Celebrating the Past, Present, and Future of Women at McSteen

A Q+A with Debbie Feller

In 1970, Bill Feller, Sr., bought ownership of McSteen Land Surveyors, starting into motion a family-owned business that would span three generations and 50+ years … and is still going strong. 

A big part of the growth and expansion of McSteen from the early days to present day is a credit to the leadership of all three generations. This month as we celebrate Mother’s Day, we take a closer look at the contributions of the second generation’s Debbie Feller. The daughter-in-law of Bill Feller, Sr., Debbie includes among her many titles, current Chairman of the Board for McSteen, former CEO of McSteen, and, arguably her favorite title, Mom. 

We are proud of the fact that women are an integral part of the past, present, and future of McSteen. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Debbie about her career with McSteen, what it is like to marry into a family and a family business, and her advice to her daughters as they launched their own careers. 

When you joined the Feller family, did you know that you were also joining a family business, or did that come later? 

That came later. Terry and I both started in our own professions before McSteen. I owned my own public accounting practice until the early 90s when I had my third daughter, Maureen. Shortly after she was born, McSteen was growing, Terry had just joined the business within the last year and with growth, we quickly realized the need for additional help. 

What was your focus when you first joined McSteen? Did that change over the years? 

I first started with McSteen as a client of my accounting practice. Quickly there after, I recognized the need for operational systems development in order to sustain and continue business growth. I contracted programmers to write custom software, worked on hiring a more robust team and continued to develop internal systems. As my responsibilities grew, it became clear I could not sustain running the operations of two businesses, so I made the decision to sell my accounting practice. We took the next year to transition and I continued to step into the CEO role for McSteen full time.

How did you establish yourself as a leader in what many might consider a male-dominated industry? 

I’ve always been confident in my ability to find a solution. When I joined McSteen, there was great potential, but the business was in need of a better organizational structure in order to grow. That was my role; to build the structure, help the machine become more efficient and modernize processes.  Being responsible for systems and hiring led to a natural progression into company leadership. Among myself and my business partners, my husband Terry and brother-in-law Tim, we all found strength in our roles and confidence in each other in the specific skills each of us brought to the table. 

How do you think operating a family business impacted your family life? 

Well we never ran out of things to talk about at the dinner table. We were constantly busy and the lines between family life and work life were often blurred, but it definitely gave the girls an early insight into the dynamics of the business world and the effort it takes to run a small business successfully. Ultimately we are fortunate that it brought our family closer as two of my three girls are back in the business now.

Did you always think that your daughters would join the business?

No. We always left that door open to them, but made it clear that they needed to follow their own path and make that decision for themselves. None of my girls joined McSteen directly after graduating college, to their benefit. They explored other careers and built their resumes and experience before deciding to join McSteen.

What words of advice did you give them as they joined McSteen? 

Three things I’ve always told my girls. The first, is that when you join the business, you need to build the confidence of the staff in your ability to lead the company. That doesn’t happen overnight, you have to earn their respect through action and the ability to step into any role of the business if called upon.  Second, is that you have to come in with thoughts of business improvement. If you’re not moving forward, you are sliding backward.  There is no room to rest on your laurels. And lastly, and most importantly, you need to take care of your people. They are McSteen’s biggest asset and have become like extended family. The business success is reliant on their personal successes.

At McSteen Land Surveyors, we are proud to be a 3rd-generation family-owned business, providing services throughout all 88 counties of Ohio. As we reflect on our history, we can’t help but to be excited about what we see in our future.

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