William Mays Oral History Interviews


Part one

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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.


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.


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.

MAYS: Correct.

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.

MAYS: Right.

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…

MAYS: Yes.

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?

MAYS: Yes.

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…

MAYS: Absolutely.

SCARPINO: …or leader is who you hire?

MAYS: Yes.

SCARPINO: Is that—then would you say that one of your skills as a leader is identifying…

MAYS: Absolutely.

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…

MAYS: Right.

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: Thank you very much.