass Amherst experience helped inspire the company’s transformation and still informs his management style.
Value the Past: Our heritage is important to us. This company was founded in 1892 by my great-grandparents, Wilbur F. and Mary Ida Young. They were working for a piano company using horse-drawn wagons to make deliveries all through the Connecticut River valley, and her job was to maintain these horses. She had herbal remedies for the horse’s sore aching muscles. Mary Ida was a leader in bringing herbal products into the 20th century and it was her husband’s quest to merchandise this product—Absorbine Veterinary Liniment.
Embrace Innovation: W.F. Young has succeeded because each generation re-invented the business. Wilbur and Mary Ida’s son came along and said, “We ought to sell this for humans.” They said, “Good idea, Junior,” and the product became famous as Absorbine Jr.
Start on the Ground Floor: I started here sweeping the factory floors when I was 15. I worked in the warehouse and on the production line. I sat in what was then called the secretarial pool, but I was not much of a typist. My favorite job was running the forklift. Later, I spent summers in a junior executive training program, where I was involved in everything, including sales, marketing, and regulatory and legal affairs.
Discover Your Style: My Dad died suddenly when I was 27, while I was working for an advertising agency in Atlanta. I came back to help run the company. W.F. Young was doing great, but it was a top-down company where a few guys made every decision. There was no team management. I took as much as I could learn from the managers here and began to make changes.
Hire Good People: At UMass Amherst, I learned to surround myself with excellence. Your job as the leader is to hire people who are better than you. I’m not good at detail, so I look for people like Jean who are exceptionally good at detail. We give our managers vision, remove obstacles, provide resources, then leave them alone. Knowing what people are good at and using good planning and goal-setting will get you where you need to be.
Listen and Learn: They call me the master triangulator. I’ll go out and talk to three different people and listen intently and decide what I think fits and then make a move.
Change with the Times: When I became CEO, W.F. Young was a manufacturing company. We decided to become a virtual marketing company. It was a tough decision to make, but we shut down our factory 10 years ago and now we outsource all manufacturing and concentrate on marketing and sales. We look to acquire companies with solid brands that are struggling, that need new systems and processes. We’ve become a much bigger animal health care than human health care company.
Get Out of the Office: I travel with sales reps, go to trade shows and work the booth, talk to old friends in the industry. One of the things we saw out there is how energy costs were affecting the business and our customers, especially those who travel frequently to horse shows. In 2007, we bought a lower-priced brand of horse care products to appeal to those owners who are feeling pinched.
Call on Your Alma Mater: We know the value of access to the talent and information available at UMass Amherst. We’ve hired many interns and worked with business students and with equestrian students. We consult with campus pain specialists on our products and with a UMass Amherst herbalist to look at the efficacy of the original Absorbine formula. We’ve been active in the UMass Amherst Family Business Center.
Nurture Your UMass Amherst Links: My niece, Jaime Devine McKinley ’02G, has worked for W.F. Young for 16 years. She’s a driving force in expanding the company. She got her MBA at UMass Amherst and she’s currently vice president of new business development.
My sister, Jamie Young, is a successful artist and also consults for us designing and developing products. Jamie went to the Stockbridge School for horse husbandry back in the 1970s. She’s the queen of Absorbine Veterinary Liniment.
Look Ahead: I’m now 49 years old and I’ve been CEO for 20 years. I can see ahead to my departure and I’m grooming the next generation to take the company forward, trying to teach them not to hang on to my strategies. Family companies that don’t transition well don’t survive. You need to ensure that the older generation has the financial stability to step aside completely, and then you can move on without all the complications that can arise because of family relationships.
Have a Sense of Humor: When my great-grandparents decided to market Absorbine they went to Wilbur’s father, Charles Young, for a $400 loan. He thought they were foolish to give up their piano delivery business, so he said, “I’ll give you the money as long as you put the initials P.D.F. on the bottle.” My Dad always told us that stood for “proprietary drug formula.” The truth is, it means “papa’s darn fool.” We’re considering bringing that back on our packaging.