Charles Heider Company
An Interview with Charlie Heider, President of Charles Heider Company and a 2005 Omaha Business Hall of Fame Inductee
By Brook Matthews and Fan Zhou, Creighton University MBA students
We recently met up with Charles Heider at his office over looking Pacific Street. As we walked in, we were greeted by this unassuming man who said, “You can call me Charlie.” His disarming warmth and serenity made us feel instantly at home. Little did we know that beneath his calm exterior was a voracious competitor! It was a quite a treat to sit with Charlie and catch a glimpse of his complex nature as we talked about his life and career.
Tell us about what it was like growing up.
“I was born in Carroll, Iowa...a town of 5,000 back then.” Charlie’s parents taught him the importance of giving back. Much of these lessons were undoubtedly taught amid his experiences growing up in a small town Catholic Church. After a brief tour of duty in the Air Force during WWII, he enrolled at Creighton University. He began his college career as an accounting major, “...but that was boring,” he said. Charlie added a major in marketing and graduated in 1949.
How did you begin your career?
Charlie said he started his career in the investment division at Mutual of Omaha. Later he entered business for himself and was president of Chiles, Heider & Company, a New York Stock Exchange Member Firm. He now is a general partner of HeiderWeitz Partnership and president of the Charles Heider Company, a private investment firm. Charlie said he still enjoys frequent travel between Omaha, New York and California to meet with clients about their investments.
What is your business philosophy?
One might say Charlie’s business philosophy is inspired by his participation in sports as a young person. He reminisced about his experience as an all state football player in high school when his team won nine games in a row. He com pared this experience to his business, “Like in sports, if you are good, you really enjoy it... the teammates and all that goes with it.”
What is most important to you in business?
It’s no secret that Charlie is a fierce competitor. When asked what is most important to him in business, he simply stated, “To win.” The high stakes of the investment world attract him, “If you don’t know what you are doing, you lose a lot of money.”
Is there a such thing as a win-win situation?
Charlie paints a very realistic picture of the investment world – one in which not everyone is a winner. Because not everyone can win, he believes it is important to get a good education and lots of training. “Mary [Charlie’s wife] and I have a strong belief in Jesuit education. That belief has grown even stronger over the years,” Charles Heider said. He also believes it is important to surround oneself with intelligent, likeminded people. Warren Buffett happens to be one of Charlie’s good pals.
Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma in business? If so, how did you deal with it?
Given the competitive nature of the investment industry, Charlie said the main ethical dilemma is pressure to sell products that customers might not need. While these situations were rare in his businesses, the few times they did come up, they were handled quickly on a case by case basis. Charlie liked to get his facts straight, so he would often sit back and “sneak up” on the situation.
Aside from winning in business, what else can you tell us about your ethics?
Despite the dog-eat-dog nature of the investment business, Charlie and his wife Mary are deeply committed to improving their community. Charlie once said, “When you are blessed, you have an obligation to share.” He has helped raise millions to support Omaha’s cultural and arts scene through building projects such as the Joslyn Art Museum, Durham Western Heritage Museum, Strategic Air and Space Museum, the Qwest Center OMAHA and the Holland Center. He lent his leadership skill as a member of Creighton’s board of directors for 17 years, in addition to many other organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America, Mid-America Council of Boy Scouts, Nebraska Humane Society, Stephen Center, Madonna School for Exceptional Children and the Jesuit Middle School.
You were raised Catholic, attended Creighton and served on the board for many years. What inspires you to stay involved with faith institutions?
“We believe the world needs people who have the attributes a Jesuit education fosters. What Mary and I have found is that helping this University enables us to change the world in many ways we could not do alone.” Charlie and Mary have endowed two academic chairs, supported scholarships and Creighton athletics and rebuilt a dorm on campus that bears their name. In 2002, the couple received the first Ignatian Leadership Award from the Jesuit Council of Omaha.