These interviews took place on March 7 and April 6, 2007, at Mays Chemical corporate headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.Learn more about William Mays
Part oneSkip to next interview transcript
SCARPINO: The first thing that I am going to do then is just a little sound test. I can hear my own voice, if you could just say anything at all?
MAYS: Yeah, I can certainly say a lot, Phil, about whatever goes on at Mays Chemical.
SCARPINO: All right. Well then, as I pointed out, today is March 7, 2007, and I am interviewing Mr. William Mays in the boardroom at his corporate headquarters in Indianapolis. Mr. Mays, I would like to start by asking your permission to record this interview, to transcribe the interview, and to place the interview in the transcription in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives for the use of the patrons?
MAYS: Yes, certainly, you have my permission to do that.
SCARPINO: Thank you very much. As I said, when the recording was off, I am going to ask a series of questions to sort of run chronologically through your life about your education and your career and that periodically I will embed some of our standards leadership questions in the conversation. So, let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about your parents? Who were your parents?
MAYS: Sure. I happen to be fortunate enough—both of my parents graduated from college. They went to Indiana University at various points. My dad actually has two masters from Indiana University. We lived in Evansville, Indiana, and the period—the area that I remember most is that they always focused on education being important. So, I have two older brothers. They’re twins. One worked for this company, for Mays Chemical, who is retired and one just retired from University of Southern Indiana. So, education has been very strong in our family.
SCARPINO: In addition to education, did your parents influence you in any way? Has it helped shape you to become the leader that you are?
MAYS: Well, I’m sure that—I guess leadership takes on many forms. You don’t know, I always feel, that you’re being groomed for something in any direction, but I think the biggest contribution that my dad made, and his masters is in chemistry, which might give you an indication as to where my direction ended up. But I think the hard work—I remember when many years ago when he, as a teacher, had an education, but he worked in a menial job during the summer, because teachers were off during the summer. He worked in a labor job making $4.00 an hour or something, whatever it was back then, and he did that because he said he really needed the extra money to make sure that we, the family, had the extras. I think that instilled in me that the extra hard work and whatever, no matter what the education, was really important if you’re going to be truly successful.
SCARPINO: You went to high school in Evansville—Evansville Lincoln as I recall—and you graduated in 1963. Did you think of yourself as a leader in high school?
MAYS: Oh, very much so. I think though—but for different reasons. First of all let me give you a little more because I think it’s a little more insight into that educational background. Evansville was segregated education-wise, and so I really went to an all-black elementary school and high school up to 1962. So, I only spent one year in an integrated environment. I was probably at the top academically in the black environment and that was fine. I learned to be able to make straight A’s and still not be looked upon as a nerd. When I went to Central, which is where I graduated in 1963, the senior class of Central was larger than the entire high school at Lincoln. So, you have to understand that that’s quite a change in the environment.
What happened in ’62, they just closed Lincoln down, made it an elementary school and shifted everybody, at that point, to one of the other predominantly majority high schools. So, I guess I would feel that my educational background was certainly not impaired but perhaps enhanced because the black teachers that I had at Lincoln and before were very highly qualified. They could not get, perhaps, mainstream opportunities. So, we had folks at Lincoln that had a commitment to us at education, who had Master’s Degrees, who were not the typical of what you would find in normal high school or grade school environment.
SCARPINO: What happened to the teachers when the school closed?
MAYS: When the school closed those who didn’t retire went to, if they were good enough, they went to the new high school that was made—Harrison. My dad actually ended up at Harrison and taught chemistry at Harrison High School. Those who, for whatever reason, were out of favor went to other lesser prestige schools even back to grade school even though they taught high school.
SCARPINO: Did you find that transition from an all African-American high school to an integrated high school to be a difficult one?
MAYS: No, I didn’t. And I think that part of the reason that I didn’t find it to be so difficult was academically I was very prepared. That’s the first thing. The second thing, I played sports. I played football. And as we know, even today so many of the athletes are African-American and other minorities, now more European from Europe, but not particularly in America. So, I think the athletics allowed me to be part of the group, part of the—if you will, the whatever in high school and because academically I was very well prepared I graduated number 10 out of the class of 316. I was the only male member of that ten, that top ten, which had nothing to do with being African-American; I just happened to be. The interesting thing is my future sister-in-law graduated number eight.
SCARPINO: Oh my. (laughing)
MAYS: So, you know, so there were two African-Americans in the top ten.
SCARPINO: After high school you attended in Indiana University, you majored in chemistry, and graduated in 1970. You mentioned your dad taught chemistry…
MAYS: That’s correct.
SCARPINO: …but other than that, what attracted you to study chemistry in college?
MAYS: Well, that was the main thing—I was always fascinated with it. I actually typed my dad’s master’s dissertation when he was getting his MAT degree, master’s in Teaching from Callaway College, when I was in high school between ’62 and ’63, between the transition of going from Lincoln to Central. So, I would go into the lab with him and I was always fascinated with running qual schemes and finding unknowns from a chemical standpoint. So, I guess I just kind of came about that pretty naturally and so that wasn’t any big deal. So going on to college, and because both my mom and my dad had education backgrounds and Indiana University was one that—I didn’t even really give it any thought. I think I looked at other schools for a minute but Indiana was close, it was well-known, it had a decent athletic program to watch. I clearly knew that I wasn’t able to play in any sports in college and I was pretty poor. So Indiana was a logical choice for me and chemistry was a reasonable discipline.
SCARPINO: As you look back when you went to Indiana University, what did you imagine you were going to do with a chemistry degree? Where did you think you were headed?
MAYS: Well, that’s a very interesting question because at that time and even after that time there were very few black role models, period, in the business arena. As a matter of fact, in Evansville I only knew, you know, teachers, preachers, and perhaps a mortician. I mean those were the professionals in the black community. There was nobody running businesses. There was nobody, maybe a candy store or something or shoe shop, but nothing of any consequence. So, in chemistry when I was majoring in it, I knew that I didn’t want to be a doctor particularly. That’s a noble profession but I knew that I wasn’t really in that and I really knew that I wasn’t smart enough to be a research chemist. I wasn’t going to discover the next hydrogen bomb or whatever. So, what I really wanted was a career that would interact with being a business person and having a technical background. Now, it’s easy for me to articulate that today because what would have been an ideal opportunity would have been a pharmaceutical representative or someone selling chemicals for a major company like Dow or whatever. But back then, you know, you couldn’t look out, Phil, and find any black that was doing any of this. We’re talking in the ’60s.
SCARPINO: I mean, I was interested in that element, but also the way you combined your background in chemistry, business and other things, and wondering if you sort of had those points on horizon from the beginning or were they kind of evolved.
MAYS: No, they evolved. It really evolved because I knew that I couldn’t do—I knew I wouldn’t be as successful in chemistry because I wasn’t really that skilled. I say that having graduated with a degree in chemistry, I tried as a test chemist. I worked up in Indianapolis in a metallurgical lab at Link Belt which was a division of FMC Corporation and it…
SCARPINO: Downtown, south side of Indianapolis.
MAYS: Yes, yes. So I was a test chemist and really was reasonably good. I mean as a technician that’s what it really was. With a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Phil, all you can do is really wash test tubes and test. You don’t get into a research lab; you don’t get into that kind of environment. I was really far more extroverted then coming to work every day and sitting at a bench lab and whatever. That just wasn’t me, but I had to try that because that’s what I was trained to do. I remember rejecting from Mobil Oil, at that time, Company, a delivery of lubricants because they didn’t meet specs. Of course the Mobil people were infuriated by the fact that this little lowly guy could, you know, reject that. I said, you know—Mobil Oil was huge back then—and I said, but the fact is that if you don’t get past one it doesn’t meet the standard that has been set. Now, somebody else has the authority to override that standard and to say that okay, if you are only at 0.7 or a 0.8 we’ll still accept the product. But that’s not something that I can do. All I can do is give my report to the chief metallurgist. I think they were infuriated enough that they’d liked to have gotten me fired. He backed me up on that and he said, you know, this is what it is. He said, now I think in this particular situation the areas that are not meeting the spec that we outlined won’t hurt in how we use the application of the product. And he says, but it’s not because you didn’t do your job. I want you to do your job which is to report exactly what the test showed.
SCARPINO: Did your hold leadership positions in college?
MAYS: Yes. Yes. I guess you go to a virtually—even now Indiana University is pretty difficult for African-American students. You go back 40 years—I joined the fraternity because I needed some social life, and at that time…
SCARPINO: Which fraternity did you join?
MAYS: Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, and at that time the fraternities did not—really if you were a member of another race you couldn’t go into fraternities or sororities. They had elaborate rush programs in the sororities and the fraternities. Well, you could imagine that if you come out as I did, in the top three percent of the class, you get all kinds of letters because they don’t know what you are. I mean all they know is, well this an academically strong guy—blah, blah, blah. So, I got all kinds of letters and requests to come to rush fraternities.
I remember going to IU, and I don’t even remember the name of the fraternity now that rushed me, and when I came up and got up or whatever—drove up, they were horrified. It was like—uh huh. You can’t—I mean, what’s the deal here? So they called Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, which happened to be not too far away, and said we got one of yours that needs to be, you know—I mean, it was like this was the bubonic plague that showed up at their door. So, I joined Kappa and through the years rose up very quickly, actually from, involved in the leadership of the pledge class to the treasurer of the fraternity, vice president and president before I graduated. I’m still very active in the Fraternity. As a matter of fact, I am the President of the Kappa Alpha Psi Foundation on a national level and I served on the national board for ten years. So, I mean in, just in the fraternity that leadership skill and confidence was developed back when I was seventeen. I was only seventeen when I first went to college. I was young…
SCARPINO: Pretty young for a freshman.
MAYS: …when I was freshman in college.
SCARPINO: Did you have any experiences in college that influenced the leader that you became?
MAYS: Yeah. I guess I’d say that there were. I, in undergrad, was involved in—IU was trying to deal with coming to grips with integration, I guess, or better integration. Back at that time the athletes were even segregated. They did not have black and white athletes stay in the same room and they don’t like to—but that’s a fact. We had athletes that pledged the fraternity that—whatever. So, one of the projects that I was involved with was to try to help put together a kind of a diversity [searches for word] workshop. I remember getting up discussing that for the majority students that are going to Indiana University it was more than just an academic experience. They had a social life. They had athletics. They had all kinds of other interactive activities. For an African-American at that time, whether it was male or female, the only reason someone of that caliber would go to Indiana University was to get an education and I said, there are a lot of places you can get an education and we need to change the mentality. The president was sympathetic to that.
SCARPINO: And the president was at that time?
MAYS: Well, it was the couple of them at that point, but Ryan was there and they were certainly trying to do the right thing. So, the creation of the Vice Chancellor for African-American Affairs occurred during that time. Herman Hudson, Dr. Hudson, came in and I think that it was so many examples of areas that just—there were no black faculty of any consequence. I mean, if you look at the history, and I don’t want to trash IU because obviously—but I mean the reality growing up in the ’60s and even the ’70s in Indiana University you had the people, the black people, that were there were outstanding. You had someone like Perry who was in the physics department, astronomy, I think. You had someone like James Holland, who has passed on, who was in biology, but you look at it and even today you have only—you think about black chairmen of departments, distinguished professors. You have Dave Baker who was a distinguished professor in jazz, and that is only one that I’m aware of that’s ever been—there may have been others but that’s the only one I ever remember. As far as department heads, Jim Holland was in zoology and there’s been one before or after that I can remember. Obviously the Department of Chemistry, which is always an interesting experience. I have to get this in because it is too good to show how everything comes full circle. When I was in the chemistry for four and half years—the department—there were really only two other black students that majored in chemistry.
SCARPINO: In their entire four years?
MAYS: In the entire four and half years. One turns out to be a doctor and one was a dentist, and me. You learn very quickly that you are not going to get any support from the minority side so you develop relationships with non-minorities. What you discover is that—and I remember in one of my organic classes there was a guy that came from Mississippi and he was up for the summer. We were taking Organic II, I think. He said, you know, I really don’t like Nigras, he says, but you and I have only one thing in common— we’ve got to get out this damn class. And he said, so, you know, we have to do the experiments together. We have to produce the results and so we are going to make that work, he said, but other than that I don’t have any interest in talking to you or whatever. Okay. I mean, he stated it made it very clear and that’s fine. And we both—I think he actually got an A out of it, out of the lab part, and I think I might have gotten a B. But then again, I could say that we are both partners and how do I get the B and he got the A? But that’s, you know, maybe he wrote a better something.
So, in that period of time it taught me that if you can really excel academically or whatever or athletically, then there is a different tolerance level. And even today, Phil, there is a different tolerance level of a Bill Mays because of the boards he serves on, because of the ‘firsts. that he’s been able to accomplish and because of just sheer economic wealth. I mean, you know, I say that the problem in the future as we go forward is not so much black-white as it is socio-economic. It is money.
SCARPINO: Do you think class is going to be the more important variable?
MAYS: I definitely I think class is a more important variable and there’ll be examples I’m sure that as we go through this process, this interview process, that will point that out. But the other thing, going full circle with the Indiana University experience, when I got, and I have three degrees from Indiana University; so, I think I can speak with some knowledge, a Bachelor’s, and a MBA from the business school, that’s a whole ‘nother experience. But then, I am most proud of the Honorary Doctorate of Science, not because it was a doctorate—I’ve got four doctorate degrees so IU is just one of four, and I could have more if I chose to take the time to do it.
But the reason the IU Doctorate of Science Degree in 2000 was so memorable to me was that the former chairman of the chemistry department, who was a graduate assistant when my dad was trying to get a doctorate—an earned doctorate down there in ’38 and ’39—walked me to the podium. He was 91 years old. He was chairman of the department and my undergraduate advisor when I was there. So, when the university wanted to recognize me with an honorary doctorate, he stepped up and said, “I want to be there. I want to be the one that confers this on him.” I thought that was going full circle. My dad spent so many blood, sweat and tears and he said, ultimately, he says, I could probably get this degree but I can’t spend—I do not have the money or the resources to spend six, seven, eight years doing this. This was before I was even born and so that always stood out to me and then here I was getting an Honorary Doctorate Degree. Not that Harry Day did anything negative with my dad. I mean, he was just a graduate assistant, but he was there at that time. So, that was one of those situations where you talk about full circle.
SCARPINO: Did he remember your father?
MAYS: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. He said that vaguely he did remember because dad had left. Because what Dad did was, actually, just take the credits that he had and apply them against the master’s and just said, fine, I’ll just take the master’s degree and go on. Dad actually had three master’s degrees: one in education, one in teaching and one in chemistry. And when you think about it, getting a master’s degree in chemistry, back then anyway, was certainly not an easy feat and he was on his way for a PhD. So, education in my family has been around and that makes, I think, me a little bit unusual as far as most African-Americans that grew up in that time period.
SCARPINO: I want to ask you a couple—two more questions about your younger years and then we’ll move on. But, you were in high school and college from most of the 1960’s. So, as you looked back on your high school and college years, were there individuals who influenced your development as a leader and they could have been either individuals you knew, or individuals you knew about?
MAYS: I think the civil rights movement was very, very powerful to me. I admired folks like Dr. Martin Luther King. While Evansville was probably more segregated than I thought, I didn’t really put all of that together. It was only when I got to college that I could begin to deal with that whole segregation stuff, and I will say once I got to college I discovered that there was more negative feelings toward Jewish because of the—I mean, the Jewish people caught hell at IU and had their own separate fraternities and whatever. But I think—when I think of leaders back then I was always torn between the more passive aspects of Martin Luther King and the more aggressive aspects of Malcolm X. I admired from a business perspective, even though I was just learning and understanding, how somebody like Johnny Johnson could build. I really came to admire him and admire what he accomplished so much more in later years—to build a national publication to deal with a cosmetic company in an era where business was just not something that African-Americans dealt with.
SCARPINO: We should probably say for the record what Mr. Johnson’s business was.
MAYS: Oh, Ebony Magazine. Yes. Yes. Ebony, which…
SCARPINO: I would like to think that somebody will listen to this in 50 years.
MAYS: Right. One won’t know it. Well, hopefully Ebony will still be around. There are so many aspects to Johnny Johnson. I have been with him. I was at his funeral and—so many aspects that I admired that you can’t really appreciate how he was able to just get the business off the ground. Little techniques, like he talked to a group of us in the cosmetic world. Of course, running a chemical company as I do, back in the ’80s, we were one of the dominant suppliers to the ethnic hair care market which is basically dried up today but, because they’ve been bought by the majority companies. Johnny Johnson gave a description of how he would put product on the shelf—beg a manufacturer or a distributor to put product on the shelf and then send people in to buy the product so that it would show movement.
SCARPINO: Oh my!
MAYS: I thought that was just creative as heck and how people laughed at him when he talked about Jet Magazine in a publication that would be focused on African-Americans, blacks, at that time, or whatever we were called—colored—that would chronicle their experiences and he dreamed of a magazine called Ebony that would be like Life Magazine.
SCARPINO: A lot of glossy with a larger format. Jet was a small format.
MAYS: Yeah, that is right. Jet was much smaller. Jet was more gossipy and Jet still does well today in certain segments. I don’t read Jet but I enjoy—I mean there’re highlights in Jet and whatever—it’s just more gossipy. It’s kind of like People Magazine or whatever that is more hitting the human side from a black perspective. So, I guess I would say that again, it’s difficult, Phil, when you think about role models particularly as it relates to the business world. There just weren’t that many blacks. I mean, they just didn’t exist that I could discover in the ’60s and even into the ’70s. So, people like Johnny H. Johnson were really great.
Now, in the ’70s what emerged as a leader was somebody called Earl Graves who had a dream about a magazine called Black Enterprise. I had never heard of Black Enterprise until I went to work at Cummins Engine Company in the president’s office. I guess one of the strategies that Earl used was to send his magazine, or get his magazine in the hands of top CEOs across the country, and so I started reading Black Enterprise Magazine. I didn’t subscribe to it at that point for a while because it was expensive relative to what I thought I could afford to pay. Today it’s peanuts. I mean, I do so much with Black Enterprise it’s incredible, but that was my introduction. I said, how did he get this off the ground?
And the other thing, the reason I mentioned Earl Graves and Johnny Johnson at the same time, not only were they both involved in black publications and black media, but the way in which they were able to transition their business to the next generation. I mean, Johnny Johnson giving it to his daughter who is running it now and made some changes, and I think improvements in it, and the way in which Earl Graves has transitioned the Black Enterprise empire to his sons, I think is just something that is incredible. When we talk about leadership and developing, and how that can happen, but it’s really rare because many of the black businesses just fade. The other one, and I’m watching to see how that goes, is Percy Sutton with his radio empire.
SCARPINO: And the name of his radio empire is?
MAYS: Yeah. He has Inner City. I think it’s Inner City Broadcasting and there only—and again Percy comes up because years ago he was doing extremely well in the boroughs of New York and he happens to be a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and so I happen to be featured with him on the cover of our quarterly publication. And I just watched—and he told me that he had dealt with this and gotten started the radio properties and so forth—and I said, why? Why would you want to do that? Politically you’re so successful and you’ve got wealth outside of that. He says, well, because of one of the things that black folks have to be able to do is control the media because—or certainly influence the media, he says because the media is what generates the images, the negatives, and if you can’t get your story out, you have no way of counteracting major publications, and he says, in radio properties.
So, that prompted me in later life. In ’93 I bought into radio properties here in Indianapolis to where I could deal with not only owning the Indianapolis Recorder newspaper, which I still do, but dealing with, influencing, and having the respect of entities that are much, much larger like Clear Channel or Emmis or whatever because we dominate and still dominate Radio One—I sold those properties to Radio One—still dominate the electronic media as far as the black community in Indianapolis and the share is awesome—it may be 20% of the total market and probably 80%–85% of the African-American market. Same thing with the Recorder newspaper. So, I think when I go back and if you look and have me think through, well—why did you make certain decisions? Because people say, you run a chemical company. What do you know about media? I don’t know a lot about media but I do know the people who have been successful understand that you’ve got to control that just like you’ve got to have some impact on politics.
I got an award from Indiana University a few years ago called the Visionary Award. Colin Powell was there to give the keynote address right after he stepped down as, leading the troops if you will, as Joint Chiefs of Staff. I remember that one of his statements was that you really, as business people, particularly as black business people, we have to be more involved in the political process, not just because of black politicians, but because politics governs us from birth to death—and so we have to be and—I never will forget that. We have pictures with him and all of that. Of course now I probably can’t even afford to go see him. I think it’s a couple of hundred dollars just to get in the same room with him, but back then it was free. I enjoyed it. So, and that wasn’t that long ago either. So you go full circle in these things.
SCARPINO: I am going to ask you one more question about your earlier years and it’s related to the last one that I asked you. As you look back on your high school and college years were there events that influenced your development as a leader, either events that you participated in or events that you knew about?
MAYS: I don’t—I think that from high school the event that sticks out most to me—there’s so many. I guess I’d say, Phil, segregated activities, events and stuff. Those years, really, and I probably don’t appreciate them as well because my family was not poor. We were not wealthy. I probably make more money in a month than my parents made in a year. But comparatively speaking, I think the one event coming out of high school when I graduated there was a tradition at Central High School that—on graduation or during that senior week or whatever—the class would go swimming at a place called Scales Park or something. That was a tradition for years. So, they said, we are going to go. Bill, we’re friends we’re all going to go. One of the guys says, oh, I don’t know whether—do you think they’ll let Bill in? And one of the guys who was just a guy, a dumb football player with me, and said, well, if they don’t let him in, we’re going to trash this place.
SCARPINO: Uh oh.
MAYS: And I said, well, no, I do not want to cause that kind of activity. He says, well, why don’t we integrate the cars so that there will be blacks in every car? We’re not going to give up this tradition. This is crazy. I mean this doesn’t make sense. I mean, what does—? We’re friends. So, that was the conversation around Central High School and it’s interesting because the principal got involved and just a whole bunch of whatever. So, what Scales Lake did was shut down. They just didn’t open. They just wouldn’t let anybody—that was their compromise to the problem. That was in 1963. That sticks out to me as the most memorable, one of the most memorable, segregated activities. On the national scene there were probably other things, but as a teenager, seventeen, I mean—hey, you were just trying to survive out there, so to speak.
SCARPINO: You earned your MBA in 1973 even though you have been working first at Link Belt in Indianapolis which we talked about briefly and then at Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati.
SCARPINO: You accepted a consortium fellowship and I want to ask you what is a consortium fellowship was and what you did?
MAYS: What it is? Yeah. Well, it still exists. The Proctor & Gamble experience was very, very influential in my leadership skills over time. To just specifically talk about the consortium fellowship—back in, I don’t know, ’66/’67, Sterling Shane, who’s a professor over at Washington University, came up with this idea that the African-Americans were under-represented in business, which is not a particularly revolutionary thought back in the ’60s. So, he came up with a program to say—and he approached Indiana University, Washington University, and Wisconsin, I believe were the first three—that we need to have a program to accelerate black—and at that point it was black males and other minorities, Hispanic and Native Americans—into a graduate education, into graduate business so that we can train them to assume a leadership role in corporate America. That was the concept. That was in ’66.
The first class came in, I think in ’67 thereabouts, and I came in ’71. I came to the consortium program because it provided a full fellowship, and again, I didn’t have a lot of money. I worked to Proctor & Gamble. I was very, I think, very successful in P&G, and again when you talk about leadership I’m always afraid that I don’t know where leadership stops and boasting begins. But I was one of the—the only black in the toilet goods division across the country, and there are many firsts that I had at Proctor & Gamble, but I remember something that my manager said, well you don’t have to resign from Proctor & Gamble. You can take a leave of absence. We’ll give you a leave of absence if you want to go to graduate school, but you don’t even need to go graduate school because we’ll teach you everything you need to know. Okay. I hear that. I evaluate that.
But remember, my undergraduate is in chemistry so I have very little exposure to formal business training. While I was very successful at P&G I think that my thought process was—I need to—I can motivate myself to work hard and whatever but when you start talking about motivating others and dealing with managing budgets and forecasting and whatever, that wasn’t how I was trained. So I said, I need to have that and, while yes, Proctor & Gamble could teach me that for Proctor & Gamble I think I need to have a more broader perspective.
So, that’s when I applied for the fellowship to get into graduate school, which wasn’t particularly easy because my undergraduate grades weren’t that stellar. But, my GMAT, my Graduate Management Aptitude Test, was okay and again, not super, but it was okay. But what really got me in, I think, was the fact that I excelled so well at Proctor & Gamble. And that somebody, I think it was probably Dean Jack Wentworth at that point, recognized and said, well gee, if in fact he can do this well without business training—I mean at the top of the list, I mean, dealing with national launching of Pampers, at that point.
SCARPINO: Disposable diapers?
MAYS: Disposable diapers, yeah. It was fun during my tenure. Indianapolis was a test market and I was on the national launch team when it went across the country to try to beat Kimberly Clark out.
SCARPINO: So, you were—I mean I don’t mean to make this sound facetious—but you were really a participant in that paper diaper race that seized the conceptual market?
MAYS: Oh, yeah. Oh absolutely, absolutely! No question, no question. Indianapolis was one of three test markets and I was the number one sales person in Indianapolis region. I was asked to serve on this national launch team. I remember when, and I was so—all of these things stick in your mind—so impressed. When Proctor & Gamble wanted—because it was a test market here and they wanted to come over and—you know, Cincinnati is not really that far from Indianapolis but they came over. They, meaning the vice president of sales, the vice president of marketing and some other—three vice presidents in three separate planes from Cincinnati. I guess I shouldn’t say—I do not know that they all three came from Cincinnati. They could have come from other places. But you’re at the airport picking up these folks and there are three airplanes that fly in. It’s kind of like, you know, wow! I mean they are coming over to talk to the people in Indianapolis at Proctor & Gamble about how this launch ought to go, at a hotel room and all that. So, I was very impressed with that. As a matter of fact, if my goal and ambition was to just—God, if I could just be a Vice President at P&G I would be in heaven. I mean, that was my goal back then.
SCARPINO: What were your leadership takeaways from your experience in Proctor and Gamble?
MAYS: P&G was very protective of Proctor’s image, of P&G’s image. I remember when I was very—just started—maybe a few weeks, and I was asked to get a hotel room to do training, day training, just to get a day room. My manager said, well, I’ll meet you down at the hotel. I go into a hotel, Holiday Inn, and I never will forget it.
SCARPINO: In Cincinnati?
MAYS: No, it was here, in Indianapolis. It is here, right down on Meridian Street. It may not still be there. They should have torn it down. But I will never forget that—it was a Holiday Inn. And so, I go in to get it and the guy says, we don’t have any rooms for you. And I said, well, you know, I’m prepared to pay for it. And he said, we don’t have any rooms. And I’m looking at the parking lot and there is not—it’s you know, I mean, we’re in the middle of the day. It’s nine o’clock in the morning and there’s nobody there.
So, my manager comes in and says, did you get the room? Where’s the keys? Let’s go so we can get started. We were going to go over pricing and presentation strategies and whatever. And I said, well, no, I didn’t get the... So, he looks at the parking lot and he goes to the desk and he says, I want to get a room. And so the guy said, oh, yes sir. You know, and gives him a room. So, he says, well, I thought you didn’t have any rooms because this young man just tried to get a room. And he says, well, we didn’t have any room for him. And he says, well, didn’t he tell you that he was getting this room for training with Proctor and Gamble? And he says, yeah, that doesn’t mean anything to me. And my manager says, okay.
He goes to the—walks away from the desk—goes to the pay phone, calls Cincinnati and talks to his boss and says, you know, this is wrong. The manager in Cincinnati, his boss, calls Memphis and says, we have an umpteen-million dollar contract with Holiday Inns. We’re going to cancel the contract. Because if you discriminate against an African-American you are really discriminating against Proctor and Gamble. This is an employee and we do not tolerate this. Of course the guy in Memphis is, I mean, Proctor and Gamble is—we called it Proctor and God back in those days.
So, he calls the hotel, the one in Indianapolis, while this is all still going on—in a matter of minutes. He tells the clerk that not only does he apologize, not only does he give us a suite, but he comps it and says, your job is on the line because if Proctor and Gamble cancels this contract, you’re fired. I mean, it’s just that simple. So, I asked my manager—remember I’m black; I’m used to this kind of this everyday stuff—and he says, no, no. He says, the respect comes when you are a company like a Proctor and Gamble, you do not tolerate any kind of—and he says, we do not deal with that. I don’t care if you were—it could have happened to a woman, it could have happened to any—a Chinese, anybody. So, we are not in the position to tolerate that. And this is back in ’68.
SCARPINO: Was that an unusual corporate attitude at that time?
MAYS: It was, absolutely. I guess to re-emphasize that just a little more...
SCARPINO: I meant Proctor and Gamble and not Holiday Inn.
MAYS: Right. Oh, yeah. Well, no it could have been Holiday—no, I think it was a normal practice for Holiday Inn, too. But I think that it showed me that corporations—that the right thing is possible. Now, there may be for other reasons; now I don’t know whether they would have even cared if I had not worked for Proctor and Gamble; but they did not tolerate that. I will give you one more example quickly because I think this is very important. When I moved to work for Cummins Engine Company, and we will get to that whole scenario in ’73, my wife and I were looking for housing.
SCARPINO: In Columbus, Indiana?
MAYS: In Columbus, Indiana, which is only 30 miles or so from Indianapolis. So, the realtor is showing us around and you know I’m kind of—come on, I grew up in the civil rights. I said, hey, you are showing us all these nice places and you know, whatever, but now show us really where we can live. I mean, we’re not going to be able to live in Harrison Hills or this or whatever. He says, you can live any place you can afford to live.
And I said, what makes this place special? Because that’s not the case in Evansville where there were 10,000 black folks within a ten-block area—I mean everybody lived in... And he says, well, there’s this guy that owns the bank, he owns Cummins Engine Company and owns a bunch of other stuff, called J. Irwin Miller. He pulled us together—the realtors together—and said that he was going to—he had a vision for Columbus and he wanted that to be an ideal community where everybody can live together.
He pulled the realtors together and indicated that if there was ever an incident where any employee of Cummins Engine Company—again, see, we’re back to the pride of the company, like Proctor and Gamble. If there is ever an incident where there is discrimination against any employee, he says, he will personally ensure that that situation is rectified and that appropriate action would be dealt with against that individual. And he says, because I own the financial institutions, he says that means you’ll never get a loan from any other—from any bank in town. And, of course, even the ones he didn’t own—what could they say other than, well, hey you know that’s probably right we probably shouldn’t discriminate, or whatever. He says, because if I want to create this ideal community then I want to be able to—and I am going to be bringing in some very, very high-powered African-Americans and other minorities and I want them to be able to live and exist in this community just like anybody else.
So, we did. We bought the house. Didn’t have any money. I don’t know whether this was legal then or legal now but I worked for the President of Cummins and he called the bank and the bank said, well, you know Mr. Mays. When I went down, my wife and I says, let’s see, how much is this home? Oh it’s a nice home, $40,000.00. I never will forget. You know, $40,000.00 seems, you know, I mean—but back in ’73 that was a lot of money…
SCARPINO: That’s a lot of money, yes.
MAYS: …for somebody coming straight out of graduate school. So, I didn’t have any money but I had substantial earning capacity and he said, well, let’s see, you’ll probably need to put down 10%. He says, so let’s see, that’s $4,000.00. How much do you—you don’t have? Okay, we’ll loan you $4,000.00. You can pay that back over the next year. Here’s the mortgage. I mean, it’s incredible, and so that stuck with me, still sticks with me, about how things can be done if somebody wants them done at the right levels…
MAYS: …Right, so, whatever.
SCARPINO: You earned your MBA in 1973. You worked first for Cummins Engine in Columbus which you’ve already talked about. You stayed there for four years as an assistant to the president. Now, I read in the materials that I looked into your background before we spoke today, that in accepting employment at Cummins, you declined offers from other companies…
MAYS: That’s right.
SCARPINO: …like Xerox, Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, Proctor and Gamble. What motivated you to accept the employment offer from Cummins?
MAYS: The main reason was—because my wife did not want to go to Columbus. Remember, we went from Indianapolis to Bloomington, to Indianapolis, Evansville, to Columbus. I mean we never got out of a two-hour drive. So, she says, Lilly offered us a chance to San Francisco or L.A., you know, Xerox is in New York. Why are we, you know? And I said, the reason I chose Cummins Engine Company was not because of money. Not—although, they paid okay—but maybe not the highest, but it was okay—but because of the exposure to high-level African-Americans that were in the company and the ability to interact with other senior management in a corporate environment. It’s just that simple.
Cummins Engine Company even back then had three black vice presidents and we’re talking ’73—the vice president over management development, vice president over corporate action and the vice president and controller of the company. I had never seen three blacks at that level in any corporation. I didn’t see one in any corporation. So I said, this is my chance to really learn and understand how activities are conducted at the top level. I worked the first year out of the president’s office—it was a training program. They have it—they call it corporate trainingships. They have various names across other corporations, but basically what you do is you come in to this job and you train and learn and they get a chance to evaluate and help you develop for a year or so and then you’re assigned to some other assignment. That’s what I did. The first year I worked directly for him. It was three or four months before I knew anybody below a vice president. All of my interactions were with vice presidents and all of my activities were dealing with the president and chairman of the board of Cummins Engine Company.
SCARPINO: And their names were?
MAYS: Yeah. At that time Hank Schacht—S-c-h-a-c-h-t—and Hank actually hired me. J. Irwin Miller was the chairman and he—and it’s interesting—just as a sidelight, the director of personnel, Tim Solso, is now the chief executive of Cummins Engine Company. So, he actually was the one—he got there two years before I did—a Harvard graduate, and he got there two years before and we’re still friends today. And so, he’s running this multi-billion dollar enterprise called Cummins Engine Company. But my experience and some of the things that motivated me and really mold my decisions, like a Jim Joseph, who was the ambassador of South Africa, who was the vice president of corporate affairs.
African-American philosophy is like corporations need to be more philanthropic and Cummins was—I thought it was just normal, until later—that gave 5% of their pre-tax profit to charity, to their foundation. I struggle right now pushing the corporations that I’m on, the boards, to give 2%. I was surprised that Eli Lilly only gives 1.7%, but that’s another whole thing. So, that philosophy enabled me when I started Mays Chemical to say we’re going to do 10% of our pre-tax profit to charity. So, because I could say I’ve got enough—I live okay—so, I can make that, I don’t have to deal with explaining to a board or explaining to anybody else the decisions that I make and so that’s what I do for a charitable contribution. I look at somebody like an Ulric Haynes, who was the ambassador to Algeria, that was involved in the freeing of the prisoners; they had taken some captives there back in the ’70s and he was instrumental in getting those prisoners released.
SCARPINO: These were American captives?
MAYS: Yes. Yes, American captives. That was really a—so we’ve been dealing with the Middle East for a long, long time obviously. So, Dale Barnes was the controller of the company. He hired another black who was the head of taxes. Dale happens to be a member of my fraternity. He’s retired, of course. He’s down in Columbus. He hired another good friend that turned out to be an outstanding tax expert and who went on to—worked at Cummins—and went on to go to Eastman-Kodak and just did an excellent job. The talent that was down in Columbus, at that time, Vernon Stansbury, a black that came from Harvard that ended up running—he is running his own business in Washington, D.C. right now; he’s ready to retire. But, a multi-billion dollar—multi-million dollar operation in D.C. that got its start—and we still are friends today.
SCARPINO: What’s the name of Stansbury’s DC operation?
MAYS: It is SCSC, Scientific and Commercial Systems Corporation, and it’s a government contractor and they do quite well. Of course, he’s got all kinds of real estate holdings: boats, condos and all sorts of stuff in the Washington area. But the point is that Donald Trapp was brought in during that same era. Donald’s about ready to retire but he was treasurer of Cummins Engine Company in later years. He’s now vice president over mergers and acquisitions. This is all black talent that, during the era between ’73 and ’77, came to Cummins as a result of the initiative that J. Irwin Miller had about his vision of trying to build a more perfect community. There’s no such thing as perfect community, but a more perfect community.
And so, when I think about the talent that was there and the friendships that were developed that continue today, and then I look at where these people moved through and where they ended up—I mean, leadership was just a—a second nature. I mean, it just was something that you developed, and you just—you didn’t even think about it. I mean we did—as you could imagine, there was a very low number of African-Americans in Columbus, Indiana. If you didn’t work for Cummins, there was no reason to be in—but they did have some indigenous folks that worked at other companies, I’m sure.
We did—one of the things that we did because I felt, I guess, obligated, I do not want to say guilty, but obligated to help the United Negro College Fund was one of the charities that we wanted to do something for, and they have their telethon or whatever. Lou Rawls was there at the telethon and they changed all that a little bit, but it’s still, United Negro College Fund is still a very significant charity for helping black colleges. So, we sat down and we were saying, well we ought to do something here in Columbus. So, the leadership, our leadership, was that we—Jim Joseph, who was on the foundation, said, well you know we can match from the foundation contributions to educational institutions. Match? What is that? Well, you know you give a dollar, we’ll give a dollar from the foundation.
SCARPINO: And this is the Cummins Foundation?
MAYS: This is the Cummins Foundation. Never thought of that. And I said, oh, so I said, well we ought to write all the employees, at least the senior folks, and get them to contribute to college. He said, the only thing you have to do, and he says, and I will get this through. He says, the only thing you have to do is they need to specify a particular college. And if they do that, it doesn’t matter which one, then I will match all those from the foundation. So, that’s when I first learned about corporate matches. I said, whew!
I got a note back from, at that time, the Executive Vice President of Cummins, Jim Henderson, who just retired just a few years ago. He says, well, he says, Bill, he says, I think that’s a very nice letter you sent. He says, I am certainly going to contribute. He says, I just want you to know, however, I have maxed out on my match. Because there’s a limit—which again, he says, but I think that this is such a worthwhile cause and a good endeavor that you guys are doing that I’m going to just double the contribution that I would normally make, just so you could have it. And I mean I never even dreamed—of course, at that time a few thousand dollars is a lot. So, matches, to match out or to max out, your match was incredible.
We brought in the Fisk Jubilee Singers because we wanted to deal—so we didn’t have the foggiest idea how we were going to pay for this exactly. We had an idea but we—so we had people that—we did it at a church, one of the major churches there, had a packed house. I remember, I think it was actually Mr. Miller’s sister, after the concert she was so moved by the spirituals and the music and the whole bit. She says, you know, this was just a wonderful something for you to do for our community and I am so pleased. I know that it had to cost money for them to come down, and I want you to know that I’m just going to pay for that. I about fell out—I couldn’t believe it. She says, just tell me what. Of course, they came by bus. Nashville’s not that far. So the expenses, in terms that we would think of today is not that big a deal, but back then—and to have someone who was a non-black step up and just say, I’m just going to pay for that. I mean, just an older lady who just said, I was so moved and I had my friends here and they were in the pew and they were so excited. That taught me that again, leadership comes in many forms.
We continued with that kind of activity to motivate and we raised more money in Columbus almost than they did in Indianapolis. That was for United Negro College Fund. So, there are many examples I guess of how you develop leadership skills and how you get influenced that carry on today. Today I am still very active, as a matter of fact, with the United Negro College Fund. As a matter of fact, in one of my buildings I donate space so that they can have their Indianapolis office in Indianapolis and basically they pay a token amount, I mean 10% or something, of the cost of that space just for utilities. They have launched in Evansville, the Southern District and in the Northern District. And because I’m on the board at Vectren, then I could ask one of the vice presidents at Vectren to spearhead that in Evansville, and he did. Because I own part of a company in Fort Wayne I could get my partner involved and she did. And so, we’re revitalizing, if you will, certainly continuing to increase the visibility of the United Negro College Fund in Indiana.
SCARPINO: I was struck by something you were quoted as saying in an article in the New York Times, October 21, 1973, when you were at Cummins, obviously. You noted in the article that you were the first African-American to hold the presidential assistant job at Cummins and then you said if I were a guy with the same skills and not black, I might not have been able to touch those strings. There is nothing particularly outstanding about me.
SCARPINO: Now, I actually don’t believe that, but I mean, what were you trying to convey?
MAYS: I think that the point there in that Times article was that there are outstanding blacks that should be viewed as just outstanding people. And what I was really trying to say was that, okay, I’m just another guy that happens to have gotten an opportunity. If you would make this opportunity available to more African-Americans you’d find that more of them could excel. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and able to touch the right strings and hit the right buttons. And I think I still say that today, Phil. I mean, I could—when you talk about firsts, and I had really forgotten about that quote back in—that Rick put in the paper—because the people at Cummins really were furious about that whole article because they didn’t want the publicity. They weren’t doing it because it was blacks. They were doing it because they thought it was the right thing to do.
SCARPINO: Actually, as I recall, there was an article that featured several African-Americans from different companies.
MAYS: It did. It did. Yes. That’s correct. That’s correct. But, because it was the New York Times, so it was a national publication, but they focused in. The impetus for the article was the fact that Rick Haines was black, from the New York area, and could touch the New York Times and so they did a whole feature on that. But when you talk about firsts—and I quit trying to count firsts because that doesn’t mean anything anymore to a Bill Mays. I was the first African-American to go on the board of the IU foundation in 1988. Okay, big deal. I was the first black to be chairman of the lottery commission. First black on the lottery commission. First black chair of the lottery commission. I was the first black to head up the United Way campaign. I was the first black to deal with heading up the museum of art—the Indianapolis Museum Campaign.
SCARPINO: You were chairman of the board there?
MAYS: Yeah. I was the head of the fundraising committee. I mean, I could go on. So, I mean, when you talk about firsts that doesn’t—you get past the point where that is the reason you do things; you do it because, as I say, leaders have to lead, and you don’t lead by following. In many instances, you lead by being out there.
I remember being with now Senator Bayh, but Governor Evan Bayh in ’80—well it was actually when he was Secretary of State. We got to know each other and he says you know, I really—and I really liked him. He’s a young guy then. I mean, he’s you know, not that old now. But he says, I really need some help. If I’m going to win this governor’s race, I need some help in Evansville. He says, I just don’t know anybody—even though there was a democratic mayor. He says, you offered to help me, Bill. He says, can you do something in Evansville? Well, you know, I mean, does brother rabbit like the briar patch? I mean that’s my home. I know everybody there. My brother’s there. And I said, the problem, I said, you know, Evan I’d like to, if I am going to do a fundraiser, I’d rather do it in Indianapolis because I can raise you more money. And he says, I don’t need the money. He says, I am okay on money.
He says, what I need is exposure, particularly in the black community because they don’t know me and they don’t trust me. And even though my father was a senator, is a senator, there is hesitation and the Democratic Party down there is not as supportive. I said, fine. I said, if you tell me, you just want to get exposure—and a bunch—I said, I can. So I had a reception for Evan Bayh in my brother’s home, standing room only. The Mayor, at that time, McDonald, was upset because he didn’t get an invitation. His black assistant was over and said, how could you not invite the mayor? I said, well, hey, I invited my friends. So, of course, Evan won and you know, and so on and so forth. Well when Evan was governor…
SCARPINO: He ran against John Mutz that year?
MAYS: That is correct. That is correct. And I was, and really still am, good friends with John Mutz. It just happens that, you know, I am not a Democrat or Republican particularly, I am really more…
SCARPINO: I’ll just say for the sake of full disclosure, I interviewed John Mutz, too, so… (laughing)
MAYS: Oh, okay. Well, the situation I tend to be more in my older age—I mean my whole family history is Democratic. But I tend to be—and I supported Mitch Daniels, in full disclosure, for Governor because I felt that the Democrats needed, that we needed a change. And, as evidence, I am not saying everything that the present governor is doing is right, but at least he’s put stuff on the table that we need to consider and think about and I just wasn’t convinced that the Democrats were going do that.
SCARPINO: For example?
MAYS: Well, the toll road situation, privatizing, whatever term he wants to use. The lottery, a billion dollars to be able to deal with curing some of the problems in education and stopping the brain drain. Now, I’m not saying that privatizing the lottery is the way to go, I am saying though generating a pool of money to be able to hold competent, talented people in Indiana is the right thing. Now, how we fund it is up, maybe up, for discussion. So, I think you have to separate one from the other.
But, if you never get any creative ideas on the table, if you never get anything put out there, I think you burn too much political capital on the whole idea of daylight savings time, but that’s fine. We’ll get that I-69 route done. I didn’t think we get it done in my lifetime. Maybe I’ll have to live a little longer, but with some of the creative things he’s come up with, well it may be possible to get it done.
So anyway, I remember Evan calling me into his office, sitting in the governor’s office downtown, and he says, you know, I really want you to take over the chairmanship of the lottery. I said, you know, Governor, I could do that. I said, but I really have this fascination with Indiana University. And the governor has three appointments each year to the university. I think I really worked hard. I think I could really serve my university. And he says, yeah, you could; you’d be outstanding. He says, let me explain to you my problem with that. He says, nobody in the black in the community has ever said a word to me about a trustee at Indiana University—rarely—about any university trustee.
I get, literally every day, a letter or a call or something from somebody complaining or talking about the lottery from the African-American community. He says, there is a total mistrust, a misunderstanding of whatever is going on with the lottery. He says, so just putting it into you bluntly, I get no political mileage out of appointing you to the board of trustees of Indiana University. Now, on the other side of the coin, there are people standing in line that want to be on the board of trustees. He says, I get all kinds of political mileage out of appointing some of these people. Okay. I mean, he was being honest and real with me. And I said, okay. Let me go do the lottery the best way I can to try to—and, if you recall, Phil, back at that time, this was right after the Cartwright scandal with—oh it was incredible—’89, ’90 with Jack Crawford and the sexual harassment and all sorts of stuff.
SCARPINO: That was in the leadership of the state lottery…
MAYS: Yes. Yes.
SCARPINO: …that they got themselves in trouble for personal bias?
MAYS: And as I tried to say to the governor then, if you just let us, as commissioners, handle this, we’ll deal with it because we’re business people. Sexual harassment is wrong but you know, it’s not uncommon in the workplace and you don’t need to get politically involved in it. Anyway, he chose to because he was young then and he wanted to micro-manage that with the state police. Anyway, I think it has finally worked itself out all right and so he came out of it without too much political damage. But it was interesting.
That was in ’91 and the first black didn’t go on to the board of IU trustees until probably close to ten years later; and that was elected by the alumni for two terms. Cora Breckenridge is now off and then Joe Kernan, the democratic governor, appointed the second black who is up for reappointment. So, it’ll be interesting to see—because, as I said, the governor could cure this problem with just a stroke of a pen. I mean, he can appoint one every year. I mean, if he wanted to have three from different parts of the state, African-Americans, or two or women or whatever he wanted, he can do that. It’s his total prerogative. So, at this point it’s too late for me but I did get on the board of the foundation which I’ve enjoyed.
SCARPINO: The IU Foundation?
MAYS: The IU Foundation from ’88 on—and I’ve been on there and so, I’m fine with that. The trustees really work now. I mean it’s hard work. Not that the foundation isn’t but it’s a lot more fun plus I interact there—by law there are three members of the board of trustees on the IU Foundation so, I interact with the foundation board anyway, the trustees, so that’s not a big issue. The other thing that you learn about, because there’s so much politics that goes on, so many things that you deal with—but, when I was chairman of the chamber—I don’t think I even mentioned that I was the first black chamber.
SCARPINO: And obviously I’ve got a bunch of questions I want to ask you about that.
MAYS: Yeah, yeah. That’s a whole ‘nother, a whole ‘nother experience.
SCARPINO: I actually would like to ask you about resigning at Cummins, though, if I could do that.
MAYS: Oh, yeah.
SCARPINO: You were at Cummins for four years and you resigned—accepted the position as President of Specialty Chemicals, stayed there for three years, left in 1980. What attracted you to move from Cummins to Specialty Chemicals?
MAYS: There was a black, again, on the board of Chemical Investors, which was the parent company of Specialty Chemicals. That black, Bill Norman, who went on to head up the Amtrak System—again, from Cummins, these are outstanding people. He came in as—was assistant to one of—the Chief of Staff of Admiral Zumwalt. So, I mean again, outstanding credentials back then.
So, he approached me and said, hey, you know this is really an opportunity. And I said, this company, I don’t know anything, you know, this company means nothing—and I’m rising—I’m a high flyer at a very sizable corporate Fortune 500 company. He says, yeah, but this is an opportunity that very few people get because you’re ideal for it. You’ve got all of the managerial experience. You’ve got the academic credentials. You’re African-American and they need a minority to run—because they want to make this Specialty Chemicals a minority-owned company. And you’re not going to get into the sales area at Cummins like you want to do. And I said why is that? He says, well, because the guy over—the Vice President over that area doesn’t really like you, and you’re too—he doesn’t like the fact that you have moved up so high in the staff side that—because he doesn’t think that you could sell diesel engines. So I said, okay. Fortunately, he left a few years, a couple years, later. But that doesn’t matter, I’d already gone. And, that is another something that you got to be careful in corporate America that you don’t rise so high in the staff that you can’t switch over to line if that’s what you want—that’s what—that’s one of the cardinal rules that you have to deal with.
But, I resigned from Cummins and at that time the new president, Hank had moved up to chairman of the board, and the new president said, I can’t believe you’re resigning from—what’s the deal here? He says, I don’t—if you want sales—hell, the vice president reports to me. It isn’t like you can’t have that. I mean, you don’t—you can’t force that. Yeah, he could do that, but you’d never be successful in that kind of situation where it’s forced on you. And I said, well, this is a new opportunity, a new challenge and I think it makes some sense. So, I resigned just very much like I did with Proctor and Gamble. And just as a sidebar on Proctor and Gamble, which I thought was cute when I came out of graduate school, my management told me that if—you know you are really good when you can quit from Proctor and Gamble and get rehired, or get an offer to rehire. So, I think I went to go to Cincinnati to get an offer just to, ego-wise, prove that I could do it. And I did.
SCARPINO: And you got one. (laughing)
MAYS: I got the offer in brand management and nothing gave me more pleasure than turning it down because they were not a supporter, at that time, of the Consortium Program. Later they became a very strong supporter of the funding. So, in coming to Specialty Chemicals I came in as president. I took it from, I don’t know, $300,000 or something in revenues in ’77 and I ran it from ’78 to ’79 up to I think five million dollars—incredible increase in sales.
SCARPINO: That was what I read in the files that I reviewed on these things.
MAYS: Yeah. Incredible amount of sales. The problem that arose with Chemical Investors was that the tail was wagging the dog. Their concept was to try to get generic drugs manufactured, the drugs that came off patent, from Lilly and other places. It was a great concept, but you have to go…
SCARPINO: Was this is a new concept at the time?
MAYS: Not so much new, but it takes—you get to have people who know what they are doing, engineers and whatever, and so there—most folks who know what they are doing wouldn’t leave the parent company. Now you see more of it because they’re willing to take more risk. Amgen might be a good example of that where some people that worked at Lilly or worked at other pharmaceutical companies spin out on their own and start their own and do quite, quite well. Back then, that was probably a little more revolutionary but it certainly could have worked if they had done it right, I mean, if they had really produced. So, they really got enamored with raising money. So they raised millions of dollars and so they never then converted from raising the money to producing the product. So, they had sold all the stock and whatever but they never produced anything. Specialty Chemicals that I was running started off with virtually nothing and was then the dog—I mean the tail that was wagging the dog across the whole bit.
SCARPINO: What do you attribute that phenomenal increase in sales to, was it the product…
SCARPINO: …or your management or…
MAYS: No, I think it was the fact that here was an organization that was led by a Bill Mays that really was true and produced. And so, the society was looking for— trying to help minority-controlled companies. I think it still is today, maybe to a lesser extent I think they want the easy way out, but back then there were companies that were sincere whether it was the Kelloggs or the Upjohns at that point or the Bristol-Myers or whatever. And so you have someone that comes along that runs the company that actually delivers, that builds in quality, that deals with getting the product on time, and has a competitive posture. I never really tried to position, when I started Mays Chemical, as a minority entity. I said—the quote that I always use is that “I want Mays Chemical to be known as a really great chemical distributor, which happens to be minority controlled.” So, that philosophy started with Specialty.
SCARPINO: And your product as President of Specialty Chemicals was the generic versions of drugs where the patents…
MAYS: No. No. It was just standard off-the-shelf, run-of-the-mill chemicals. We never got a product. That was the intent.
SCARPINO: Okay. That was the intent. It didn’t happen…
MAYS: Yeah. It just never happened.
SCARPINO: …I just wanted to clarify that.
MAYS: So, I had to sell sulfuric acid or methanol…
SCARPINO: So, you did this the old fashioned way…
MAYS: That’s right.
SCARPINO: …selling the standards…
MAYS: That’s exactly right.
SCARPINO: …the repertoire that somebody in that business would sell?
MAYS: That everybody had. So, I had to compete against all the major distributors that are still here in Indianapolis whether it’s an Allway Chemical, whether it’s a Superior Solvents, whatever, and they’d been in business for years. So, I didn’t have any differential advantage in dealing with those products.
SCARPINO: So, to what do you attribute your success in that arena?
MAYS: In that arena, I think it was the ability to go outside of Indiana, to go to major corporations who had not really been exposed to a minority-controlled entity that actually produced and delivered. So, I think that the real testament was when I started Mays Chemical and I had just done the marketing plan for Specialty. I had just redone all the brochures in the fourth quarter of ’79 and the first quarter of ’80, and had signed several major contracts for Specialty Chemicals with Upjohn, Bristol, Eli Lilly, and Abbot and Kellogg’s might have been in there too, as well—five or six annual contracts that were worth several million dollars with Specialty, when the leader of the Chemical Investors Group approached me and said, you know, we really want to, in a nice way, reel you in.
I had moved Specialty out of their building because it wasn’t—they were dysfunctional so I just moved to another space. We were paying rent so it didn’t make any difference. There was no differential advantage in being in their building versus one just renting space from Duke or some place. So we went to Park 100. So now it became very obvious where the activity was because there was nothing going on at Chemical Investors and the phones were ringing off that hook at Specialty and people were running and I was hiring people. So, I understand from their perspective, at Chemical Investors why they’d want to do this, to rein me in, I guess is the way to say it. So, they said, what we’re going to do is, we’re going to change the composition of the board. And of course the president reports to the board.
So, we had three minorities on the board and two non-minorities, two people from Chemical Investors. So, they changed that; removed the chairman of the board who was African-American, head of the bank, John Kelly was his name, head of Midwest Bank, which is a black bank—the only one we’ve had in Indianapolis—took him off as chairman. Put in three non-minorities, white gentlemen, and then kept the Hispanic on who didn’t know—who ran the company in the first year—didn’t know nothin’ from nothin’. Couldn’t sell her way out of a wet paper bag, but her husband was a heavy investor in Chemical Investors. That’s how she got there. She was very nice but did no help businesswise. So, that gave us a three majority to two on the five-member board. And I said, if you do this you have now created a front because it’s no longer minority controlled. And I said, I am not saying that I can’t be successful in a non-minority controlled company but that’s not the proposition that I signed on for. So, that occurred in January, late January.
SCARPINO: In 1980?
MAYS: In 1980. I resigned, I think it was, the 28th or something like that of January and indicated that I would leave in 30 days and to give them a transition or whatever. And I flew out. My wife, who at that time was on a research fellowship in Baltimore with our kids—and so I flew out there and I said, I don’t know what I’ve done. You know. And she kind of said, hey, what took you so long? I mean, you built the company, you can do it again. This time you’re doing it for your family. I’m sure you’ll have it together. The kids will be fine—this was in January—we’ll be back in Indianapolis in September. They’re in school. They’re doing well. I have enough money to support them with my research fellowship and I’m sure you’ll figure out how to keep from starving and so everything’s fine. You just need enough money to pay the mortgage.
SCARPINO: (laughing) It seems like a practical point of view.
MAYS: Yeah that’s right. That’s what it was. So, that was on, I think January 28th or thereabouts. March 3rd I started Mays Chemical and it was one employee—me. I got encouragement from one of my major competitors who was Superior Solvents. At that time I became good friends with the president of Superior because we bought a lot of stuff from them.
SCARPINO: The president’s name was?
MAYS: That was Byron Bettis: B-e-t-t-i-s. Superior was an old family run business, still here. It’s been around for 60 years or whatever. He said, what stops you from going out on your own? And I said, come on Byron, I don’t have any money. You know it’s real simple. He says, well how much money you need? I said, I don’t know, fifty thousand. He says, what if Superior loaned you, made available to you, a hundred thousand dollars? Could you…? And I was floored. I never had seen a hundred thousand dollars, you know.
And I said, why would they do that? I’d be a competitor? He said, well, yeah, kind of, but maybe not. He says, because when you—if we loan you the money now and you become more successful, as you will, then you’ll remember that and so you’ll treat us differently than you will other competitors. And who knows we might be able to come together and you might buy Superior one day. I mean this is—we’re in the stratosphere at this point; but the hundred thousand dollar offer was legitimate and I borrowed fifty thousand dollars from Superior, started Mays Chemical on ten thousand dollars—basically my wife’s savings bonds because I did not have anything, really.
SCARPINO: I read that you used your home as collateral to get it…
SCARPINO: …You were taking a risk here.
MAYS: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely. I will tell you about that because that was a shocking thing to me because I didn’t know, but that’s the way it goes. So, we got the company started and it’s a chicken and egg scenario because you can’t sell to a customer if you don’t have product. A supplier is not going to give you product if you don’t have a customer. So, you almost have to get into a lie, which says, oh yeah, I can supply you this. And then go out and figure out, how do I get the product? That’s where Superior came in because Superior had all the product lines. So I could legitimately say to a customer, an Upjohn, an Abbott or whoever, that yeah, I’ve got acetone or whatever you need and we’ll ship it to you.
SCARPINO: So, part of Superior’s contribution was that they made their products available…
MAYS: That’s exactly right.
SCARPINO: …in addition to their money?
MAYS: That’s exactly right. I paid back the—I never borrowed the additional fifty. I paid back the first fifty in, oh, it might have taken two years, I doubt if that was long, but some number like that. And Mays Chemical—the plan I put together indicated that we would do, I don’t know, a million dollars the first year, two million the second, and four million the third, something like that. We actually did 2.2 million, 4.6 million and 7 million.
SCARPINO: And I read that by 1990, your company was doing 50 million dollars…
MAYS: 50 million. That’s correct.
SCARPINO: …in annual sales?
MAYS: That is correct. It took us the decade of the ’80s to get to 50 million dollars. We doubled from 1990 to ’95 to a hundred million and we’re on the way to doubling it to 200 million by 2000. Automotive stuff took a dip because I said, who am I? What am I doing? I mean, am I feeding my ego because Mays Chemical is now the thirteenth, fifteenth, whatever top black enterprise company in the country but didn’t make any money. Or—what is this? So that is why I slowed the growth. I said, hey I am not concerned about the top line as much as I am about the bottom line, about product.
SCARPINO: Let me ask you what were your goals were in establishing and developing Mays Chemical?
MAYS: I think that the fundamental goal was to become the best chemical distributor that I could become. That had nothing to do with being minority. I think a secondary goal was to prove that I could do that and to get even with Chemical Investors which I bought in—what was left of it, in I don’t know—’84, ’85—I think ’85.
SCARPINO: Now, I understand why you bought it.
MAYS: Yeah. Yeah, and fired everybody who was still there.
SCARPINO: You were kind of taking a financial and personal risk.
MAYS: Oh yeah, yeah.
SCARPINO: Do you think that successful leaders have to know when to take risks?
MAYS: Absolutely. But again, Phil, it’s calculated risk and maybe part of it is ignorance because you do not know how risky it is, and sometimes you don’t want to know. Sometimes, it just better to say, if I’m in it then we just have to—and I’ll do that even today. I’ll make decisions and say, well, there’s enough manpower around me that is stronger intellectually. We’ll figure out how to get through it. I will give you an example of that in a minute.
But in the example that you used on the house I think is really good. We moved up here, bought a very nice home. I think it was $110,000 from our $40,000 home in Columbus. So, I’m out there on a mortgage that’s pretty, pretty sizable, but I learned a little more sophistication in negotiating and actually I negotiated as part of my package with Chemical Investors that they would put up a $25,000 CD, which allowed me to get into the house to begin with. So the combination of the mortgage and the CD would allow the ratios to all work. I still had to cash flow it but that all will work. 1:32:27
When I was out on the road there was a company that’s called Diamond Shamrock. They were bought by Occidental Petroleum. And I needed—to get for a contract with the Upjohn Company, I needed to have access to one of their products, which was methylene chloride. They produce other things, they produce a bunch of other things. But anyway the credit guy, because I had to meet with him, he says, well you don’t have anything. And I said, you’re right I don’t. He says, well, he says, but I am looking at your track record. Because remember, I had sold to all these companies and had bought from them when I was the president of Specialty, so they knew me. But then Chemical Investors, of course, had all the money. So, I mean, they weren’t concerned about getting paid because Chemical Investors had millions.
So, here I am, I have nothing. And he said, well, we want to help you out. I said, well, I need twenty five thousand dollars in credit. He said, that’s not enough if you’re really going to do it. I will give you credit line of a hundred thousand dollars, he says, but what I want you to do is I want you to personally guarantee it and sign over your home if things don’t work out as you think. And I said, but I’m not worth a hundred thousand dollars and I don’t think my home is, I mean, I do not have that much equity—I mean I owe. He says, we know that, he says, I understand that. He says, the rationale, from our perspective, is that if you’re willing to risk all that you have, then you will be more prudent in how you manage the business and you will loose sleep over an error or decision that you made that turned out not to be good before we even know that there’s problem. Okay. I signed it.
SCARPINO: That was right wasn’t it? (laughing)
MAYS: Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. I probably had some sleepless nights over that. But, with a hundred thousand dollar credit line now I’ve got a supplier that I can legitimately sell product to and get competitive pricing and so now, I can go to not only Upjohn but I can go to Abbott. I can go to several of the major pharmaceutical—because all of them use methylene chloride. And, it’s interesting, Lilly was the last one to come on board because again the people started Chemical Investors came from Lilly. So, they were bad-mouthing me at every turn. So, Lilly was dragging its feet about doing business with me, but that’s all right. Abbott, Upjohn, Kelloggs, others, stepped up—even Mead Johnson, where I had a contract with Specialty, said we’ll find some other products to do business with you.
SCARPINO: And for the benefit of somebody who’s going to listen to this tape in five years or ten years, your general product lines were…
MAYS: The same, just commodity chemicals. Nothing special. Any one of ten distributors in Indianapolis could have sold the same thing.
SCARPINO: So, you were trading on the experience that you had and your own talent…
MAYS: That’s correct.
SCARPINO: …and you’re willing to risk yourself financially and so on and so on?
MAYS: That’s correct. And the ability to sell myself and to deliver what I said, not oversell, but deliver what I said. So, that’s how Mays got started. As I said, in the first year there was one employee. Actually, Byron helped because he found me space. He says, why don’t you get space right next to my offices out here, he says because I’ve got—because he did not want to be in the plant at Superior, he wanted to be out—because he says, I want the plant people to run their thing and if the president’s there then it doesn’t work well. So, he had a little office space right over here on Shadeland, 7202 North Shadeland. So, I’ve never gone very far. Again you know, Evansville, Columbus, Bloomington—I never went very far.
So the first offices I had and I think it was probably 300 square feet—it was just an office. Bought some used—he might have even given me the furniture. But I paid rent. I know what it was. It was a sublet of his space because he had two offices so he didn’t need—so I paid rent. And, I think I paid $200.00 a month, something like that, to him. For that I got access to coffee and his copy machine and his secretary. Because he says, I don’t do anything anyway, he says, so you know you can—so then I paid to have a line, a telephone line, put on her phone so she could punch a button and answer the phone. Because it was just me, but I had to go out and sell. So, I couldn’t you know, I couldn’t be in the office. So, I would leave out Sunday night and go hit the road to sell. And she would answer the phones and whatever. I guess I’d call back periodically. When I’d get back in the office on Thursday I’d hope that there was a purchase order in the mail from something—or at least certainly by Friday. And then she’d type up my letters, my quote letters, and so forth. Then, she had coffee and I could go over and drink, get a cup of coffee, and the Xerox machine.
SCARPINO: So, the niche that you filled is that you are a broker?
SCARPINO: Between the manufacturer and the user?
MAYS: That’s correct.
SCARPINO: And you make it possible for the users to get what they need from one person as opposed to dealing with all the manufacturers?
MAYS: That’s the theory. And to carry that theory a little more because you have to very quickly get into the distributor mode as opposed to the broker mode—I mean, there’s a role for brokers but most major…
SCARPINO: But I am trying to imagine—you started basically as a broker?
MAYS: Oh yeah, absolutely. Because I didn’t have a warehouse, I didn’t have any product, I didn’t have any money even to buy inventory so I had to literally buy the inventory, hope I get paid from the customer before I had to pay the supplier. So, that’s why I set up Mays Chemical terms as net fifteen, because the terms in the industry were net thirty. Not everybody paid me in fifteen days but some of the ones that really were trying to help me would say, well we’ll just push this invoice on through. Because if you were an Abbott Labs, I mean, a few thousand dollars is nothing, I mean, in the whole scheme of what you’re dealing with. So, you develop friendships. You know, because I was personally calling on the buyers and because I was personally developing those, then they were kind of like we like this guy, he’s kind of nice. He’s trying to build a business and we want to help.
SCARPINO: So, do you think that your personality is a key aspect of your leadership?
MAYS: An entrepreneur is unlikely to be successful if he doesn’t—if he can’t sell himself and the biggest selling part of Bill Mays is that he can sell himself, and that makes all the difference in the world.
SCARPINO: As the owner of Mays Chemical, how would characterize your leadership style?
MAYS: I think I try to be more participatory, that is, consensus building, but when your name is at the top, the ultimate decision is yours; the ultimate risk is yours for good or for bad. So, everybody knows that. And so when I ask for their opinions, they don’t have to be bashful because they know—well Bill’s going to do what he wants to do anyway. But, you have to develop the trust levels of the employees to where they recognize—well, he’s asking not just out of curiosity, I mean, he really wants to know if this is a course of action we should take or if this direction makes sense or if this problem can be solved a different way. Because in the final analysis he owns all of it, he doesn’t even have to have a meeting—he can just do it.
The other point that you learn very quickly, Phil, I think in all of this, is that one of the difficulties of entrepreneurs, and it may be more acute with black entrepreneurs, is that they have, I don’t want to say it’s an ego problem, but they want to be at the top—at the limelight, so to speak. And so there’s a tendency not to bring in talent that can outshine you. But that was never my problem at Mays or Specialty or whatever because I saw talent, I mean talent was always superior to me. I looked around at Cummins and all the vice presidents, the black vice president, I mean, they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t clearly superior. So, my philosophy at Mays was that I wouldn’t bring anybody in that wasn’t smarter or couldn’t produce more or better than I could. Because I said, I don’t need you if you’re just mediocre. Hell, I’m mediocre. So, I mean, you’ve got to be superior to, I mean, and so I think that philosophy allows a Mays Chemical to attract incredible talent. Because I’m not hung up on the fact that you are more skilled or you are more knowledgeable or you can produce better than I can—that’s great. That’s why I hired you. So, I mean, my ego doesn’t get in that vein at all.
SCARPINO: So, in working with—you talked earlier about the manpower around you, that the people you hire as part of being a successful business person…
SCARPINO: …or leader is who you hire?
SCARPINO: Is that—then would you say that one of your skills as a leader is identifying…
SCARPINO: …attracting talent?
MAYS: Absolutely—attracting and retaining. There are at least three things you need as a successful entrepreneur. You got have, I think, the education. Lots, a good bit of it—into graduate school. You got to have experience and that’s what I picked up at Cummins and Proctor and Gamble, and you got to have access to capital and that is where Superior helped me and others. But the fourth thing that you need as you go further along is you got to be able to attract and retain superior talent in the company and that means identifying superior talent.
SCARPINO: So, how do you do that? Because, if they’re that good they have options.
MAYS: They have options. They have options. But you know, you look around, Phil, and people come here and stay here because it’s like a family. I mean, I’ll give you just one example. There’s a guy—well, I’ll tell you two examples. One of the guys that I hired ten years ago, it’s a guy—Matt Murphy. Matt had a very successful career in banking and I felt that I needed to have more financial understanding, more analytical understanding. Yeah, I can read financial statements and all of that but dealing with bankers and when you are building a company, access to capital is very, very important. You got to be able to convince the bankers and to have the trust of the bankers to be able to finance the business.
And so, I said, I’m okay with Mays Chemical. But, as I moved out to other business ventures that I’m involved with, and I have lots, I mean, I probably own parts of twenty other businesses, some more successful than others, but some have been quite, quite successful. So, I hired Matt and enticed him to leave the banking world because I said, look, I need somebody that understands how a banker thinks, but can talk to me about how an entrepreneur would handle the situation. So, I need the credibility that you bring as a banker because you know these folks and you can talk about—the jargon they want to hear and you can understand when what they request is reasonable or not reasonable. Or whether it’s normal and standard or whether they’re asking for something that’s out of the—that they shouldn’t be asking for, like pledging collateral or whatever.
So, Matt’s been here ten years and he gets involved. He spends 30%, maybe more, of his time at Mays but much of his time is spent in all of these other business involvements that I have—getting financing and keeping them financed the way they should be. One example, just one that happened recently last year, one of the companies in the chemical industry that I’ve known the president for some years, Chemical Systems, literally was in tears and said, Bill, you know, this General Motors crap and this stuff, I just can’t make payroll. You know, we buy from him because he produces some specialty chemicals. He says, I just, I can’t make payroll, he says, I’m just, I don’t know what to do. And I said, well, let’s sit down and let’s talk about it.
We ended up putting together a joint venture where, literally, he keeps his company that he had. We set up a new company called Chemical Mays and we handle all the back room. We handled all of the, a lot of the purchasing, the finances, all the stuff that we are good at that he wasn’t. He had three controllers in two years that just, I mean, couldn’t pay the bills on time and companies were having him on COD and just all the stuff that’s very disruptive.
Well, Matt put together, with Eric, a structure. We set up a separate two million dollar credit line which he couldn’t believe. We convinced the bank that the cash flows from this joint venture will pay the credit line and the bank says, okay, we believe because we see Mays Chemical. The problem that we have is that you’re not totally in control of this company, this new company that you’re setting up, and—like you are Mays Chemical. I mean we know that you’re not going to—but this new company there’s somebody else who’s got at least an equal voice. And I said, yeah. And he says, the second thing is while we understand the cash flows, there’s no collateral here. I said, okay, fine. I said, well the first question about who’s in control, I said, he wouldn’t come here if he wasn’t going to let us make the decisions as it relates to the financing and whatever. And I said, but I’ll have him tell you that directly.
I said, the second issue, I said, okay I’ve got some real estate. It’s sitting there, it’s paid for. Why don’t you take one of the buildings for two years, put it in the agreement that you’ll release the collateral if everything is paid according to the terms of the deal and, so now, that solves your loan-to-value ratio. The cash flows you’ve always said are there and your concern about who’s actually going to be running the situation, I’ll have the president come in (and he did) and he’ll come in and sit down with you. So, we got that loan together and put it in, and to show you how impressed—when word kind of got out, we weren’t trying to keep it a secret but we weren’t—Black Enterprise called and said, we want to understand. There’s so few examples of minorities working with each other to do what you’ve done that, you know, we want to at least put a little blurb in here and I know you don’t want talk about it and blah, blah. I said, well, why don’t you talk to the president of Chemical Systems and let him tell you what he wants to tell you, I said, because, one—I don’t need the publicity. But two—I don’t want to say something that might be negative or whatever. Whereas, he can say whatever he wants to say because he’s saying it…
MAYS: …and so he’s not—there’s nothing negative about Bill Mays. But I don’t want to say something like, well, the reason he had to come to me was because he couldn’t run the company, you know, or whatever, and that might be the interpretation. Whereas if he says that… So he did; he did the interview which came out in March of this year and Black Enterprise; I think it was the March edition that just— would have just come out in February or March. I’ve got it in here. And so it’s a nice little half page on this and with the kind of the comments—more to follow once this—because we just did this in September.
SCARPINO: So, your goal here was as much to resuscitate minority-owned businesses?
MAYS: That’s correct.
SCARPINO: Obviously you didn’t want to lose money on the deal.
MAYS: Right. That’s correct. But I could see that if done right this could work. Now, you say, how do you see that? Well, sometimes it’s, and this takes me back to what I was describing—sometimes you have to have faith in the management team, that if you can put in place the right pieces they will make the engine turn. So, the finances—once I could get the finances set up, then we went back and negotiated with all the creditors and he did, Leon did, a good part of this, and basically said to them, we’re going to pay you but it is going to be over time. The two million dollar credit line is payable for four years. The success of the joint venture is such that beginning in November it started paying fifty thousand dollars a month back to the bank. I think the note is forty-some thousand plus interest or something like that—thirty-eight thousand plus interest—four year note, two million dollars—the bank says, don’t you want longer than that? And I said, well, you know we can always renegotiate that. But let’s start off with keeping the feet to the fire and let’s keep the focus on getting you paid off.
And so, there’s been four months or five months of payments that the bank has gotten. And we got the first contract in 30 days after we set up the joint venture. The company was so pleased with us, with the concept that we brought, and the sincerity of the people involved, that they said, you know, we want to roll this out to a different—another plant each quarter. There’s no reason why we can’t be a million dollars a month with you guys. I mean this is incredible that you all are producing. And I said, hey, lay it on me. I don’t have any problem. And so again that’s the organization. Because, once I could get the back room solved, the finances solved, then Leon and his team could produce. I knew that. But that was out of his skill, that was out of his element, whereas my people are used to negotiating with banks. They’re used to dealing with creditors. I mean they know, I mean, that’s what they do, so they could do that just in their sleep. So, we took that burden off of him. He’s able to run around the countryside and sell and do what he does best and the business is going straight up and we get—the way we have the loan set up, is that he pays the loan out of his half of the proceeds, if you can believe that. So, he is able to pay, keep a living, and still able to pay fifty thousand dollars a month.
SCARPINO: And he is making payroll on all of the things…
MAYS: That’s right.
SCARPINO: …that he was worried about?
MAYS: That’s right. All the other stuff. And so in, literally in, a matter of six months, it has turned around, and he’s just—I mean he’s just so excited and he’s so charged that I mean he’s out there kicking butt and taking names.
SCARPINO: I would like to ask you a couple of questions about your leadership philosophy that I read, you know, in interviews that you did, and you said when we started this that you’d be willing to have a second session. So, I read an article in which you are interviewed in Christian Professional Magazine and I’ll just read a couple of lines so we have it for the record and so that you know where I’m going this. You said, “This company,” you’re talking about Mays Chemical, “This company’s continued growth and success is due to us hiring and maintaining a loyal and dedicated workforce that fosters family spirit. In order for your business to grow and be competitive you must first develop the work culture and make sure that all your employees respect, understand and are willing to cultivate and embrace that culture.” So, the question I wanted to ask you, actually several questions came to mind, but the first one is, how you go about hiring and maintaining a loyal and dedicated workforce? We’ve been talking about your management team…
SCARPINO: …but obviously there’s more to Mays Chemical…
MAYS: Oh yeah. Yeah.
SCARPINO: …than a management team?
MAYS: Well, I think it starts with the basic human element that says we respect all races and religions and cultures. I mean so, the diversity in our company—and you can walk around and you can see it is incredible. The other aspect or another aspect is dealing with the basic philosophy that if given a chance, people want to produce to their full capacity and therefore they just need the environment and the opportunity and both of them have to go together. There’s no time clocks in Mays Chemical anywhere. We don’t believe in, and I don’t want bash the unions, but there’s no reason for there to be a union because if we’re doing what we ought to be doing the union can’t add any value.
Virtually every other distributor is unionized; we’re not. Which then deals with your—with the way in which your work rules go. Because you could be here, Phil, at six o’clock and there’d be ten people still here. They don’t get paid overtime but the philosophy is you work until you get the job done and if you need to—you have a kid that’s sick or you need to take her to the doctor, or him, or the school is out or whatever, and you don’t have a babysitter, which is pretty typical, then if you need to take off you just take off. Just tell your supervisor and take off. But if you need to come in on Saturday morning, then come in. There’s security here. I mean there’s plenty of—you don’t have to feel unsafe. We’re very secure in that regard. So, we have people and I believe that we get more from the people because they’re not on a time clock. They’re not dealing with watching to see—when can I go to lunch or—when can I, you know, whatever. They’re working because they want to get the job done.
Second aspect of that, in addition to various races and various cultures, we try to treat employees fairly in every respect. I truly have an open door policy and if someone feels like they haven’t been treated fairly they have—of course there’s a normal up the ladder—but they can bypass all that and just come up to me. That doesn’t mean I’m going to immediately acquiesce to their concerns. But it does mean that they feel like they have an appeal process. And I have overturned supervisor’s decisions. I do that in a way in which I say, well, you know, in this particular case why don’t we just do this, or whatever. But because I want the supervisor to supervise, I want the managers to manage, but there are circumstances where I can say, well, you know, all right, this particular thing, maybe we can give in on that.
Another philosophy that we have and this is something I’m working on, and this is a pet peeve of mine, is that we will hire former felons and that’s unusual as I’m finding out. Someone—and what you will find, Phil, is that in many instances the individual who has been incarcerated, that incarceration may have come about because of drugs, and society is unfair in some of this. If an African-American or anybody is using cocaine that’s a drug and that’s an illicit substance. But if it happens to be crack cocaine, which is prominent and very prevalent in the African-American community because it’s cheaper, it’s a felony. If it’s pure cocaine, powder cocaine, it’s a misdemeanor. So, society created these laws, I mean, and I’ve talked—and one of my dear friends is Dave Shaheed, who is the judge of the drug court here in Indianapolis, and he says, Bill, he say, I can’t, you know, I mean, that’s the law. There are sentencing situations that are passed by law.
SCARPINO: Sentencing guidelines.
MAYS: Yes, sentencing guidelines. And I can’t change that. So, I’m saying someone who’s eighteen, nineteen, twenty, somewhere, twenty-one, gets involved with drugs, because that was happens to a lot of black males, they get sentenced. So, now they have a felony on their record. They can’t get hired by—Eli Lilly doesn’t let felons on their grounds. Now, I’m not trying to say that Lilly can’t have its own policies but if you don’t give individuals a chance, I mean, somebody twenty years ago committed something, did something—I’m not talking about a violent crime or child molesting or whatever, I am talking about something that society says is wrong, and it is perhaps, but it’s not impacting their ability to work.
So, we hire ex-felons and some of them are our best employees. We don’t have a lot, but we’ve got four or five. And not everyone has worked out over the years, but they’ve all been honest. We’ve never had a problem with theft. We’ve never had a problem with anything that any other employee wouldn’t be involved with and they’ve turned out to be excellent workers. And so I think that impacts the culture because I think that folks look at this company, look at them, and it’s not that we put a scarlet letter on them, but they know that, well he was in prison or she did whatever and but, you know, she’s really a good worker. And, you know, she’s sincere, or she’s raising a family. So, I think all of that adds to the culture and to the willingness to remain in the company.
SCARPINO: So, how would you summarize the corporate culture at Mays?
MAYS: I think it’s truly open and I think diversity here is more than just a term. I think it is in real practice. Inter-racial couples—we don’t have a philosophy that husband and wife can’t work here. We have two or three that met here and developed a relationship and got married. There may be some that live together that aren’t married. I don’t know. But the point is that’s not where we focus. We don’t focus on trying to find, or trying to make, everybody the same. We focus on this is the job and we want you to be able to do your job.
So, we have Muslim people and we get in—I’m sure there are discussions about what goes on in the Middle East because of the religious aspect. I’m sure we have Jewish people. A third of the company is non-minority. We have probably a third that’s African-American and there’s probably a third that’s Hispanic. Because we have a substantial Puerto Rican operation and east coast operation. Where in our east coast, there are Hispanics, Latinos. Spanish speaking—someone calls up from Puerto Rico or whatever or a customer or whatever—we have several people on the switchboard or around customer service, that speak very fluent Spanish; and that’s part of the—because there’s nothing that makes you feel more—that calms you down, then if you’ve got a problem and you call up and the person on the other end can’t talk. You gotta…
SCARPINO: You gotta know what they’re saying.
MAYS: …I mean, and I think all of that is the characterization of our work environment.
SCARPINO: You also said in that same article in Christian Professional Magazine that the leader of an organization must set the tone and be willing to walk the walk and talk the talk. What did you mean by that…
MAYS: Well, I think that…
SCARPINO: …in terms of your own leadership?
MAYS: …yeah, I think that you can’t just say it. I mean, I think you have to actually live it and do it. I think that when I’m working and I’m in here, my employees in here at six, and I’m in here at eight or nine at night, then they see that. They know that, hey he’s not here playing stereo. If, on Friday, we have a good week and we pride ourselves in having—actually I moved the goal up. We’ll make available beers on Friday afternoon, Friday evening. And say, hey, have a beer, Miller, or whatever, we’ve got some beer and I’ll pay for that. When we have a million-dollar day and we have probably once a week a million-dollar day where we invoice a million dollars in a day. Which is a lot of invoicing in the chemical—it could be, a lot invoice in the chemical world. But you know, we celebrate that and people give high fives. We make available tickets to Pacer games. We have a suite. Tickets to the Colts game. We try to do things like discount the various movies or plays or whatever because Mays Chemical is a sponsor of so many things and so we can do that. We negotiate that into our sponsorship package so we can make available to employees—like this evening, Cirque Du Soleil, which is at Conseco—which is an expensive—man, those tickets are $99.00 apiece.
SCARPINO: Yes, they are. They’re very expensive. (laughing)
MAYS: Yeah, it is expensive. Or a Pacer game or a Colts game. What we do is we have drawings and—or we’ll say if you’ve done a good job and your supervisor put your name in the hat then you can get two tickets to something like this. So, that kind of morale builder, I guess, is the way to say it.
We deal with hiring interns and we go first—when we look at interns for the summer—to our employees and say to them, if you have a son or daughter, you know, we’ll give you first priority in getting them oriented or trained to work, if they want to come here. You know, they may not, but if they do—and so we’ll hire four or five summer interns each year. And they’re outstanding employees. So they’re out there when they leave here most of them don’t come back to work—sometimes come back to work for us after four years—but they’re out there somewhere spreading the word and saying, man that company’s good. All of that builds, I mean, when we make contributions to the National Society of Black Engineers or the Black Accountants, and we do on a national level, I probably get—oh I get a resume a day on average—five to seven resumes a week from people wanting to come to work for this company.
SCARPINO: Just cold—over the transom?
MAYS: Yeah. We just heard—we really know about this and we really would like this and we read about you in some article or whatever. And so all of that I think builds. And then, you look at the alumni that have left Mays Chemical, and we never, I never encourage folks to leave particularly, but some of the most, the more outstanding people in the minority community that have taken on substantial leadership roles. John Thompson that I hired from—he was at McKenzie at the time in ’83—worked for me for seventeen years and he started his own company and he moved into the chairmanship of the Art Museum, first black board of governors and really set the tone for that construction that’s going on.
SCARPINO: What was the name of his company that he started?
MAYS: His company is Thompson Distributors.
SCARPINO: Oh, okay.
MAYS: He deals in, actually in pipes and plumbing supplies, but that allowed him to then invest in other companies. So, he’s got an engineering company and a construction company. I mean, very much like the model that I set. But he stayed here in Indianapolis and is very substantial. I mean, he’s taking a leadership role in the United Way. He’s dealing with the Minority Key Club that I started, helped start, back twenty years ago and he’s taken that to a new height where he is really trying to push more of the minorities into the de Tocqueville Society, which is pretty heavy level. Ten thousand dollars to run charities, I mean, that’s a tall order.
SCARPINO: The de Tocqueville Society is a philanthropic organization?
MAYS: That is correct. The de Tocqueville Society is a part of the United Way and it’s those individuals that give at least $10,000.00 annually to United Way.
SCARPINO: I want to ask you one more question and then I’ll schedule another session some time in the future…
MAYS: Another time? That’s fine.
SCARPINO: …because we are running up against the time you said you had…
MAYS: That’s fine.
SCARPINO: …and I have to go teach a class. The students will be waiting for me. This, again, relates to leadership and it’s based on a lot of the reading that I have done about your career. Does Christian faith play a role in your stand as a business leader?
MAYS: Oh, I think certainly it does. Faith in some higher being is certainly very fundamental. My parents were, came out of the, African Methodist—AME. I happened to deal with Presbyterian, but my family, my immediate family, attends even a different church now. But, I think the important thing is that there is—whether you call it Allah, whether call it whatever you want to call it by whatever name—there’s a higher being. I think that makes a big difference in how you treat people and how you view society and you view life. So, as I try to say, I may not be in the same church every Sunday, but I try to get in some church, some religious exposure each week. My travels don’t always allow me to be here in Indianapolis. But it also allows me to make significant financial contributions because, as I say, I can afford to give. And it’s interesting because folks have asked me, why is it that the people that have the most resources always end up in these few churches or whatever and why don’t you go to—and I said, well, I don’t think it was set up that way. It just kind of happens if that’s the way that goes, but I think that being a Christian is positive and being not so much a Christian or this Gentile or Jew or whatever, that’s not—it’s really having a faith in some higher being and recognizing that I didn’t do all this on my own. While we’d like to think that, I know that doesn’t work and I think anybody with any sense knows that somebody had to be helping you along the way. Something had to be dealing with it.
SCARPINO: Well, I would like to thank you very much for taking the time and sharing your time with me. I will schedule another appointment with your assistant and what I will do next time is the standard questions.
MAYS: You don’t have to—I don’t care about—unless you….
SCARPINO: The reason we do that is because we will have interviewed so many different people…
MAYS: Right, you got to cull the core.
SCARPINO: …that one of the things that holds these things together is that we’ve asked each person, no matter how different their career is, a common body of questions.
MAYS: Sure. That makes sense.
SCARPINO: And I also would like to talk you next time about your activities in philanthropy.
MAYS: Okay. That’s fine.
SCARPINO: There we go. Okay.
MAYS: Sure. I’ll be happy to say I am Bill Mays. Yes, I am aware that you are going to transcribe my answers to some questions and certainly you have my permission to use that at the IUPUI school.
SCARPINO: Okay. All right. Well, we’re on and that was a good sound test. So, for the record I would like to thank you for sitting with me for a second recording session. I would like once again to ask your permission to record the interview, to transcribe the interview, and to deposit the transcription and the interview in the IUPUI Archives and Special Collections.
MAYS: Yes. Certainly, you have my permission to do that.
SCARPINO: And, as I explained when—before I turned the recorder on, we are going to pick up where we left off last time. As part of this second and final interview I am going to include the standard questions that we ask everyone…
MAYS: That’s fine.
SCARPINO: …that we talked about on the subject of leadership. But first, kind of picking up where we left off last time, I noted in my research on you and on Mays Chemical that Mays Chemical has won numerous awards. For example, the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s Largest Sales Category of the Year, two times General Motors Outstanding Supplier of the Year given to the top one percent of suppliers in the world. You were ranked number 20 on Black Enterprise Magazine’s the Most Successful Black-owned Companies every year since 1995. Do you think of yourself as a leader among African-American owned companies?
MAYS: (laughing) Well, after you say all that, I guess, Phil, I have to say yes to that question. I think Mays Chemical has certainly been a very positive success story and it has enabled me to do a lot of different things and meet a lot of people and help a lot of other businesses. So, yes, I would say that certainly we try to do the right thing and be positive, contribute back to the community and that’s all a part of what I think being a successful business owner is about.
SCARPINO: One of the things that I read that I found to be particularly interesting about your background as a businessman—you actually said in a couple of interviews that you felt you would always face the stigma of failed minority businesses. And, you said in an interview with the New Standard, now I’ll just quote a couple of lines to you, you said “Those failures are remembered for years and years. I frequently hear from a potential client something like I used to do business with a black company that went under in 1984. Why should I do business with you? Corporate America,” you said, “has the memory of an elephant when it comes to forgetting negative dealings with black owned companies.” And the question I have is—have you intentionally tried to exercise leadership as an African-American businessman to address this tendency in corporate America?
MAYS: Well, certainly you try to do what you can and you do that by actions speaking louder than words. You do that by being a success and trying to indicate that you can’t judge every book by its cover. You have to at least get into it to see whether—because there are failed majority businesses too and I am sure there are more of them because there are just more of them. So, I think the stigma associated with failed businesses does not necessarily have to apply to black or white or man or woman. It just applies to business skills.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask a question that is going to betray my ignorance of business and economics but I am going to do it anyhow. In your experience as a successful businessman for years and years is there any difference in the failure rate between minority-owned businesses and majority-owned businesses?
MAYS: Oh, I think that on a percentage basis there are probably more failed minority businesses but for different reasons. One of the reasons that is most prevalent that businesses fail is access to capital and so if you don’t have enough money or if you don’t come from a well-to-do kind of environment, then you start the business on a shoestring and any little ill wind that blows along blows the business under. So, I think that is more of a problem in the minority community because we just don’t have the same access to capital. Given the same kind of business credentials, I think what you will find is that minority businesses with what they have to work with tend to be more successful on average than non-minority businesses because they’ve had to overcome so much.
SCARPINO: In interviews with both the Indianapolis Star and Black Enterprise you indicated an interest in helping minority businesses succeed. And you said in the Star and I quote: “If you talk to minority companies they will claim lack of access to money as their biggest problem. That’s a problem but management is a bigger problem.” The question I have is have you been involved as a role model or a mentor in helping to develop or nurture managerial talent among aspiring African-American business people?
MAYS: Absolutely. I think in more than one way. One of the ways in which we certainly try to do that at Mays Chemical is make financial contributions back to programs like the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which is an MBA Fellowship Program. We work with other leadership development programs like the Center for Leadership Development. We work with the historical black colleges and universities from a contribution standpoint both financially and physically. We make it a point to go to grade schools now. I used to go to high schools but grade schools to try to show as a role model that you can be successful as a minority-owned business.
SCARPINO: What do you tell the grade school kids?
MAYS: Well, I start off by saying—who wants to be an entrepreneur? And of course they may not know exactly what that is. What they have to see is that you don’t have to be an athlete or entertainer to be successful. I mean, I have nothing against athletes or entertainers but let us face it, only a very few folks have the talent to be either an outstanding athlete or an outstanding entertainer, where you can learn business skills. You can develop that over time and you can get help. I mean, I don’t know if there is anything I can do to help Coach Dungy coach his team better, I mean, a role model or whatever. So, the Colts winning the Super Bowl is clearly an accomplishment that literally—one in a million. I mean, it just doesn’t happen very often that you have that kind of skill and talent.
SCARPINO: Do you know Coach Dungy?
MAYS: Yes, I do know Coach Dungy.
SCARPINO: He seems like a really interesting man …
MAYS: He is an excellent, excellent individual, yes.
SCARPINO: You said at another point in the same article in the Star that you got involved not so much, that is, with mentoring of minority-owned businesses, not so much for a high return but you said, “I was really trying to help plan a more stable minority business community, so more black-owned businesses would participate in the growth of Indianapolis.”
MAYS: That is exactly correct. I get literally very little return from—as a matter of fact I was laughing because one of the businesses that I just loaned some money to called me. I had gotten them stabilized to the point where they qualified for a bank loan. They have a program, a minority help program, called Links and they got a loan for $150,000. And I said, well, gee, I guess that means you’ll be paying me back my money. The response was, well you know, your interest rate’s only eight percent and Links is charging eighteen percent and so what I’d rather do is not pay you back right now but pay you out over time when I collect receivables as my business grows. So I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I had in mind when I was trying to help, so I think I’m going to raise my interest rate. I guess that’s my bottom line.
SCARPINO: (laughing) Although Links. interest rate sounds like MasterCard or something, I mean that’s…
MAYS: Well, but for an unsecured relatively high-risk investment that’s not unusual. I mean, all you have to do is look at the—venture capitalists do this all the time at much higher rates of interest and they have fees. So, that’s really not out of the question. As a matter of fact eighteen percent is more the norm when you talk about borrowing from outside funding sources other than a financial institution.
SCARPINO: Would that be the kind of situation where somebody would borrow money at that rate really expecting to pay it back rather quickly?
MAYS: Well, that would the thought process but if that’s the only recourse you have to getting the money, then that’s what you have to do. Most, for whatever reason, small business people, minorities particularly, don’t have the credit history. Don’t have the kind of experience that would make a financial institution that is a bank, or a finance company or whatever—invest in them, I guess is the way to say it. That’s why you have so many people, minorities, a higher percentage I’m sure that do payday loans because they’re really going from one paycheck to another and they’re paying an exorbitant amount of interest on those loans.
SCARPINO: You’re talking about these storefront operations all over town?
MAYS: That’s correct, way more than eighteen percent.
SCARPINO: In the years that you have been a businessman here in town or in the years that Mays Chemicals has been in operation, have you seen an increase in a number of minority-owned businesses that are participating in the growth of Indianapolis?
MAYS: I think that I see the bifurcated kind of situation. That is, I see several very successful businesses and then I see a whole lot of mom and pops, smaller barber shops, beauty shops, salons, smaller businesses that are less than a million dollars in annual revenues and maybe have virtually no employees outside of the sole proprietor or whatever. So, I guess the long-winded answer that is that there are some very successful larger business that is certainly well in excess of ten million dollars in annual revenues and there’s a whole lot that are under a million dollars.
SCARPINO: In Indianapolis what are some of the ones that are in that category of more than ten million dollars in annual revenue?
MAYS: Well, of course when you look at Stewart Moving, you look at any car dealer because of the nature of what they sell, you look at some of the funeral homes that do substantial, certainly from a profit standpoint, their revenues may not be that high but the construction companies, any in Indianapolis, any of the well-known black construction companies are in excess of ten million dollars in annual revenues.
SCARPINO: For the record, could you name a couple of them?
MAYS: Well, sure. You take Corbitt & Sons would be a perfect example, Harmon Construction, Mamon Powers and Powers Construction. You have McFadden Solutions, McFadden Trucking. It’s probably forty million dollars at least in annual revenues and a sizable number of employees. So, I think that my goal was to try to get more of the smaller businesses up where they are actually employing people and dealing with annual revenues of ten million dollars. In my line of work in the chemical industry, and I recognize that it’s different, but ten million dollars would not be a very successful chemical distributor.
SCARPINO: I am going to insert into the interview some of the standard questions that we ask everyone we interview. So, some of these are pretty basic, starting with: what do you read?
MAYS: Well, I read the newspaper, of course, the Star and read might be too strong for the Star, I think I just glance at it, but business publications. I’ll read books that are bestsellers that pertain to business. The World is Flat, some of the more well known kind of motivational books and I’ll look at those and go through those. I’ll read books by black motivational artists, like somebody—Tavis Smiley who’s written several different books.
SCARPINO: Did you make his talk in town here recently?
MAYS: Yes, I did, absolutely yes. He happens to be a member of my fraternity, a very good friend. So, I like his foundation and I’ve contributed to that. And as a matter of fact he’s coming back. He has an Honorary Doctorate from Indiana University and he’s going to be the commencement speaker this year in May 2007 at IU.
SCARPINO: I’ll probably be there. My son is graduating. I probably shouldn’t have put that in the record. But, do you think a leader should read?
MAYS: Absolutely. In today’s technology there’s so many ways in which you can get information, it’s not just the old-fashioned pick up a book and read, but you have cassette tapes, you have the various internet exchanges that you can get information from. You have as I call them kind of Reader’s Digest summaries of publications and summaries of various books. So, you can get information a lot of different ways. The thing I don’t do is look at television a lot. That’s not just something that I particularly care to do.
SCARPINO: Do you ever read about other leaders?
MAYS: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I’m most motivated when I think about, particularly in the African-American community, I’m most motivated by someone like Johnny Johnson who is the president, owner of Ebony Magazine, and started that back in, oh I don’t know, maybe in the 30’s certainly in the 40’s, and how he was able to build that business at a time of segregation and whatever else in this country. And what was most impressive about him—to me, one of the things, was his ability to transfer that business to the next generation. Earl Graves and Black Enterprise is another example. I’ve read all of his publications that he’s out and he has a conference where he brings in black authors to talk motivationally and I get a chance to interact with them.
I sponsor, Mays Chemical sponsors, a lecture series, a diversity series, where we are part of—it’s called Matthew Stewart’s Diversity Lecture Series. He brings in very well known artists and entertainers if you will. I say entertainers, not the necessarily music but folks who entertain from a speaking standpoint. I wanted to make sure that Mays Chemical contributed to that and provided the opportunities for our younger people to see these folks up close. Colin Powell was here, a retired general. But for many folks the price was a little prohibitive. John Hope Franklin, one of the renowned sociologists, was just here and Henry Gates, they were doing a debate at Clowes Hall, and those are the kinds—and it was free. I mean, you had to get a ticket but you didn’t have to pay and those are the kinds of activities that I think Mays Chemical participates in to make a contribution to because we think that that helps the next generation.
SCARPINO: You’ve mentioned several individuals but who do you think are important leaders and why?
MAYS: Well, I guess you know, when I think about somebody like—oh let’s take Colin Powell, because I’ve just admired how he’s been able to maneuver through whether it’s Vietnam and move all the way up to Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and that transcends race. You take Condoleezza Rice, yeah she happens to be a black female but she wouldn’t be Secretary of State if she wasn’t good at what she was dealing with. I mean, that just isn’t going to happen. I guess when we’re talking about leaders now and the new front, you have our new Senator from Illinois, Obama, who is taking the, I think, the country by storm as he’s only in his second or third year in the Senate and already is raising money and is certainly a viable candidate for the Presidency of the United States.
SCARPINO: Who has inspired you as a leader?
MAYS: I guess, leadership, when I think about it, I look at folks that do things because they are right and not because they have to do them. So, I’ve been impressed with people like J. Irwin Miller who was the Chairman of Cummins Engine Company who tried to mold that company into something that America could be proud of. I think about Welch, who ran General Electric who is renowned for his leadership skills and the ability to build that company to the magnitude that it has become. I look at someone like a Dr. Frank Lloyd, Sr. who as an OB-GYN, he rose through the ranks at Methodist to run that entire hospital and to bring in talent, minority talent and other talent to where when that merged with the IU Hospitals; I mean the Clarian Organization is clearly the largest hospital in the state and probably across several states.
SCARPINO: Who has helped you along the way?
MAYS: (laughing) I had so much help. You know…it’s hard to…
SCARPINO: Can you hit the highlights? (laughing)
MAYS: It’s hard to even imagine, but when I think about somebody like, and I may have mentioned Andy Payne who was on the Board of the IU School of Business and that’s where when he was Chairman, well, he was actually Executive VP of Indiana National Bank, which allowed me access to the capital to grow. I think about Tom Binford in this community who certainly was a standard bearer for the right thing whether it’s at the 500 Race, whether it was being a community servant. I look at Sam Jones who was never going to get wealthy in his role as head of the Urban League but he certainly was a leader and very well thought of in all of the communities whether it’s Asian, black, white, whatever. So, all of them have helped me in some fashion— mold philosophies and mold how you conduct yourself and I think that’s how I view and the kind of people and how they help. And there are some I’m sure that I don’t even know that have helped me along the way. My teachers from high school, which instilled in me enough confidence to be able to go on to an Indiana University and to come out of a segregated environment and not let that be a handicap or if you will, an excuse for not being successful. Of course I admire my dad immensely. He passed when I was very young but that’s where I got a lot of the tenacity to continue on and succeed even when the odds may not be in your favor.
SCARPINO: Do you think that having a mentor or mentors played an important role in your development as a leader?
MAYS: Oh yeah, sure. Absolutely. I would not have the business acumen had I not spent a year with Hank Schacht at Cummins Engine Company who was the president of a multi-billion dollar company at a relatively young age who allowed me to come in from a school like an Indiana University compared to a Harvard, or a Stanford, or whatever and took me through a lot of the stages of development from a leader and from a decision-making standpoint. Because when it when comes down to it that’s what real leadership is, it’s making good decisions and you can’t wait until you get perfect information to make good decisions. And I think that’s one of the, well, I don’t want to say, one of the failings of our President, but I won’t get into that with the war because I guess we all have our crosses to bear, but that is a whole other scene.
SCARPINO: But the ability to make effective decisions sometimes without having all the information…
MAYS: That’s correct. And the ability to admit that you are wrong once you get more information and correct it.
SCARPINO: Do you think that’s hard to do, to admit you’re wrong?
MAYS: It is extremely difficult to do. It’s not so much—I don’t think it’s so difficult for me because I go into situations a lot with the idea that I don’t have perfect information and that we will take risk, but that’s what an entrepreneur does and taking risk is just not something that I’m opposed to. Can I ask for a time out? [brief conversation with third party not relating to interview]
SCARPINO: Actually this is still recording so…
MAYS: That’s fine. Just tell them I got interrupted to make a decision.
SCARPINO: No, well this leadership in action. I just didn’t want you to say anything—I wanted you to know it was on.
MAYS: I appreciate it. [More conversation with third party not related to interview]
SCARPINO: It’s a new recorder. I am still learning this, so I thought rather than terminate it and start over…
MAYS: No, that’s fine. No, you can screen that out.
SCARPINO: Do you mentor other people?
MAYS: I try. I think that I spend a fair amount of time talking with other business people and trying to give them an opportunity to interact because, as an entrepreneur it’s kind of lonely. It’s different than working a job because as the entrepreneur, I guess as the successful entrepreneur you have to be willing to look in the mirror and recognize that if something goes right or something goes wrong, it probably was in your control to be able to make it happen. And for many people that’s kind of scary. They’d rather have a boss tell them so they can blame somebody. I think in recent years more of my time has been spent mentoring with younger people and I say younger—those that are going into college or in college and the reason for that is I think that it gives a chance for them to see at an early point in their development, the interaction with someone who’s running a 150 million dollar business, but who can take the time to say—this is important, and this is why I made this decision or that decision.
SCARPINO: So, these are like interns that you have here?
MAYS: They’re interns that we have every summer. We have six here but then I’ll visit them either at the University of Evansville or at IU where a couple of them attend, or even Rose Hulman and just go in their environment and speak to one of their classes or be with them and just spend an afternoon or whatever, just so that they can get a chance to interact and say, well, how did you this or why did you that or what politically motivated you to be a Democrat and support the first Republican governor in sixteen years? Who I think is doing a really superb job of shaking up stuff in Indianapolis.
SCARPINO: Why did you support the first Republican governor in sixteen years?
MAYS: Well, because I really felt that the Democratic leadership at the state level was going to be more of the same and the economy was going straight down, not up, and we had to change the paradigm. I mean the manufacturing segment is just not what it once was and Indiana is very heavy manufacturing and so you have to lean toward the new, what’s coming and not what once was. I mean, the automotive industry and those that depend on heavy manufacturing, the durable goods manufacturing, it’s like a dinosaur. I mean, there’s too much other stuff coming back with new plastics, new things that take the place of what once was steel and whatever and we’re still operating in an old mode. So, I felt that there needed to be new leadership and I had known Governor Daniels before he went off to Washington, before he was ever thinking about coming back to be governor in his role at Eli Lilly, when he ran that operation at one of the North American operations for Lilly. I could just see him as a very, I guess articulate, but more importantly dedicated and smart decision-maker. Not everything he’s going to do is going to sit well and be right but at least he’s trying some things and some will make it and some won’t but at least he tried to make economic development a higher priority and everybody talks about it. Every leader talks about economic development but you got to do something about it, and so he’s really put some things in place that make that a higher priority in the State of Indiana.
SCARPINO: Do you think that networks play a role in the development of successful leaders?
MAYS: Oh, there’s no question. Networking is very important but the problem with so many of us—we don’t know exactly what networking is. Now, let me give you an example. Years ago there was this team called the Indiana Pacers, which is still around that plays…
SCARPINO: They’re struggling.
MAYS: They’re struggling. That’s correct. Well, one time a year L.A. comes from the west coast to play in our conference.
SCARPINO: The Lakers.
MAYS: The Lakers and of course you know, back in the day with all those superstars they had, it was just fun to watch. We knew the Pacers were going to lose but at least it was fun to watch. So, I had tickets to the game and I got a call from Andy Payne as a matter of fact who said, hey, I want to introduce you to somebody, and we’re having a reception at the Art Museum. So, I’m sitting here with two tickets to the Laker game and I get invited to go to this. I said, well, what is the? You know, he says, well, I want to introduce you he says, Frank O’Bannon’s a good friend of mine and I want to introduce you to him. He’s on the ticket running for lieutenant governor. And I said, okay, you know, fine Andy, for you I’ll go. Now, first of all I’m not an art lover. Second of all, I mean, this is the only the chance I get to see the Lakers live. So, somebody in the office said, well, hey, I’ll be happy to take your tickets, Mr. Mays. I can go network. And I am saying, how’re you going network at a game when there’s nobody around you particularly that is worth networking with? At the Art Museum I met Frank O’Bannon who became Lieutenant Governor and then Governor and I was on his transition team because he was impressed just by talking with me in an environment like that, knowing that was not necessarily my element, but that’s networking.
And so, to me I think there’re all kind of—I do not like to use the term networking, I like to use supporting because you need support groups and you need to be able to retreat to certain kinds of support groups where your company—you can be just another person as opposed to always being on show and tell and whatever. And I have several organizations that are that way. Yes, I was chairman of the Chamber and yes, I was on the Art Museum and this and that and the other but when I look and want to really retreat I can go to my fraternity where one of my fraternities whether Sigma Pi Phi or whether it’s Kappa Alpha Psi or whatever and everybody there is “kind of equal.” The distinction is not made on a basis of money, or not made on the basis of what you did today. It’s made on the basis of just personal camaraderie and that makes it a very pleasant kind of evening to be able to be around those people on a periodic basis.
SCARPINO: What was your role on the O’Bannon transition team?
MAYS: I was involved—actually the area, believe it or not, was economic development, which makes sense.
SCARPINO: It seems to fit.
MAYS: Yeah, it seems to fit. And then, the area though that was interesting in the Daniels. administration where I served on the transition team and actually met with Mitch a couple of times a week, that transition team was very small, I didn’t want to do it because I said, I really don’t know anything about government. I really don’t like to get involved in all the little intricacies of it but I was told in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t serve there probably would not be another African-American on his transition team because he did not have the confidence. He did not believe that some of the people that he might put on that were recommended to him that happened to be African-American would give him the soundest advice whereas a Bill Mays who really had nothing to gain, was not interested, supported him from the very beginning, was one that he just felt a high degree of trust.
SCARPINO: So, I may have misspoken, you were on O’Bannon’s transition team and on the current governor?
MAYS: Yeah. So, sixteen, yeah. Sixteen years later.
SCARPINO: So, you did one for Democratic and one for Republican?
MAYS: That’s correct, that’s correct. And it wasn’t about Democratic or Republican. It was about the individuals at that point in time and I just you know, I knew Frank. I mean I had known him for, ever since the Art Museum and he’s from down in southern Indiana and was just a nice…
SCARPINO: Corydon, Indiana?
MAYS: Yeah Corydon. That’s correct. Just a nice individual. I like Judy, his wife, and so we hit it off. The same thing with Mitch. I mean it just happens that and folks don’t understand exactly but that’s how certain things happen. Governor Daniels, and I’ve got his cell number, and I mean, so he will call me and just say, give me a buzz back leave a voice mail I want to ask you about this individual, or I want to ask you about this situation or whatever. Make sure that I’m on point with this. And I think part of that trust level is the fact that I have nothing, I’m not trying to gain anything, and so you’re a lot more comfortable accepting counsel when you know the person giving the counsel is doing it just out of the genuine interest in the broader picture, not out of personal gain.
And so, I think that was the same relationship with Frank O’Bannon. I never will forget—and I get involved in politics but at a very high level, but I remember getting a call from a former governor, Governor Orr, who called me and was wanting to make an appointment and wanting to put a minority in, African-American. He found one that he thought was really qualified. His problem, his concern was that she had a child out of wedlock and he thought that was just terrible. I said, well Governor, in the African-American community, that’s not looked upon the same way. I said, so, it’s not a stigma, it’s not as negative as you are portraying it. And I said, if she can do the job that you think she can do, then don’t let that fact stop you. He did appoint her and she served outstandingly. Moved up and served not only as members of the Federal of the—State Regulatory Commission, but went into Washington served on the federal level and then moved into the Department of Energy under the Bush administration and as Deputy Secretary for Energy and her daughter just finished—this “out of wedlock daughter”—just finished Purdue last year and going right on.
SCARPINO: Her name is?
MAYS: Yeah this is Vicky Bailey. And so, but if someone hadn’t been willing back years ago to say to the governor, this is just not the same thing and maybe it should be, but it’s not, and I don’t know whether she would have been able to get without that first step, without that first opportunity. And that’s why I guess I am so, so big on trying to help ex-offenders get jobs because if they don’t get a chance there’s no recourse. I mean, and unfortunately that’s been the case in our society.
SCARPINO: We actually did talk last time that you, in that case, put your money where your mouth is, so to speak, and you hired ex-offenders at Mays Chemicals.
MAYS: That is correct. That is correct and we are getting some real legs behind this kind of effort because now others—the Department of Corrections is stepping up, the Mayor is stepping up, the Governor is stepping up, because they recognize that if I come out, there ought to be a period of time—I mean, if somebody’s been out and they’ve done—worked a job, done well for ten years and you say, yeah but you can’t go here because ten years ago when you were eighteen you did something and so, I think that we’ll see more changes not only here in the city and the state but across the country in how ex-offenders and programs that will be more attuned to trying to make ex-offenders more welcome; get back into society.
SCARPINO: What do you think are the qualities that distinguish effective leadership?
MAYS: Well, I think a leader, of course a leader has to as I say lead but you also have to listen. I think that you have to be decisive. You have to be fair but genuine in what your leadership role ought to be and you ought to be able to at some point step aside and let somebody else lead. Know when it’s time to, if you will, pass the baton. That’s one of the criticisms I have of our minority leaders. Many of them, they tend to stay too long. They don’t want to give up the seat of power, it’s almost like ’til they’re dead. So they’re not really training the next generation. So, I think that’s a very important characteristic is that you got to know when to give up the baton.
SCARPINO: What criteria do you use to define successful leadership? How do you know it when you see it?
MAYS: Well, when you see it, I think you know it when you can get a chance to test people in an environment where they’re not normally engaged, where they have to make decisions in a degree of uncertainty and in situations that they’re unfamiliar with. I think that’s to me the acid test and I occasionally find myself in these situations where there are decisions that I have to make. Somebody’s coming in asking for a charitable donation, and I have to make a decision—well, is this somebody that I can trust that’s going to do what they say with the money? Is this something that I want the company’s name behind? Is this going to work out to be positive? So, I think that the decision-making and the characteristics that I look for are just a little more, maybe a little more, I’m not even going to say different, but you have to be able to arrive at the conclusion pretty quickly if this is a person that’s going to be—candidates for office. I mean a perfect example. I mean I was berated to no end for supporting the present Governor by Democrats and whatever or alike, black folks, whatever. And my response to that is I’m making the decision based on my gut feel and based on my observations of how this man has performed in other circumstances because that’s all you can really put together. It’s got nothing to do with being Democrat or Republican, because I don’t support just because you happen to be of a particular party and I don’t support just because you happened to be man or woman, black or whatever. I mean it is a personal judgment, and I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum. And of course those same people who were criticizing me in October were back in December asking—sending their resume trying to get a job because they recognized that only a few were going to be walked through that door and if they didn’t have the right stamp, they weren’t going to get in this administration.
SCARPINO: I am going to move away from the standard questions for a while and note that in 1990, you purchased the Indianapolis Recorder, which was at that time the fourth oldest surviving black newspaper in the nation.
MAYS: It still is. That’s correct.
SCARPINO: With you as publisher, according to what I’ve seen the Recorder’s enjoyed strong circulation won a number of awards including the National Newspaper Publisher’s Association Merit Award for the best youth section. What motivated you to publish, to purchase, the Recorder?
MAYS: Well, very simply, I was on the board of the Recorder for several years. Frank Lloyd, Dr. Lloyd, pulled me on the board because he says, this institution needs help, this paper needs help. Now, I don’t know anything about publishing, about newspapers per se. So, I got on the board in, oh I don’t know, ’86, ’85–’86—I was on there for several years and I looked at the equipment. I mean they were still dealing, they thought an Apple Computer was something unique, and so, desktop publishing they use to still do stuff by razor blades and whatever. So, in 1990 I said, if don’t buy this, if I don’t do something, it’s going to die. In five more years in 1995 it would be a hundred years old. That would the hundredth anniversary. And I said, it would be a crime for an institution, particularly a black institution like the Recorder, to go out of business before they can celebrate their 100th anniversary. So, I bought it in 1990, and then I modernized it, pumped money into it, and then put my niece in ’95 or ’96 I guess actually and she’s been running it even more successfully that I am. That’s where all the increase in circulation and whatever else. So, I promoted myself up to Chairman of the Board and let her run everything day to day.
SCARPINO: How many employees does the Recorder…
MAYS: Good ones or… (laughing)
SCARPINO: No, no, no. (laughing)
MAYS: I think it’s 24 on the payroll.
SCARPINO: I actually will say for the record but speaking as a historian, we are extraordinarily fortunate to have the Recorder in existence for 100 years because it provides a window into understanding African-American experience in Indianapolis we otherwise wouldn’t have, so, we use it all the time. What were your goals other than modernizing it and keeping it from going under?
MAYS: Survival was the main goal to try to in the mid ’90s we moved to then set up an internship program where we could train young folks to actually be professional journalists because the excuse always is, we can’t find anybody, you know how that always is. So, we set up a program that we called JAWS, Journalism and Writing Seminar, where we actually paid young people in high school an hourly wage to come and work at the paper and actually got a page that was actually put in print. I mean, they actually published a page, and we’d have eight or ten each semester.
SCARPINO: Now is that the youth section that won the award?
MAYS: That’s correct. That’s correct. And so, I think that once I got into it I discovered that there were other colleges and universities that would help us. I mean, Ball State stepped up, Franklin College was a very strong supporter. Of course IUPUI has always been, where we could actually in the beginning we didn’t have all the computers that we needed but we put together a grant proposal to Nina Mason Pulliam and they stepped up and said, hey, we think this is a great program. We really like it. And they gave us a grant so we could then fix up the work area and have an individual computer for each one of the dozen students or so. Then, I paid the one of the graduates of the program who went off to college, got her journalism degree and came back. And so, we still do that. That program is very successful. As a matter of fact I always get a little nervous because when the Star or somebody’s looking for talent they look over at the Recorder and of course they have more resources and whatever to be able to attract people and there’re several folks that came from the Recorder that actually worked at, they actually work for majority publications now, which is...
SCARPINO: Has the Recorder in the years that you’ve owned it come to serve as an incubator, to train professional people?
MAYS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m saying—Ragsdale [unable to verify but likely last name] is a good example of that who worked here and moved on to Washington or whatever, but there are other examples of folks that actually got their start at the Recorder that have subsequently moved on to majority papers and—which is fine. I mean that’s all part of what goes on and I don’t know how long we have to—it’s always a constant modernization because people don’t read, young people today don’t read and so, you’re constantly trying to figure out different ways, whether it’s through the internet, whether it’s through other accesses where they can still find the paper relevant. And as far as the, you know, what happens in the black community, yes we cover that, and that’ll be around for years, but maybe not in the same format, or the same form and so, I’m trying to look at the new people coming into the Recorder for the next generation of thoughts. Because black newspapers across the country are in serious trouble really and newspapers in general are in serious trouble and so, the Star and Gannett and whatever, I mean—people laughed at—I remember when USA Today came out and people laughed and said this’ll never work. ##___Today has got to be one of the biggest sellers out there, the biggest moneymakers for Gannett because they were willing to try something different with all of this spicy color and sending it by satellite into certain zones. I mean they did something that was different at the time.
SCARPINO: Do you think that the Recorder itself exercises leadership?
MAYS: I think it certainly tries and I think of course an institution like the Recorder is no better than the leaders who run it and fortunately we tried to—and are able to attract a pretty decent talent over there, younger talent, and we try to take leads in certain areas. Like for an example, I would not—still don’t—accept cigarette ads and liquor. Now, we may do some beer if it’s in conjunction with some other products but essentially the splash of—and particularly cigarettes, I just absolutely say no. But back in the, you know, ten years ago I mean that was the lifeblood of particularly black newspapers was as I call them, the sin and vice kinds of advertising, and I am saying, why don’t we change from that concept? Why don’t we go to institutions like the hospitals, like the insurance companies and do a section on health? I’m not saying you don’t have to make money on advertising, but hospitals have a lot of money evidently. They build them every other minute it seems like and—but let’s make it something positive. Let’s do positive kind of things. So, the concept that I had was I don’t want negative news plastered all over the paper. And yeah, we’ll report the news accurately, but that doesn’t mean that I have to dwell on the murder or the shooting or the dope act or whatever. Yes we may report that, but that’s not the focal point.
SCARPINO: What is the focal point?
MAYS: The focal point is positive stories. How do you inspire people to succeed and give them the tools to succeed? How do—home ownership is a way for wealth creation. And so, you need to explain what it’s like to get a mortgage and how you need to figure out how to save the money for a down payment because many people spend as much money on apartment rent as they do on a mortgage. It’s that down payment. It’s just getting the understanding that you’re building equity and with the apartment you’re just getting rent receipts. So, I think that’s really the kind of focus and that’s continued for some years and it’s been really pretty successful.
SCARPINO: So, do you personally exercise leadership as a publisher? Is that your stamp on the paper that says positive spin, no cigarette ads?
MAYS: Yes, yes. Right. And I can afford to do that, because again, the focus is not maximizing profits because I have other income so, I don’t have to, that has to make enough money to be self-sustaining and all that. But you know I mean if it makes a hundred thousand dollars a year net, that’s enough, and so I can afford to say, no we’re not going to take on this ad and the people over there understand and know my philosophies as it relates to certain kinds of advertising. We could advertise nightclubs and go-go joints, or whatever, strip joints or whatever, and there is a place for that. But I just say that is not the image or the area that I want to dwell on.
SCARPINO: When you bought the paper was it self-sustaining?
SCARPINO: Is it now?
MAYS: Yes, yes.
SCARPINO: I read several pieces in the Recorder, as I was doing my background work for this interview and one of the things that struck me was a signed editorial comment in the Recorder concerning ministers who were circulating petitions seeking leniency for Mike Tyson…
MAYS: Mike Tyson.
SCARPINO: You wrote this editorial and one line in particular struck me. “If Mike Tyson is an African-American hero,” you said, “as some of our ministers claim, God knows we don’t need another hero.” And then you said that, “A convicted rapist, he was no more a role model than the person on the street flashing hundred dollar bills selling dope.”
MAYS: And the ministers were very upset at that too.
SCARPINO: Were you attempting to exercise leadership there? What were you trying to do?
MAYS: Yes. Well, to say just exactly what that said, that a convicted rapist at that point, Mike Tyson was a convicted rapist—should not be viewed as a hero and should not be viewed as a role model but by the ministers who were getting paid, in my estimation, by Don King and others to try to get the sentence ameliorated, or lessened, or whatever. And so, I felt that they were really pimping themselves by doing it, prostituting themselves really. And so I said I can afford to take a stance on this and I did. And I wrote it and signed it and that’s unusual.
SCARPINO: Did you take a fair amount of heat for doing it?
MAYS: Oh, a lot of heat. I got called in by the ministers—summoned. That came out on Thursday. The Star picked it up on Friday. On Saturday I got summoned by the concerned clergy or whatever and I went to their meeting and they were all around just talking about how terrible it was that I would say that and so on and so forth, and they said, we’re going to boycott the Recorder. And I said, oh, okay. We’re going to put you out of business. And I said, okay, that’s fine. I said, let me try to put it in perspective for you because obviously you don’t know enough to be able to put this in perspective. The perspective is, you don’t really hurt Bill Mays because Bill Mays runs the largest chemical concerns in the state of Indiana in chemical distribution and since nobody in this room buys a dime’s worth of chemicals, you haven’t caused me any heartburn. I said, now, what you have done if you could carry out your threat, which is questionable, but if you could, is you’ve just put a black institution out of business that has a history, a hundred-year history, and basically I probably ought to thank you because I probably subsidize it with a hundred thousand dollars a year coming from me personally.
It got dead quiet. And of course as the story would go, no, they did not boycott. Somebody stood up and said, well you know, this doesn’t make any sense and plus Mays Chemical does a lot in this community. They had not put together something, I mean it hadn’t clicked that the resources to help charities, to help United Way, to help churches, came from the Mays Chemical side, and that if those resources stopped, then they were going to lose too. So, needless to say, they did not boycott. I gave them, I said, what you need to look at, now that he is convicted, what you need to deal with, is how to keep him on a route that doesn’t provide for a long prison sentence. And I said, but you all haven’t, don’t even have the connections to make that kind of appeal to the judge that’s going to do to the sentencing, which is true.
SCARPINO: What kind of qualities do you think heroes should possess, if we just turn it around?
MAYS: Well, I think heroes should be looked upon as someone who accomplishes what the everyday person doesn’t accomplish. I mean the Tuskegee Airmen are a good example. Now, you can say, well, that was in segregated times in World War II, but those were just as skilled professionals flying aircraft and you can debate whether or not they lost five planes or twenty-five planes but the point is that under the conditions they had to operate—separate training, separate planes, the whole bit, probably not the best equipment, they did a miraculous job and they finally got recognized by this country very recently in Washington D.C. with—well, the whole group got the Congressional Medal—but each of them got a Bronze Medal, I think, and they were just as proud as they could be those who were still alive to see that. That’s my idea of a hero, someone who’s operating under adverse conditions but still manages to excel and achieve.
SCARPINO: I was interested in something you said vis-à-vis your editorial on Mike Tyson. The petitions of the ministers were circulating, that was actually underwritten by somebody outside of Indianapolis who was…
MAYS: Sure, Don King was his manager.
SCARPINO: …Don King? Okay.
MAYS: Sure, the money came from King. There was no question of that, and so, I said, well why? Because, they wanted the Recorder to do it, and I said, well there’s no way we’re going to support this kind of action. And I mean, it’s not even a discussion. There’s nothing, you can’t buy me, so there’s nothing to discuss, and the people in the paper knew exactly my position (laughing) so they can read it.
SCARPINO: I am going to shift gears here and put a few more of our standard questions in, and then I am going to switch back and ask you about philanthropy before we go our separate ways.
SCARPINO: How would you characterize your idea or your concept of leadership? Who is the leader? What constitutes leadership?
MAYS: Well, I think again leaders have to lead, and my idea is a leader is someone that under adverse conditions is still able to make positive decisions that are not clouded by their own personal kinds of convictions. And by convictions I’m really talking about their own personal gain, I guess it is the way to say it. That’s why some of the best leaders, I mean you look at a Winston Churchill. I mean, the reason that he stands out so much was the kind of charisma and the kind of leadership and the kind of hope that he gave Britain. I mean, it’s just that simple. You look around and there’s very few that—they may be “president,” but they don’t exhibit that same kind of hope and quality and whatever including our current president.
SCARPINO: You mentioned a little while ago that you don’t watch much television?
SCARPINO: And I am wondering if, in your opinion, do you think that persuasiveness of television in our society and culture has had any influence on the way people understand leadership or what a leader is?
MAYS: Well, I think you have to view television for what it is. It’s entertainment and so the message they’re trying to get across is selling sponsors, selling money, selling commercials. So, the people, and this is one of the more negative things, I look at somebody like Bob Johnson who ran Black Entertainment Television and got criticized because it wasn’t more educational and he says, this was not Black Educational TV, this was Black Entertainment TV and I’m in this to make a profit and I’ve got shareholders. I’ve got people that count on me for turning this over. So, I look at it and I laughed because when they sold that company for, I don’t know, to Viacom—two billion dollars or some huge amount. And I’m saying he’s accomplished what he was trying to do as a leader and he turned right around and bought some other things—the basketball team I guess, the one in Charlotte—and who knows all the stuff that he is buying with that kind of money. So, I think the television situation, I just—in the 60s and 70s the programs on did not necessarily portray what—they were entertainment and so that the programs at the very top, I mean even now, American Idol, I don’t see any leadership in American Idol. But it crosses black, white, man, woman, I mean it can be the talk of—you can get into arguments over whether he should’ve been cut. I don’t see any leadership in Donald Trump. He’s very successful. But I don’t see any leadership in him as a person as an individual. Now, is he is successful? There’s no question of that.
SCARPINO: So, there’s a difference between leadership and self-promotion?
MAYS: That’s correct. That’s correct. Leaders don’t have to do that: self-promote.
SCARPINO: How would you describe your own style of leadership?
MAYS: I’m probably a dictator. (laughing) I’m more a consensus builder than a leader in the standpoint of “follow me.” My idea is to try to surround myself with people who have the skills and who have their own leadership and I try to bring out in them what’s necessary to make something successful. I’m amazed sometimes when I look at the various boards that I sit on or the leadership positions that I have been thrust into and whether it’s chairman of the United Way, whether it’s the chairman of the lottery, the first African-American on the IU Foundation and on and on. And now, you know, if I wanted it and I don’t think it’s any great secret to people who are in the know—the governor’s going to appoint some trustees to Indiana University. He’d love to appoint Bill Mays. But Bill Mays will say no. First of all there’s too much stuff going on but I’m past that point now in my life that I want to work that hard. So—and that takes real leadership to get a consensus on that, the board of trustees.
SCARPINO: My sense is that they work really hard.
MAYS: They work extremely hard and you know, let’s face it. I don’t think those checks come rolling in commensurate with the time. You can’t get enough basketball tickets, whatever they get—football tickets.
SCARPINO: What has worked well for you about your concept, your style of leadership?
MAYS: Oh, I think the leadership role is not, my leadership role is not seen so much as a dictator but I think it’s seen more as—let’s get the job done. My basic philosophy, which carries over into the leadership role is you either get the job done or you get credit for getting the job done. But you rarely get both. So, to me a leader has to be one who is willing to forego the credit and deal with let’s just get this job done. Whether it’s raising money, whether it’s cleaning up a neighborhood, whatever it is, meeting a sales objective, and so I think that has worked and stood me very, very well throughout the years.
SCARPINO: What has not worked so well for you about your style of leadership?
MAYS: Oh, I think that criticizing or failing to—figuring out how to criticize someone in a constructive way. I don’t tend to sugarcoat a lot of things and so people can get crushed pretty easily just by telling them—it could be the truth, but a leader has to be able to somehow figure out how to say the truth, but do it in a way that you don’t crush the individual you are trying to help or the situation you are trying to overcome.
SCARPINO: Is that a difficult balance?
MAYS: It is extremely difficult. And I’m not sure that I’ve done it very well, that I’ve conquered that. That’s still something I’m working on.
SCARPINO: Do you see a distinction or a difference between leadership and management?
MAYS: Oh, yeah. That’s why I say managers tend to dictate, tend to tell you what to do. Leaders provide the opportunity for you to do without being specifically guided, I guess is the way to say it, and that’s tough sometimes. And all of us have a tendency to manage but a true leader is, as I say—is someone who can set the tone so that those qualities or those areas that you want to improve or overcome are handled but you haven’t told somebody this is how you do it, go do it.
SCARPINO: Can you think of an event or an incident that best demonstrates your style of leadership?
MAYS: Well, I think the ability to take the United Way Campaign and to run that where you have to depend on volunteers, where you have to set a different tone and that’s what I tried to do while I was chairman, while I was campaign chair, I looked at what has been successful that others who’ve been in this role have done. Well, there are people that work second shift and third shift, but most of the time people, you know, in those roles only want to go visit from eight to five. And I said, well no, you know UPS is working all night. They’re big. Why don’t we set up a time? I’ll go out there at two in the morning or Federal Express—and so, I think the willingness to do something different is what prompted us to be successful in that United Way campaign raising thirty-one million dollars fifteen years ago. Not that they haven’t been somewhat successful since then but you extrapolate that over fifteen years and you say, well, we still haven’t gotten to fifty million dollars, I think this year we are going to make it fifty million whether we can get to it or not. So, you know, it’s kind of hit a plateau.
SCARPINO: Some of the, I guess scholarship, that attempts to analyze leadership of what it means to be a leader, argues that leadership or leaders are sometimes born or forged in a crisis or a challenging situation. So, the question is, was there an event or crisis that helped forge your view of leadership?
MAYS: No, I think about some things. I laugh about Alexander the Great who cried because he had nothing else to conquer but I also kind of like Genghis Khan because he was “bad boy” out there. And I think about someone that— Hannibal that burned the bridges once he crossed the Alps to say there is no turning back, we have to go forward. I don’t know if there is any specific incident in my life that kind of forged. I’m sure there were many little things but it wasn’t an “a-ha moment” I guess is the way to say it. I think about—and again, haven’t had many crises but coming home from school, on getting a call from my mom that my dad was gravely ill when I was nineteen and driving half the night from Bloomington. One of my friends brought me down and getting there and the first thing my mom says, I’m sorry he died before you could get here. And I mean at that point, you know the impact of that—that I’d never see him alive again and that’s what she was trying to get me to come down and I did as soon as—but you know it’s a big campus and you’ve got to find me and they don’t have cell phones in those days.
SCARPINO: I’m going shift away from the standard questions and ask you few questions about philanthropy. You have a long and impressive record of philanthropic giving and promoting philanthropy. A few examples include your involvement with the United Way of Central Indiana, Indiana University Foundation Board, the state board of the United Negro College Fund and so on. What do you think are the purpose and significance of philanthropy?
MAYS: Well, I think again giving back is very important to me and should be important to anyone after you have reached a certain modicum of success, and that success is not always measured in financial terms. As I said, my family was not wealthy but there was always a giving aspect at church. We attended church every Sunday and you were expected to save part of your allowance and put it in church. And that’s kind of hard for somebody who’s seven years old, the choice between an ice cream cone or putting the quarter in church where you get this
basket passed in front of you and you know this is kind of like why am I, I mean do it?
So, I think that the whole aspect of giving back is what makes it for me and watching others succeed knowing that I kind of gave them that little boost and I never share that talking about with anybody particularly, but just the fact the inward feeling knowing that, you know, I helped him get, helped him be where he is today and I’m proud of him. He’s going on to do better things, more successful things. That’s another reason for mentoring the businesses because what I’d like for them to do is be more successful than even I was and again that takes, you have to really feel good about the philanthropic activities in order to consistently do them. Whether it’s the Art Museum, the Children’s Museum, or whatever, and I try to instill that in my kids. And you know it’s tough, I mean do they go out and get a new BMW or do they try to put together some kind of entrepreneurial venture that will, down the road, hopefully turn into something successful. Yeah, they can take the same money and buy a brand new car but that’s the instilling of this entrepreneurial spirit is what I try to do.
SCARPINO: Do you see yourself as a leader in philanthropy?
MAYS: Yeah. I guess I will say that whether I consider it or not it doesn’t matter. Other people just absolutely feel that it’s important for Bill Mays to be on this board or that board or whatever and in the not-for-profit world, I mean, even with the School of Philanthropy, I mean I’m sure that if I just even raised a modicum of thought process that with the appropriate people over there they’d like nothing better than for me to come on that board. But you know, I went on the board of Randy Tobias, the overseeing group, because of the friendship with Randy, and I said, I don’t need another—it won’t take much time, that’s the standard line and it never takes much time. (laughing) But then, you know, I’ll have folks say to me it is extremely important that we just have you on the board even if you don’t come to a meeting because we need to use your name and the fact that if we need you we can call you and we won’t call much, won’t call often. I am amazed at several boards that I’m on that I haven’t been to a meeting in two years but they want to keep my name on there and they want to be able to say, well, Bill Mays supports us and I’m kind of saying, what does that do, I don’t do anything? Well you give us money. Well, yeah, but I don’t need to be on the board to give you money.
SCARPINO: I guess that is one function of not-for-profits boards is that…
MAYS: Oh, absolutely. It is.
SCARPINO: …make rain.
MAYS: It is. There’s no question with that. There is absolutely no question. I mean the Society of Retired Execs, the Commission on Indianapolis, the Mayor’s commission, that he has, downtown commission. There’s any number that would just want to be able to say that you support them and that helps them get money from other sources. I took, an extent, the United Negro College Fund. I happen to believe in that cause and I tell them and I said, I just don’t have time to go to the meetings but I’ll support you where you need support and I’ll be able to not only provide money but I’ll also be able to convince others that this is a worthy cause and help you set up just like they set up a meeting, an effort in Evansville, which had really been something. I said it should be the whole state. Why don’t you go to Evansville? We don’t know anybody in Evansville. Well, I sit on the board of Vectren which is a large corporation in Evansville. So, I just asked one the senior vice presidents, I said, well why can’t you spearhead this down in Evansville? And he said, nobody asked me. But, Bill, I think it’s a worthwhile cause. So, before you know it, Old National Bank, and Citizens, and Fifth/Third and Bristol Myers and all of them kind of jumped on the bandwagon and said, this is good, but it took that first initial—and the person up here just didn’t know. I mean, didn’t know how to go about getting to somebody high enough that would make some sense, whereas for me he’s coming in presenting to the board every month, so it happened to be the highest-ranking African-American in Vectren so, I mean it follows that Vectren would support it and they did, financially and otherwise.
SCARPINO: And his name is again?
MAYS: Ellis Redd.
SCARPINO: Talk about the United Way for a bit. You involve yourself and Mays Chemical extensively in the United Way of Central Indiana; you were a campaign chair in 1991, and 1993/94. Mays Chemical won recognition for its high rate of participation in the United Way. Why do you encourage your employees to get involved with the United Way and other philanthropic causes?
MAYS: Well, I think that it certainly esprit de corps is one factor. But I think again it’s—we’ve been blessed in this company. We’ve never had a layoff and we literally have been profitable virtually every year and we pay reasonably well, have good benefits. So, it should not be out of the question for the employees to share back, and that’s the only cause that I really encourage everybody in the company to participate in. And I’m saying that you can find some United Way Agency that you can respect, admire, and want to support. I said there is, I don’t know eighty, I don’t know how many, there’s a bunch of them now, maybe closer to a hundred. And I’m saying you can look through this list if you want to designate money to go to that organization, that particular agency, then do that. We’ll just take it through United Way and whatever. So, we were for several years and still pretty high, the highest per capita giving in our category and we probably still are. We run close to five hundred dollars per employee per year.
SCARPINO: In your concept or understanding of leadership do philanthropy and business fit together?
MAYS: I think so. I mean all you have to do is look at the leaders who are involved in philanthropic causes and then look at the other side and say what did they do? Where does that leadership come? It comes out of the business community for the most part. Now, you could say well that part of that is the fact that they have the resources and that’s true. But I think that you are taught and trained as a leader so you are sought out if you are in business to come over because so many of the not-for-profits mean well, but they don’t know how—they don’t have the business concepts. They can’t run the budgets. They can’t manage the people and so it makes sense that they have to be taught just like we’re taught on the business side.
SCARPINO: In 1992 you became the first African-American to serve as chairman of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. What attracted you to that position? That had to be very labor intensive.
MAYS: Well, yeah but again I wouldn’t do it again but that overlapped. I wouldn’t do— at this point, that overlapped with my chairmanship with the United Way. So, I had both of them and that wasn’t intended to be that way. What happened, Tom Binford was ahead of me. He was the campaign chairman a couple years, and normally the campaign chair goes in and serves moves on up to the chair that is kind of his, that’s the way that goes. Earl Herr, Dr. Herr, was the campaign chairman immediately before me and so there were supposed to be at least two other people that would serve in chairmanship so I would have a couple years to rest in there.
Tom Binford went to Herr and said, you know, we’re old farts. We need to step out of the way and let younger leadership come in here and Mays has proven that, and we need to show this is a diverse environment and I think that I’m going to pass my tenure for chairman and suggest that they talk to Mays. Earl said, I couldn’t agree more with you. So, it is kind of like I look up and whoom! Here I am chairing it and I’m saying, well, okay, but I’d been on the executive committee for some years. I was a vice chairman so for at least three years and so, I felt that I had, I knew the inner workings of the chamber very well, and I did, and I still do. I’ve taken a lesser role now, obviously, but I still serve on a couple of the committees and attend the board meetings.
So, I’m not sure a lot of the news media was focused on the fact I was the first African-American chairman. I’m saying, well yeah, except most of the businesses have nothing to do with being black. There were, at that time, over 3,000 businesses that were members of the Chamber and I said, so the programming and the issues that I have to look at are much, much broader than anything in the African-American community, and that is still very true. Now I could do some things because I was the chairman and I had access, because that’s really what the leadership positions give you is access to other leaders. That’s the thing that scares, I think, some people because I can have my assistant call or whatever and the response would be totally different than if somebody else in the company called because they know, they understand, well his assistant talks to him everyday and if there’s something that isn’t right, he probably can pick the phone called the president of Indiana University, which I have done. Or, he had dinner with the new incoming president, with Mike McRobbie, and they were at the basketball game together. We saw the IU game. Well, you don’t have to be too bright to figure out if there’s an issue just like with the black faculty staff or the IUPUI scenario out there with the student union, that while I wanted to stay out of that, but I would say to Chancellor Bantz, you know, you need to get involved with this. This is an issue and it’s a situation that you don’t want to fester and you didn’t create it, but you have the responsibility to figure out some kind of solution to it, some direction that makes some sense.
SCARPINO: Are you satisfied with the direction that they appear to be headed in?
MAYS: (laughing) I don’t know. I haven’t studied it close enough. But yes, I think that Charles will get it together and I’m sure that there’s always a compromise and demands, and I’m not that close to it personally although I am pretty close. I may have mentioned at some previous point in our conversation that I was on the search committee that brought Chancellor Bantz in, and so I knew him from virtually from the first day he set foot at IUPUI. But then I’ve been on the search committee for literally each one of the presidents and I have may mentioned now that I’m on a search committee for the replacement for Curt Simic, who’s president of the foundation.
SCARPINO: That you didn’t mention but…
MAYS: I didn’t? Okay yeah, so...
SCARPINO: You mentioned in an interview with The Recorder you said, “Now you have an inside spokesman as part of the system. You can’t change the system being on the outside, you have to be on the inside…
MAYS: That is correct.
SCARPINO: …the economic system is not going to change until you get people into the system.” Who were you? Who’s your audience for that? Who are you trying to reach when you say that?
MAYS: Well, I think people in general who are protesting. You see, I wrote an editorial and that’s one of the things that I if had more time, I just don’t have the time. But I wrote an editorial and it was talking somewhat about— think about, we went from civil rights to political rights and moved close to economic rights. But just think how much better off we might be if we continue the journey through the economic rights. It seems like we got stuck. We got through the civil rights era. We protested, marched and got certain accommodations and whatever. We got the political rights. We got mayors of cities, we even have a governor and we have senators. You know, we have political stuff, but we didn’t use, we in the collective we, the black Americans—we didn’t use that political clout to then really get ingrained in the economic life.
I say that you cannot, it is very difficult, I won’t say you cannot, but it is very difficult to change any system from outside. You have to be in the inside. So, I can make changes in how the chamber functioned because I was on the inside. I could make changes in the allocation or the way in which the allocations were constructed for United Way because I was chairman of the board I was there. And on the outside you can bat your head against the wall but you know, just like in the education system the changes have to come from within. So you have a superintendent that’s inside now and is getting a great deal support and it takes some time, but Eugene White will change IPS.
SCARPINO: Okay. You’re talking about the head of the current Indianapolis Public School system?
MAYS: That’s correct.
SCARPINO: Okay. I want to step back and start with the civil rights movement because you talked about civil rights and politics and then economic opportunity. Do you think that people who were leaders in the civil rights movement, were they effecting change from the outside or the inside?
MAYS: Well, I think they were affecting change really from the outside. If you really look at it and think about it, someone like a Martin Luther King had allies like a Bobby Kennedy that was on the inside that was saying in a not so nice way to the people in Alabama—we’re were not going to tolerate this Edmund Pettus Bridge again. I mean that’s not going to happen again. You look at the civil rights era with the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Well, it was an insider, it was a president of these United States that says, well no, we’re not going to let innocent kids get hurt in this situation. So, he federalized and sent troops down there. Well, nobody on the outside —you could march all you wanted until you’re blue in the face, but until somebody on the inside said, I see the point here and I’m going to make some changes to the system so that it is more acceptable and certainly illustrates more of what America should be. So, I think that I would say that the secret to the civil rights era was that the civil rights leaders figured out how to get insiders to help them in their causes.
SCARPINO: Do you think that when you go from civil rights to politics, to economic opportunity, that it’s harder to organize for economic opportunity?
MAYS: Well, you know, you can have boycotts; you can have all kind of actions. But I think that, I wouldn’t say that it’s harder. I think that it’s different because there’s been a—in the world there’s always been a history of protesting as a method of change. So, there are all kinds of models of protest, I mean, whatever. I mean, some of them work and some of them don’t work so well. The political side is relatively new in having people of real power. You can have the mayor of Gary, but Gary’s so depressed economically, it wouldn’t really matter because there wasn’t anything there that…
SCARPINO: Mayor Barnes I think was the person?
MAYS: Well, Hatcher.
SCARPINO: Hatcher, okay.
MAYS: And so, you have, the old saying goes—they let us achieve political power in a situation where the system’s broke; where it’s poor, it’s hurting. And so now we can turn it over to you. And, you think a little bit about that and there is some truth even on the economic side. You know, I look up and I say, well gee, I wonder if the CEO’s of—I think about the CEO that came on from in New York that came in to run the Time Warner scenario at a time when the next thing that we know, they’re getting sued and the whole story. I mean all sorts of bad things happening to the company and they’ll pull themselves out of it.
The CEO who’s over the, I guess the, oh what’s the name of it, the housing kind of deal—Fannie Mae. And so, that institution was working well, but now we’re dealing with—is it faltering? So congress is looking to see—well, do want to make some changes now that there’s somebody in there and they seem to be trying to do something so now we want to fiddle with it and make change. So, I would not say though that it’s more difficult from economic standpoint. I just think that the models for the protesting and the political side are more known, better out there, and therefore it’s relatively new from the economic side. I mean the number of black businesses. I mean the BE 100 chronicles it every year. I look at it and fifteen to twenty percent of those businesses fall off each year.
SCARPINO: That’s Black Enterprise top one hundred?
MAYS: That’s Black Enterprise, yes, of the top one hundred. Well, you look at—let’s take the Fortune 500. You have positions changing but if you look at the 500 companies, it’s not like next year there’s going to be a different fifty. There may be a different two or three because some of them consolidated or this or whatever. But it’s not like there’s that kind of turnover and that’s consistent in the chronicle of minority business particularly, is that they’re fragile enough that the least little something—well, car dealers. So, I think that it’s just a difference. The economic side is just different and we’ll learn how to work that through.
SCARPINO: You also said in the same editorial in The Recorder, you said, “Hopefully to cause a dialogue, a long-term genuine dialogue with business leadership in the city of Indianapolis to include minorities, and women in all aspects of their business.” Did you see part of your role as facilitating that dialogue?
MAYS: Certainly, absolutely. I think again I was an insider in many instances to the business community because I was chair of the chamber. So, I don’t care how much an NAACP or an Urban League—those are two very strong civil rights, very well—I don’t care how much they dealt with until somebody on the inside was willing to change and he could see that it made sense then, the system just wasn’t going to—the system will bend, but it wasn’t going to change.
SCARPINO: If you look back on your experiences as chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, what impact do you think you had?
MAYS: Well, I think quite a bit. All you’ve got to do is look at fifteen years later and look at the minorities that have leadership roles in the chamber, and by that I mean, head of the education, certainly one of the vice chairs, the political are all headed by African-Americans, which were put in place. The groundwork was laid so that I could pull them into the inner circle, into the executive committee, and different people could see this businessperson in a different light. It’s not just a minority business this is a businessperson who understands certain things. And so, by putting people in those leadership opportunities, then if they chose to, they could rise up in the chamber and that’s just like what’s happened. The first woman chairman came on was appointed on the executive committee during my tenure. When she came up…
SCARPINO: What was her name?
MAYS: Yvonne Shaheen. When she came through and could work through the chairs, and that’s what we call it, then folks looked at her as—hey, this is a real—she’s a real leader. She runs an electrical contracting company, and she cracks the whip and is really successful against a lot of odds and she’s very helpful in the community. I mean the Children’s Museum, the this and the that. And so, I think that that’s how I would characterize my tenure. It enabled other minorities and women to get an opportunity to get to the table, to sit at the table.
SCARPINO: I pulled one more line out of that editorial, and you said, “I think there is sensitivity that I bring to the table. I think by and large, Indiana businesses and Indiana as a community is willing to change and share the power because that is really what we’re talking about. The power has been held by a few for so long.” How do you explain power?
MAYS: Well, power is power!
SCARPINO: Is it a commodity, is it…
MAYS: Very few have it. I mean, power is the ability to effect change. You have very powerful people and unfortunately for so many years—and this is what I was trying to say to the folks when I took on the role of working with this present governor, I said, you have to get to the power and the governor is the power. So, if you’re going to effect change in health care or effect funding as it relates to certain kinds of activities then you have to be able to influence that power, and as I say power it is more than just money. I mean there are some non-wealthy people that have a great deal of power because they have a lot of respect. But you know, you think about power people and I don’t think anybody would argue with the fact that someone like Jeff Smulyan who heads up Emmis Communications is a pretty powerful person. Obviously the politicians by definition carry a certain amount of power but you look at them outside of that and outside of that arena and you’ll find power, and I call power the ability to influence change.
SCARPINO: And so part of your agenda was to expand the pool of people who had the ability to influence change?
MAYS: Exactly, exactly. Because it’s too easy for our leaders to—for there’d only be a few and what we need is enough, so many, that in effect you can’t just pinpoint. It’s easy. The reason Bill Mays gets beat up all the time is because they can pinpoint him. I wake up every day and think about any actions that I’m doing or taking or whatever, that whatever I do I don’t want to be on the front page of the Star. The Recorder I can control but the Star is something different, or whatever, negative, you know, because they will always gravitate to the negative, which is as I think we talked about this bar. I mean I laugh at it because I am saying you spend so much time and attention on the bar but I could write that same check to United Way and it wouldn’t even be a paragraph. Let alone pictures and whatever else.
SCARPINO: I’m going to wrap up by asking you the last few of our standard leadership questions. And what these questions are aiming to figure out is measuring the success of leadership in terms of impact and influence and the perceptions of others. So, do you think leaders are born or made?
MAYS: I think they’re developed. So, maybe that’s saying the same thing as made. I don’t think you’re born with leadership. You may have leadership qualities, but I think the leadership skills have to be developed, or made.
SCARPINO: Do you think that it’s either important or necessary for a leader to have a positive, reasonably well-supported set of goals and projected outcomes?
MAYS: Oh, I think it’s certainly—the leader should have an idea of what he wants to accomplish but not necessarily how he’s going to accomplish it. Because I think there’s a big difference. I want Mays Chemical to be successful but I if I had to write down, I could write down certain qualities, certain characteristics, certain direction that the company should take but in order to implement that I’ve got to have others around me that have a different skill set. I can’t balance—I’m not an accountant. I certainly couldn’t deal with some of the relationships that we have in some of the sales arenas, some of the more technical things that we have, but I can say this is what we really want to see. We want to have a quality system that reflects getting us a thousand rating, 980 rating on our quality evaluations. Or we want to strive toward Six Sigma as our objective. Now, we may never get there. I mean that’s a pretty tough goal.
SCARPINO: What is the word?
MAYS: Six Sigma is that you have 99.95 degree of accuracy as far as your measurements. So, that means you are only missing about five hundredths of a…
SCARPINO: Who assesses the accuracy?
MAYS: Well, you set targets and objectives and so you measure against those targets and objectives. Shipments, you know, you want to get shipments out on time. Okay, well you got to measure that. And so the goal is that you want to get literally, I don’t say 100%. So, I say well, we want to operate Six Sigma so that’s 99.9. If we get to 99, I’m very happy.
SCARPINO: No, I was actually just to trying to probe enough so that if somebody listens to this in 10 years we’ll know what you meant. Do you think that there can be a leader who pursues goals or pursues outcomes of questionable utility or morality? With you know, Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin, are they leaders?
MAYS: I wouldn’t call them leaders. I’d call them dictators. I mean, that’s the difference. If I have to hold a gun to your head I’m not leading you. And I think that you could argue that Hitler must’ve had some leadership characteristics to get people to follow, to a point, but then he was able to turn and cause that country to look upon a group of people as the enemy. And so, from that perspective, I think that he may have started off okay but somewhere or another it changed. I guess that’s the way to say it. Idi Amin, I just, he’s just…
SCARPINO: I just tried to pick some of…
MAYS: No, those are good ones. Two very—because that is a good question. I mean Stalin, I’d consider him more of a leader. What was Khrushchev, you know. I mean, I would consider the good example that I always deal with is that I for the love of me can’t figure out how Castro is staying in all this time. I mean, he’ll be there until he dies, I mean, which may not been much longer, but I mean, it’s been years and years and the Cuban crisis—I think that when I think about John F. Kennedy and the goal that he had, he says, we’re not letting offensive
weapons ninety miles off our shore, and I was in grade school then, whatever, it may have been early high school, but I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis just like it was yesterday. We had television, and the question really was—who’s going to crack? Is Khrushchev going to give in—because these ships are sailing, and at the same time, the President was talking and he moved the country, whatever DEFCON, like to the red alert, or whatever it is, launched the airplanes and said—if you cross this line, then we will board your ships or destroy your ships, so the question becomes, do you take that chance, and, you know…
SCARPINO: So, you would argue that if there is an individual who is pursuing goals that are of questionable morality or utility that they don’t fall into the category of leader?
MAYS: No. That’s exactly correct. I would say they do not. I would say they fall in more of a category of a dictator or a self-serving individual but not a leader. I still have this idealistic concept that a leader is someone that is doing good for somebody else, not for themselves. Now, along the way, you might help yourself, but...
SCARPINO: I’ve got two more questions, and one is a kind of a catchall in case I’ve forgotten anything. As you and I have talked for the better part of four hours we talked about you as a leader in various venues and business and not-for-profit, philanthropy, minority rights, access to economic opportunity, so here’s the question—in your mind, how do the pieces of your leadership career fit together: business, not-for-profit, philanthropy, minority rights and access to economic opportunity?
MAYS: Well, I think they come together because at different times you go through different phases and you have different objectives and you have different needs, psychologically and otherwise. There was a time when even the remote possibility of being on the Board of Trustees at Indiana University would have been the cat’s meow. It would have been—I would have done anything to do that. At this point in time I can pick up the phone and make that happen and I have no interest in doing that. So, you go through phases I think, and success is like that. Once you get enough money and whatever enough money is, then that no longer is the goal. Money itself is only in how it’s being used. So yes, I still want to make money, but it’s to make money for a different purpose. I’m not concerned about my retirement. I’m not concerned about the price of gas to go in my wife’s BMW. I’m not concerned about my kids. college or my grandkids. college, so at this point, it becomes, is there another world you want to conquer or another arena to be successful in.
So I think that’s the real challenge is to keep yourself motivated and changing as you go through life as a leader so that you attack different positions of leadership, different areas of leadership and I have become much more interested, and there was a phase where business was all there was, then philanthropy came into play, then you move on and it becomes more a matter of how do I help, and so charity was a factor. In order to be a good philanthropist, you’re going to have some money because that’s really what is expected and so, once you get to that point then you can look at other things. I’m at the point where even that art that I talked about, I kind of occasionally say, I just want to go do something different. And I have a Second Century Membership at the Art Museum, I can go anytime I want. They’re very—they know me, I’m a trustee. I get asked to every exhibit, VIP opportunity and I’ll go and…
SCARPINO: They did a stunning renovation out there too.
MAYS: Oh, yeah.
SCARPINO: You used a phrase a couple of times, two or three times, as we talked today, and a couple of times from the last time we visited basically about describing your activity in terms of the worlds to conquer. Is that kind of the way you look at things?
MAYS: Yeah. I think you…
SCARPINO: I don’t mean that in a sort of “shoot ’em dead way,” but I…
MAYS: No, no. But I think you have to look at it from the standpoint that you go through different phases and different perspectives and so, once you have been truly successful in a given venue, then it’s like being a champion. You want to be successful in winning games but the real success is winning the Super Bowl, if you’re an NFL team, and that’s your badge of whatever—well the real success, in the United Way campaigns here is to make the campaign goal. Now once you’ve done that, then you look at it and say, it’s time to leave that or move on. You still want to stay and make the organization successful, but you move on to a different phase—so then moving to the Chairman of the Board gives you an opportunity to impact more than just the campaign.
SCARPINO: Is there anything that I should have asked you that I didn’t because I wasn’t perceptive enough to figure it out and ask the question?
MAYS: No, no. I think it’s been very exhaustive. I think the only other thing I would say which is the quote that is certainly not original, but, behind every good man there’s probably a better woman that is supporting and encouraging and all the way back to when I started Mays Chemical, the encouragement from my wife to be able to just say—oh, I knew you’d do that, what took you so long to resign from that company? Or, oh yeah, I know you’ll have it all together by the time I get back and I will take care of the kids and you’ll be doing this, or well, I’m going to go off to Texas for my doctorate, but Bill, you take care of the kids and you’ll be alright. We’ll have housekeeper because we can now afford it and we’ll have a live-in babysitter and so, I think that it’s the stability of the family life is important too, so that—and we’re different people. I mean my wife and I are different from the standpoint that we’ve been together now, as a matter of fact, we just had our anniversary today.
SCARPINO: What year?
MAYS: Thirty-nine years.
MAYS: So, I gave her some jewelry or something and she wrote me a note and just kind of said, this is really beautiful, thank you very much, but I think I’ve got enough jewelry so what that says to me that she has moved past that part, and so…
SCARPINO: That’s not a world that needs to be conquered.
MAYS: That’s right. She’s got that world conquered, so I kind of said, well, what would you kind of like? She said, you know, I really would like you take some time off. I’d like to go back to the Grand Canyon, that’s where we celebrated our first—when we got married, celebrated our anniversary and went horseback riding in the Garden of the Gods and that was back in ’68 when we got married. So she said, but I know you’re not going to do that because you’re not a romanticist, so that’s not going to happen. She said, but what I would like to do is to take our granddaughters to the Grand Canyon so they can see that. They can see Pike’s Peak and the whole bit. Because you can do different things now, you can ride mules down I guess all the way to the bottom, I mean, you can do some different things. I think that that’s good, so I said, fine, I said, why don’t you do that and just take a week and just do that, and I said, I’ll pay for it, that’s not a problem. And she says, well, I can pay, because she makes very good money and has very little to spend it on other than what she chooses to spend it on, which is great, that’s true success. But I did want to say something because I think stability of the family is important and I’ve been very fortunate to have that stability for lo these many years and not only from my wife, but from my brothers, I mean the whole family, the Mays family is not a very large…
SCARPINO: How many brothers do you have?
MAYS: Two, and they’re twins. One lives in Evansville, and one lives up here. They’re both retired and we see each other periodically. As a matter of fact, I’ll just do something like to say to Ted, why don’t we just get in the limo and just go down to Evansville and visit Bob to have lunch? I have the flexibility to do it, he’s not working so he’s got the flexibility to do it, and we just get in one of my limos and just say hey, have the driver just pick us up. Go down and spend a couple of hours having lunch and then drive back, I mean, just folks say, well why would you just—well, because it gives a chance, my brothers don’t get together as much as I’d like for them just to interact with each other, and I said, this is a good way to do it, and I said, so we’ll go to lunch at one of the clubs comparable to the Skyline Club, I think it’s the Petroleum Club that he likes, and they have a reciprocal membership, so there’s no big deal. I go down there, call, have reservations and I can go right in, and whatever so…
SCARPINO: Well, Mr. Mays, thank you very much taking the time to visit with me. I really appreciate it.