In a day and age that seems to find headlines about one corporate scandal after another, where CEO’s are often vilified as ripping off the public and manipulating politicians, it is refreshing to find one executive cut from a different cloth. Michael Yanney is a man who has founded his company on traditional American values and has made it profitable, while never compromising his strong work ethics.
Michael Yanney is no stranger to hard work and high expectations. So it is no surprise that he’s the Chairman of the Board of America First Companies, a company that has sponsored funds with assets in excess of three and a half billion dollars. Michael has 40 years of experience in banking and finance. But his real secret to success started long before that. Born the youngest of nine to immigrant parents in Kearney, Nebraska, Mike was raised with a solid work ethic. “Well, we grew up in our family with a great sense of responsibility, a great sense of integrity, a great sense of credibility, and working was just part of our life. We had to work to make a living and we really believed that working was very productive to our future.” Growing up with such values proved very useful to mike when at the young age of twelve, he lost his father. “My father died when I was 12 years of age and my mother sat down with me and proceeded to inform me that it was important that I get an education and that we were going through high school and we were going through college and I was probably going to have to start working right away.” Working his way through high school and then on to college, Mike earned his graduate degree in commercial banking. During that time he also met and married Gail Walling, a doctor of anesthesiology who shared many of his values. Then, after working in a bank for 15 years Michael was ready to strike out on his own. “After spending fifteen years in the banking business with the largest regional bank, I realized that no matter what responsibilities I had and what assignments they gave me, I was really not enthused about doing my job.”
Realizing the need to control his own destiny, Mike enjoyed financial success through ownership and management of commercial banks. But the real magic started in 1984 when America First Companies was formed. The mission of America First was to offer the consumer an alternative investment without the volatility of the stock market. “When we formed America First Companies, our primary objective was to really develop a product for the retail investor, for the consumer to invest in something that was very simple, very safe and was going to give a better than government treasury returned to them.” Mike, through America First recognizes and develops economic opportunities from situations that others might perceive as too difficult to approach. “Well, the first investment we did was a 200 million dollar fund that we raised through EF Hutton, an investment banking firm. We bought deep discounted government insured mortgages for 72 cents on the dollar, kept them for about 16 months, during that period of time we gave our investors a 9 Ã?Â½ % return and then sold those 72 cent on the dollar mortgages for 99 cents on the dollar.”
Leveraging that kind of success Mike was determined to apply globally the same principles that drive America First nationally. But unlike other businessmen who saw international markets as “easy pickings” where a quick profit could be made, often at the expense of the local populace, Mike had a different approach. “Our approach in the international business, especially in the former Soviet Union, is not only to make a good return to our investors, which I’m confident we’re doing, but we really want to make a difference in the communities we’re involved in. So we believe that part of our job in doing business in developing countries is to develop a work ethic, to develop a business ethic and to make a significant difference in the communities we’re in as well as making good money for ourselves.” An approach that Irina Rukhadze, President & CEO of Golden Rooster a Russian based poultry company was quite happy with. “Mike is a man of integrity. He sets his goals and he is always very committed to the business and to the success of the business. And this commitment is really infectious so we all learn from him. And this feeling of commitment has carried us through the most difficult times.” Vitaly Mironov, President & CEO of the Rasko Glass Company, another Russian firm agrees. “Mike Yanney’s business practices are not all about pure financial profits. Our company has become a top employer in the region; the number of jobs at the factory tripled and we pay the highest salaries in the region. This is thanks to Mike. Mike Yanney has demonstrated generous support for the region’s social programs. Two years ago, during our board of directors meeting, Michael Yanney eagerly agreed to provide financial support to build a new Church in the region. My partner Mike Yanney is always enthusiastic about providing support for the social causes; he is a wonderful and compassionate individual.
Since Mike’s business principles and sense of ethics seem to permeate his professional world, it’s no surprise that he has also passed them on to his daughter. Lisa Roskens is currently the President & CEO of America First. “I was raised as an only child in a large family. I was raised both to be very independent but also to work well with others and to kind of find your place in the world. My parents spent a lot of time with me in both of their workplaces so I learned about work ethic, what it meant to go to work at a very young age. Proud as any father is of their daughter, Mike had this to say about Lisa. “She has rock solid principles as far as ethics, as far as compassion and being equitable to people. The amazing thing is her ability to transcend that into entrepreneurship which I was never sure she could do and she has just proven that to be a very significant asset amongst her many skills”
It is principles like these that have driven the steady growth of America First Companies, and continued earnings for it’s client investors. But according to Mike profits and positive returns are not enough. “I think we have another obligation and that’s to be good corporate citizens. We are a part of a community in whatever city we’re in, we are a part of a community and we must do our job to help make that a better community” For Michael Yanney, success means more than just making a profit -it means making a difference and the world could use a few more people like him.