SCARPINO: There we go. Okay.
MAYS: Sure. I’ll be happy to say I am Bill Mays. Yes, I am aware that you are going to transcribe my answers to some questions and certainly you have my permission to use that at the IUPUI school.
SCARPINO: Okay. All right. Well, we’re on and that was a good sound test. So, for the record I would like to thank you for sitting with me for a second recording session. I would like once again to ask your permission to record the interview, to transcribe the interview, and to deposit the transcription and the interview in the IUPUI Archives and Special Collections.
MAYS: Yes. Certainly, you have my permission to do that.
SCARPINO: And, as I explained when—before I turned the recorder on, we are going to pick up where we left off last time. As part of this second and final interview I am going to include the standard questions that we ask everyone…
MAYS: That’s fine.
SCARPINO: …that we talked about on the subject of leadership. But first, kind of picking up where we left off last time, I noted in my research on you and on Mays Chemical that Mays Chemical has won numerous awards. For example, the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s Largest Sales Category of the Year, two times General Motors Outstanding Supplier of the Year given to the top one percent of suppliers in the world. You were ranked number 20 on Black Enterprise Magazine’s the Most Successful Black-owned Companies every year since 1995. Do you think of yourself as a leader among African-American owned companies?
MAYS: (laughing) Well, after you say all that, I guess, Phil, I have to say yes to that question. I think Mays Chemical has certainly been a very positive success story and it has enabled me to do a lot of different things and meet a lot of people and help a lot of other businesses. So, yes, I would say that certainly we try to do the right thing and be positive, contribute back to the community and that’s all a part of what I think being a successful business owner is about.
SCARPINO: One of the things that I read that I found to be particularly interesting about your background as a businessman—you actually said in a couple of interviews that you felt you would always face the stigma of failed minority businesses. And, you said in an interview with the New Standard, now I’ll just quote a couple of lines to you, you said “Those failures are remembered for years and years. I frequently hear from a potential client something like I used to do business with a black company that went under in 1984. Why should I do business with you? Corporate America,” you said, “has the memory of an elephant when it comes to forgetting negative dealings with black owned companies.” And the question I have is—have you intentionally tried to exercise leadership as an African-American businessman to address this tendency in corporate America?
MAYS: Well, certainly you try to do what you can and you do that by actions speaking louder than words. You do that by being a success and trying to indicate that you can’t judge every book by its cover. You have to at least get into it to see whether—because there are failed majority businesses too and I am sure there are more of them because there are just more of them. So, I think the stigma associated with failed businesses does not necessarily have to apply to black or white or man or woman. It just applies to business skills.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask a question that is going to betray my ignorance of business and economics but I am going to do it anyhow. In your experience as a successful businessman for years and years is there any difference in the failure rate between minority-owned businesses and majority-owned businesses?
MAYS: Oh, I think that on a percentage basis there are probably more failed minority businesses but for different reasons. One of the reasons that is most prevalent that businesses fail is access to capital and so if you don’t have enough money or if you don’t come from a well-to-do kind of environment, then you start the business on a shoestring and any little ill wind that blows along blows the business under. So, I think that is more of a problem in the minority community because we just don’t have the same access to capital. Given the same kind of business credentials, I think what you will find is that minority businesses with what they have to work with tend to be more successful on average than non-minority businesses because they’ve had to overcome so much.
SCARPINO: In interviews with both the Indianapolis Star and Black Enterprise you indicated an interest in helping minority businesses succeed. And you said in the Star and I quote: “If you talk to minority companies they will claim lack of access to money as their biggest problem. That’s a problem but management is a bigger problem.” The question I have is have you been involved as a role model or a mentor in helping to develop or nurture managerial talent among aspiring African-American business people?
MAYS: Absolutely. I think in more than one way. One of the ways in which we certainly try to do that at Mays Chemical is make financial contributions back to programs like the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which is an MBA Fellowship Program. We work with other leadership development programs like the Center for Leadership Development. We work with the historical black colleges and universities from a contribution standpoint both financially and physically. We make it a point to go to grade schools now. I used to go to high schools but grade schools to try to show as a role model that you can be successful as a minority-owned business.
SCARPINO: What do you tell the grade school kids?
MAYS: Well, I start off by saying—who wants to be an entrepreneur? And of course they may not know exactly what that is. What they have to see is that you don’t have to be an athlete or entertainer to be successful. I mean, I have nothing against athletes or entertainers but let us face it, only a very few folks have the talent to be either an outstanding athlete or an outstanding entertainer, where you can learn business skills. You can develop that over time and you can get help. I mean, I don’t know if there is anything I can do to help Coach Dungy coach his team better, I mean, a role model or whatever. So, the Colts winning the Super Bowl is clearly an accomplishment that literally—one in a million. I mean, it just doesn’t happen very often that you have that kind of skill and talent.
SCARPINO: Do you know Coach Dungy?
MAYS: Yes, I do know Coach Dungy.
SCARPINO: He seems like a really interesting man …
MAYS: He is an excellent, excellent individual, yes.
SCARPINO: You said at another point in the same article in the Star that you got involved not so much, that is, with mentoring of minority-owned businesses, not so much for a high return but you said, “I was really trying to help plan a more stable minority business community, so more black-owned businesses would participate in the growth of Indianapolis.”
MAYS: That is exactly correct. I get literally very little return from—as a matter of fact I was laughing because one of the businesses that I just loaned some money to called me. I had gotten them stabilized to the point where they qualified for a bank loan. They have a program, a minority help program, called Links and they got a loan for $150,000. And I said, well, gee, I guess that means you’ll be paying me back my money. The response was, well you know, your interest rate’s only eight percent and Links is charging eighteen percent and so what I’d rather do is not pay you back right now but pay you out over time when I collect receivables as my business grows. So I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I had in mind when I was trying to help, so I think I’m going to raise my interest rate. I guess that’s my bottom line.
SCARPINO: (laughing) Although Links. interest rate sounds like MasterCard or something, I mean that’s…
MAYS: Well, but for an unsecured relatively high-risk investment that’s not unusual. I mean, all you have to do is look at the—venture capitalists do this all the time at much higher rates of interest and they have fees. So, that’s really not out of the question. As a matter of fact eighteen percent is more the norm when you talk about borrowing from outside funding sources other than a financial institution.
SCARPINO: Would that be the kind of situation where somebody would borrow money at that rate really expecting to pay it back rather quickly?
MAYS: Well, that would the thought process but if that’s the only recourse you have to getting the money, then that’s what you have to do. Most, for whatever reason, small business people, minorities particularly, don’t have the credit history. Don’t have the kind of experience that would make a financial institution that is a bank, or a finance company or whatever—invest in them, I guess is the way to say it. That’s why you have so many people, minorities, a higher percentage I’m sure that do payday loans because they’re really going from one paycheck to another and they’re paying an exorbitant amount of interest on those loans.
SCARPINO: You’re talking about these storefront operations all over town?
MAYS: That’s correct, way more than eighteen percent.
SCARPINO: In the years that you have been a businessman here in town or in the years that Mays Chemicals has been in operation, have you seen an increase in a number of minority-owned businesses that are participating in the growth of Indianapolis?
MAYS: I think that I see the bifurcated kind of situation. That is, I see several very successful businesses and then I see a whole lot of mom and pops, smaller barber shops, beauty shops, salons, smaller businesses that are less than a million dollars in annual revenues and maybe have virtually no employees outside of the sole proprietor or whatever. So, I guess the long-winded answer that is that there are some very successful larger business that is certainly well in excess of ten million dollars in annual revenues and there’s a whole lot that are under a million dollars.
SCARPINO: In Indianapolis what are some of the ones that are in that category of more than ten million dollars in annual revenue?
MAYS: Well, of course when you look at Stewart Moving, you look at any car dealer because of the nature of what they sell, you look at some of the funeral homes that do substantial, certainly from a profit standpoint, their revenues may not be that high but the construction companies, any in Indianapolis, any of the well-known black construction companies are in excess of ten million dollars in annual revenues.
SCARPINO: For the record, could you name a couple of them?
MAYS: Well, sure. You take Corbitt & Sons would be a perfect example, Harmon Construction, Mamon Powers and Powers Construction. You have McFadden Solutions, McFadden Trucking. It’s probably forty million dollars at least in annual revenues and a sizable number of employees. So, I think that my goal was to try to get more of the smaller businesses up where they are actually employing people and dealing with annual revenues of ten million dollars. In my line of work in the chemical industry, and I recognize that it’s different, but ten million dollars would not be a very successful chemical distributor.
SCARPINO: I am going to insert into the interview some of the standard questions that we ask everyone we interview. So, some of these are pretty basic, starting with: what do you read?
MAYS: Well, I read the newspaper, of course, the Star and read might be too strong for the Star, I think I just glance at it, but business publications. I’ll read books that are bestsellers that pertain to business. The World is Flat, some of the more well known kind of motivational books and I’ll look at those and go through those. I’ll read books by black motivational artists, like somebody—Tavis Smiley who’s written several different books.
SCARPINO: Did you make his talk in town here recently?
MAYS: Yes, I did, absolutely yes. He happens to be a member of my fraternity, a very good friend. So, I like his foundation and I’ve contributed to that. And as a matter of fact he’s coming back. He has an Honorary Doctorate from Indiana University and he’s going to be the commencement speaker this year in May 2007 at IU.
SCARPINO: I’ll probably be there. My son is graduating. I probably shouldn’t have put that in the record. But, do you think a leader should read?
MAYS: Absolutely. In today’s technology there’s so many ways in which you can get information, it’s not just the old-fashioned pick up a book and read, but you have cassette tapes, you have the various internet exchanges that you can get information from. You have as I call them kind of Reader’s Digest summaries of publications and summaries of various books. So, you can get information a lot of different ways. The thing I don’t do is look at television a lot. That’s not just something that I particularly care to do.
SCARPINO: Do you ever read about other leaders?
MAYS: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I’m most motivated when I think about, particularly in the African-American community, I’m most motivated by someone like Johnny Johnson who is the president, owner of Ebony Magazine, and started that back in, oh I don’t know, maybe in the 30’s certainly in the 40’s, and how he was able to build that business at a time of segregation and whatever else in this country. And what was most impressive about him—to me, one of the things, was his ability to transfer that business to the next generation. Earl Graves and Black Enterprise is another example. I’ve read all of his publications that he’s out and he has a conference where he brings in black authors to talk motivationally and I get a chance to interact with them.
I sponsor, Mays Chemical sponsors, a lecture series, a diversity series, where we are part of—it’s called Matthew Stewart’s Diversity Lecture Series. He brings in very well known artists and entertainers if you will. I say entertainers, not the necessarily music but folks who entertain from a speaking standpoint. I wanted to make sure that Mays Chemical contributed to that and provided the opportunities for our younger people to see these folks up close. Colin Powell was here, a retired general. But for many folks the price was a little prohibitive. John Hope Franklin, one of the renowned sociologists, was just here and Henry Gates, they were doing a debate at Clowes Hall, and those are the kinds—and it was free. I mean, you had to get a ticket but you didn’t have to pay and those are the kinds of activities that I think Mays Chemical participates in to make a contribution to because we think that that helps the next generation.
SCARPINO: You’ve mentioned several individuals but who do you think are important leaders and why?
MAYS: Well, I guess you know, when I think about somebody like—oh let’s take Colin Powell, because I’ve just admired how he’s been able to maneuver through whether it’s Vietnam and move all the way up to Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and that transcends race. You take Condoleezza Rice, yeah she happens to be a black female but she wouldn’t be Secretary of State if she wasn’t good at what she was dealing with. I mean, that just isn’t going to happen. I guess when we’re talking about leaders now and the new front, you have our new Senator from Illinois, Obama, who is taking the, I think, the country by storm as he’s only in his second or third year in the Senate and already is raising money and is certainly a viable candidate for the Presidency of the United States.
SCARPINO: Who has inspired you as a leader?
MAYS: I guess, leadership, when I think about it, I look at folks that do things because they are right and not because they have to do them. So, I’ve been impressed with people like J. Irwin Miller who was the Chairman of Cummins Engine Company who tried to mold that company into something that America could be proud of. I think about Welch, who ran General Electric who is renowned for his leadership skills and the ability to build that company to the magnitude that it has become. I look at someone like a Dr. Frank Lloyd, Sr. who as an OB-GYN, he rose through the ranks at Methodist to run that entire hospital and to bring in talent, minority talent and other talent to where when that merged with the IU Hospitals; I mean the Clarian Organization is clearly the largest hospital in the state and probably across several states.
SCARPINO: Who has helped you along the way?
MAYS: (laughing) I had so much help. You know…it’s hard to…
SCARPINO: Can you hit the highlights? (laughing)
MAYS: It’s hard to even imagine, but when I think about somebody like, and I may have mentioned Andy Payne who was on the Board of the IU School of Business and that’s where when he was Chairman, well, he was actually Executive VP of Indiana National Bank, which allowed me access to the capital to grow. I think about Tom Binford in this community who certainly was a standard bearer for the right thing whether it’s at the 500 Race, whether it was being a community servant. I look at Sam Jones who was never going to get wealthy in his role as head of the Urban League but he certainly was a leader and very well thought of in all of the communities whether it’s Asian, black, white, whatever. So, all of them have helped me in some fashion— mold philosophies and mold how you conduct yourself and I think that’s how I view and the kind of people and how they help. And there are some I’m sure that I don’t even know that have helped me along the way. My teachers from high school, which instilled in me enough confidence to be able to go on to an Indiana University and to come out of a segregated environment and not let that be a handicap or if you will, an excuse for not being successful. Of course I admire my dad immensely. He passed when I was very young but that’s where I got a lot of the tenacity to continue on and succeed even when the odds may not be in your favor.
SCARPINO: Do you think that having a mentor or mentors played an important role in your development as a leader?
MAYS: Oh yeah, sure. Absolutely. I would not have the business acumen had I not spent a year with Hank Schacht at Cummins Engine Company who was the president of a multi-billion dollar company at a relatively young age who allowed me to come in from a school like an Indiana University compared to a Harvard, or a Stanford, or whatever and took me through a lot of the stages of development from a leader and from a decision-making standpoint. Because when it when comes down to it that’s what real leadership is, it’s making good decisions and you can’t wait until you get perfect information to make good decisions. And I think that’s one of the, well, I don’t want to say, one of the failings of our President, but I won’t get into that with the war because I guess we all have our crosses to bear, but that is a whole other scene.
SCARPINO: But the ability to make effective decisions sometimes without having all the information…
MAYS: That’s correct. And the ability to admit that you are wrong once you get more information and correct it.
SCARPINO: Do you think that’s hard to do, to admit you’re wrong?
MAYS: It is extremely difficult to do. It’s not so much—I don’t think it’s so difficult for me because I go into situations a lot with the idea that I don’t have perfect information and that we will take risk, but that’s what an entrepreneur does and taking risk is just not something that I’m opposed to. Can I ask for a time out? [brief conversation with third party not relating to interview]
SCARPINO: Actually this is still recording so…
MAYS: That’s fine. Just tell them I got interrupted to make a decision.
SCARPINO: No, well this leadership in action. I just didn’t want you to say anything—I wanted you to know it was on.
MAYS: I appreciate it. [More conversation with third party not related to interview]
SCARPINO: It’s a new recorder. I am still learning this, so I thought rather than terminate it and start over…
MAYS: No, that’s fine. No, you can screen that out.
SCARPINO: Do you mentor other people?
MAYS: I try. I think that I spend a fair amount of time talking with other business people and trying to give them an opportunity to interact because, as an entrepreneur it’s kind of lonely. It’s different than working a job because as the entrepreneur, I guess as the successful entrepreneur you have to be willing to look in the mirror and recognize that if something goes right or something goes wrong, it probably was in your control to be able to make it happen. And for many people that’s kind of scary. They’d rather have a boss tell them so they can blame somebody. I think in recent years more of my time has been spent mentoring with younger people and I say younger—those that are going into college or in college and the reason for that is I think that it gives a chance for them to see at an early point in their development, the interaction with someone who’s running a 150 million dollar business, but who can take the time to say—this is important, and this is why I made this decision or that decision.
SCARPINO: So, these are like interns that you have here?
MAYS: They’re interns that we have every summer. We have six here but then I’ll visit them either at the University of Evansville or at IU where a couple of them attend, or even Rose Hulman and just go in their environment and speak to one of their classes or be with them and just spend an afternoon or whatever, just so that they can get a chance to interact and say, well, how did you this or why did you that or what politically motivated you to be a Democrat and support the first Republican governor in sixteen years? Who I think is doing a really superb job of shaking up stuff in Indianapolis.
SCARPINO: Why did you support the first Republican governor in sixteen years?
MAYS: Well, because I really felt that the Democratic leadership at the state level was going to be more of the same and the economy was going straight down, not up, and we had to change the paradigm. I mean the manufacturing segment is just not what it once was and Indiana is very heavy manufacturing and so you have to lean toward the new, what’s coming and not what once was. I mean, the automotive industry and those that depend on heavy manufacturing, the durable goods manufacturing, it’s like a dinosaur. I mean, there’s too much other stuff coming back with new plastics, new things that take the place of what once was steel and whatever and we’re still operating in an old mode. So, I felt that there needed to be new leadership and I had known Governor Daniels before he went off to Washington, before he was ever thinking about coming back to be governor in his role at Eli Lilly, when he ran that operation at one of the North American operations for Lilly. I could just see him as a very, I guess articulate, but more importantly dedicated and smart decision-maker. Not everything he’s going to do is going to sit well and be right but at least he’s trying some things and some will make it and some won’t but at least he tried to make economic development a higher priority and everybody talks about it. Every leader talks about economic development but you got to do something about it, and so he’s really put some things in place that make that a higher priority in the State of Indiana.
SCARPINO: Do you think that networks play a role in the development of successful leaders?
MAYS: Oh, there’s no question. Networking is very important but the problem with so many of us—we don’t know exactly what networking is. Now, let me give you an example. Years ago there was this team called the Indiana Pacers, which is still around that plays…
SCARPINO: They’re struggling.
MAYS: They’re struggling. That’s correct. Well, one time a year L.A. comes from the west coast to play in our conference.
SCARPINO: The Lakers.
MAYS: The Lakers and of course you know, back in the day with all those superstars they had, it was just fun to watch. We knew the Pacers were going to lose but at least it was fun to watch. So, I had tickets to the game and I got a call from Andy Payne as a matter of fact who said, hey, I want to introduce you to somebody, and we’re having a reception at the Art Museum. So, I’m sitting here with two tickets to the Laker game and I get invited to go to this. I said, well, what is the? You know, he says, well, I want to introduce you he says, Frank O’Bannon’s a good friend of mine and I want to introduce you to him. He’s on the ticket running for lieutenant governor. And I said, okay, you know, fine Andy, for you I’ll go. Now, first of all I’m not an art lover. Second of all, I mean, this is the only the chance I get to see the Lakers live. So, somebody in the office said, well, hey, I’ll be happy to take your tickets, Mr. Mays. I can go network. And I am saying, how’re you going network at a game when there’s nobody around you particularly that is worth networking with? At the Art Museum I met Frank O’Bannon who became Lieutenant Governor and then Governor and I was on his transition team because he was impressed just by talking with me in an environment like that, knowing that was not necessarily my element, but that’s networking.
And so, to me I think there’re all kind of—I do not like to use the term networking, I like to use supporting because you need support groups and you need to be able to retreat to certain kinds of support groups where your company—you can be just another person as opposed to always being on show and tell and whatever. And I have several organizations that are that way. Yes, I was chairman of the Chamber and yes, I was on the Art Museum and this and that and the other but when I look and want to really retreat I can go to my fraternity where one of my fraternities whether Sigma Pi Phi or whether it’s Kappa Alpha Psi or whatever and everybody there is “kind of equal.” The distinction is not made on a basis of money, or not made on the basis of what you did today. It’s made on the basis of just personal camaraderie and that makes it a very pleasant kind of evening to be able to be around those people on a periodic basis.
SCARPINO: What was your role on the O’Bannon transition team?
MAYS: I was involved—actually the area, believe it or not, was economic development, which makes sense.
SCARPINO: It seems to fit.
MAYS: Yeah, it seems to fit. And then, the area though that was interesting in the Daniels. administration where I served on the transition team and actually met with Mitch a couple of times a week, that transition team was very small, I didn’t want to do it because I said, I really don’t know anything about government. I really don’t like to get involved in all the little intricacies of it but I was told in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t serve there probably would not be another African-American on his transition team because he did not have the confidence. He did not believe that some of the people that he might put on that were recommended to him that happened to be African-American would give him the soundest advice whereas a Bill Mays who really had nothing to gain, was not interested, supported him from the very beginning, was one that he just felt a high degree of trust.
SCARPINO: So, I may have misspoken, you were on O’Bannon’s transition team and on the current governor?
MAYS: Yeah. So, sixteen, yeah. Sixteen years later.
SCARPINO: So, you did one for Democratic and one for Republican?
MAYS: That’s correct, that’s correct. And it wasn’t about Democratic or Republican. It was about the individuals at that point in time and I just you know, I knew Frank. I mean I had known him for, ever since the Art Museum and he’s from down in southern Indiana and was just a nice…
SCARPINO: Corydon, Indiana?
MAYS: Yeah Corydon. That’s correct. Just a nice individual. I like Judy, his wife, and so we hit it off. The same thing with Mitch. I mean it just happens that and folks don’t understand exactly but that’s how certain things happen. Governor Daniels, and I’ve got his cell number, and I mean, so he will call me and just say, give me a buzz back leave a voice mail I want to ask you about this individual, or I want to ask you about this situation or whatever. Make sure that I’m on point with this. And I think part of that trust level is the fact that I have nothing, I’m not trying to gain anything, and so you’re a lot more comfortable accepting counsel when you know the person giving the counsel is doing it just out of the genuine interest in the broader picture, not out of personal gain.
And so, I think that was the same relationship with Frank O’Bannon. I never will forget—and I get involved in politics but at a very high level, but I remember getting a call from a former governor, Governor Orr, who called me and was wanting to make an appointment and wanting to put a minority in, African-American. He found one that he thought was really qualified. His problem, his concern was that she had a child out of wedlock and he thought that was just terrible. I said, well Governor, in the African-American community, that’s not looked upon the same way. I said, so, it’s not a stigma, it’s not as negative as you are portraying it. And I said, if she can do the job that you think she can do, then don’t let that fact stop you. He did appoint her and she served outstandingly. Moved up and served not only as members of the Federal of the—State Regulatory Commission, but went into Washington served on the federal level and then moved into the Department of Energy under the Bush administration and as Deputy Secretary for Energy and her daughter just finished—this “out of wedlock daughter”—just finished Purdue last year and going right on.
SCARPINO: Her name is?
MAYS: Yeah this is Vicky Bailey. And so, but if someone hadn’t been willing back years ago to say to the governor, this is just not the same thing and maybe it should be, but it’s not, and I don’t know whether she would have been able to get without that first step, without that first opportunity. And that’s why I guess I am so, so big on trying to help ex-offenders get jobs because if they don’t get a chance there’s no recourse. I mean, and unfortunately that’s been the case in our society.
SCARPINO: We actually did talk last time that you, in that case, put your money where your mouth is, so to speak, and you hired ex-offenders at Mays Chemicals.
MAYS: That is correct. That is correct and we are getting some real legs behind this kind of effort because now others—the Department of Corrections is stepping up, the Mayor is stepping up, the Governor is stepping up, because they recognize that if I come out, there ought to be a period of time—I mean, if somebody’s been out and they’ve done—worked a job, done well for ten years and you say, yeah but you can’t go here because ten years ago when you were eighteen you did something and so, I think that we’ll see more changes not only here in the city and the state but across the country in how ex-offenders and programs that will be more attuned to trying to make ex-offenders more welcome; get back into society.
SCARPINO: What do you think are the qualities that distinguish effective leadership?
MAYS: Well, I think a leader, of course a leader has to as I say lead but you also have to listen. I think that you have to be decisive. You have to be fair but genuine in what your leadership role ought to be and you ought to be able to at some point step aside and let somebody else lead. Know when it’s time to, if you will, pass the baton. That’s one of the criticisms I have of our minority leaders. Many of them, they tend to stay too long. They don’t want to give up the seat of power, it’s almost like ’til they’re dead. So they’re not really training the next generation. So, I think that’s a very important characteristic is that you got to know when to give up the baton.
SCARPINO: What criteria do you use to define successful leadership? How do you know it when you see it?
MAYS: Well, when you see it, I think you know it when you can get a chance to test people in an environment where they’re not normally engaged, where they have to make decisions in a degree of uncertainty and in situations that they’re unfamiliar with. I think that’s to me the acid test and I occasionally find myself in these situations where there are decisions that I have to make. Somebody’s coming in asking for a charitable donation, and I have to make a decision—well, is this somebody that I can trust that’s going to do what they say with the money? Is this something that I want the company’s name behind? Is this going to work out to be positive? So, I think that the decision-making and the characteristics that I look for are just a little more, maybe a little more, I’m not even going to say different, but you have to be able to arrive at the conclusion pretty quickly if this is a person that’s going to be—candidates for office. I mean a perfect example. I mean I was berated to no end for supporting the present Governor by Democrats and whatever or alike, black folks, whatever. And my response to that is I’m making the decision based on my gut feel and based on my observations of how this man has performed in other circumstances because that’s all you can really put together. It’s got nothing to do with being Democrat or Republican, because I don’t support just because you happen to be of a particular party and I don’t support just because you happened to be man or woman, black or whatever. I mean it is a personal judgment, and I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum. And of course those same people who were criticizing me in October were back in December asking—sending their resume trying to get a job because they recognized that only a few were going to be walked through that door and if they didn’t have the right stamp, they weren’t going to get in this administration.
SCARPINO: I am going to move away from the standard questions for a while and note that in 1990, you purchased the Indianapolis Recorder, which was at that time the fourth oldest surviving black newspaper in the nation.
MAYS: It still is. That’s correct.
SCARPINO: With you as publisher, according to what I’ve seen the Recorder’s enjoyed strong circulation won a number of awards including the National Newspaper Publisher’s Association Merit Award for the best youth section. What motivated you to publish, to purchase, the Recorder?
MAYS: Well, very simply, I was on the board of the Recorder for several years. Frank Lloyd, Dr. Lloyd, pulled me on the board because he says, this institution needs help, this paper needs help. Now, I don’t know anything about publishing, about newspapers per se. So, I got on the board in, oh I don’t know, ’86, ’85–’86—I was on there for several years and I looked at the equipment. I mean they were still dealing, they thought an Apple Computer was something unique, and so, desktop publishing they use to still do stuff by razor blades and whatever. So, in 1990 I said, if don’t buy this, if I don’t do something, it’s going to die. In five more years in 1995 it would be a hundred years old. That would the hundredth anniversary. And I said, it would be a crime for an institution, particularly a black institution like the Recorder, to go out of business before they can celebrate their 100th anniversary. So, I bought it in 1990, and then I modernized it, pumped money into it, and then put my niece in ’95 or ’96 I guess actually and she’s been running it even more successfully that I am. That’s where all the increase in circulation and whatever else. So, I promoted myself up to Chairman of the Board and let her run everything day to day.
SCARPINO: How many employees does the Recorder…
MAYS: Good ones or… (laughing)
SCARPINO: No, no, no. (laughing)
MAYS: I think it’s 24 on the payroll.
SCARPINO: I actually will say for the record but speaking as a historian, we are extraordinarily fortunate to have the Recorder in existence for 100 years because it provides a window into understanding African-American experience in Indianapolis we otherwise wouldn’t have, so, we use it all the time. What were your goals other than modernizing it and keeping it from going under?
MAYS: Survival was the main goal to try to in the mid ’90s we moved to then set up an internship program where we could train young folks to actually be professional journalists because the excuse always is, we can’t find anybody, you know how that always is. So, we set up a program that we called JAWS, Journalism and Writing Seminar, where we actually paid young people in high school an hourly wage to come and work at the paper and actually got a page that was actually put in print. I mean, they actually published a page, and we’d have eight or ten each semester.
SCARPINO: Now is that the youth section that won the award?
MAYS: That’s correct. That’s correct. And so, I think that once I got into it I discovered that there were other colleges and universities that would help us. I mean, Ball State stepped up, Franklin College was a very strong supporter. Of course IUPUI has always been, where we could actually in the beginning we didn’t have all the computers that we needed but we put together a grant proposal to Nina Mason Pulliam and they stepped up and said, hey, we think this is a great program. We really like it. And they gave us a grant so we could then fix up the work area and have an individual computer for each one of the dozen students or so. Then, I paid the one of the graduates of the program who went off to college, got her journalism degree and came back. And so, we still do that. That program is very successful. As a matter of fact I always get a little nervous because when the Star or somebody’s looking for talent they look over at the Recorder and of course they have more resources and whatever to be able to attract people and there’re several folks that came from the Recorder that actually worked at, they actually work for majority publications now, which is...
SCARPINO: Has the Recorder in the years that you’ve owned it come to serve as an incubator, to train professional people?
MAYS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m saying—Ragsdale [unable to verify but likely last name] is a good example of that who worked here and moved on to Washington or whatever, but there are other examples of folks that actually got their start at the Recorder that have subsequently moved on to majority papers and—which is fine. I mean that’s all part of what goes on and I don’t know how long we have to—it’s always a constant modernization because people don’t read, young people today don’t read and so, you’re constantly trying to figure out different ways, whether it’s through the internet, whether it’s through other accesses where they can still find the paper relevant. And as far as the, you know, what happens in the black community, yes we cover that, and that’ll be around for years, but maybe not in the same format, or the same form and so, I’m trying to look at the new people coming into the Recorder for the next generation of thoughts. Because black newspapers across the country are in serious trouble really and newspapers in general are in serious trouble and so, the Star and Gannett and whatever, I mean—people laughed at—I remember when USA Today came out and people laughed and said this’ll never work. ##___Today has got to be one of the biggest sellers out there, the biggest moneymakers for Gannett because they were willing to try something different with all of this spicy color and sending it by satellite into certain zones. I mean they did something that was different at the time.
SCARPINO: Do you think that the Recorder itself exercises leadership?
MAYS: I think it certainly tries and I think of course an institution like the Recorder is no better than the leaders who run it and fortunately we tried to—and are able to attract a pretty decent talent over there, younger talent, and we try to take leads in certain areas. Like for an example, I would not—still don’t—accept cigarette ads and liquor. Now, we may do some beer if it’s in conjunction with some other products but essentially the splash of—and particularly cigarettes, I just absolutely say no. But back in the, you know, ten years ago I mean that was the lifeblood of particularly black newspapers was as I call them, the sin and vice kinds of advertising, and I am saying, why don’t we change from that concept? Why don’t we go to institutions like the hospitals, like the insurance companies and do a section on health? I’m not saying you don’t have to make money on advertising, but hospitals have a lot of money evidently. They build them every other minute it seems like and—but let’s make it something positive. Let’s do positive kind of things. So, the concept that I had was I don’t want negative news plastered all over the paper. And yeah, we’ll report the news accurately, but that doesn’t mean that I have to dwell on the murder or the shooting or the dope act or whatever. Yes we may report that, but that’s not the focal point.
SCARPINO: What is the focal point?
MAYS: The focal point is positive stories. How do you inspire people to succeed and give them the tools to succeed? How do—home ownership is a way for wealth creation. And so, you need to explain what it’s like to get a mortgage and how you need to figure out how to save the money for a down payment because many people spend as much money on apartment rent as they do on a mortgage. It’s that down payment. It’s just getting the understanding that you’re building equity and with the apartment you’re just getting rent receipts. So, I think that’s really the kind of focus and that’s continued for some years and it’s been really pretty successful.
SCARPINO: So, do you personally exercise leadership as a publisher? Is that your stamp on the paper that says positive spin, no cigarette ads?
MAYS: Yes, yes. Right. And I can afford to do that, because again, the focus is not maximizing profits because I have other income so, I don’t have to, that has to make enough money to be self-sustaining and all that. But you know I mean if it makes a hundred thousand dollars a year net, that’s enough, and so I can afford to say, no we’re not going to take on this ad and the people over there understand and know my philosophies as it relates to certain kinds of advertising. We could advertise nightclubs and go-go joints, or whatever, strip joints or whatever, and there is a place for that. But I just say that is not the image or the area that I want to dwell on.
SCARPINO: When you bought the paper was it self-sustaining?
SCARPINO: Is it now?
MAYS: Yes, yes.
SCARPINO: I read several pieces in the Recorder, as I was doing my background work for this interview and one of the things that struck me was a signed editorial comment in the Recorder concerning ministers who were circulating petitions seeking leniency for Mike Tyson…
MAYS: Mike Tyson.
SCARPINO: You wrote this editorial and one line in particular struck me. “If Mike Tyson is an African-American hero,” you said, “as some of our ministers claim, God knows we don’t need another hero.” And then you said that, “A convicted rapist, he was no more a role model than the person on the street flashing hundred dollar bills selling dope.”
MAYS: And the ministers were very upset at that too.
SCARPINO: Were you attempting to exercise leadership there? What were you trying to do?
MAYS: Yes. Well, to say just exactly what that said, that a convicted rapist at that point, Mike Tyson was a convicted rapist—should not be viewed as a hero and should not be viewed as a role model but by the ministers who were getting paid, in my estimation, by Don King and others to try to get the sentence ameliorated, or lessened, or whatever. And so, I felt that they were really pimping themselves by doing it, prostituting themselves really. And so I said I can afford to take a stance on this and I did. And I wrote it and signed it and that’s unusual.
SCARPINO: Did you take a fair amount of heat for doing it?
MAYS: Oh, a lot of heat. I got called in by the ministers—summoned. That came out on Thursday. The Star picked it up on Friday. On Saturday I got summoned by the concerned clergy or whatever and I went to their meeting and they were all around just talking about how terrible it was that I would say that and so on and so forth, and they said, we’re going to boycott the Recorder. And I said, oh, okay. We’re going to put you out of business. And I said, okay, that’s fine. I said, let me try to put it in perspective for you because obviously you don’t know enough to be able to put this in perspective. The perspective is, you don’t really hurt Bill Mays because Bill Mays runs the largest chemical concerns in the state of Indiana in chemical distribution and since nobody in this room buys a dime’s worth of chemicals, you haven’t caused me any heartburn. I said, now, what you have done if you could carry out your threat, which is questionable, but if you could, is you’ve just put a black institution out of business that has a history, a hundred-year history, and basically I probably ought to thank you because I probably subsidize it with a hundred thousand dollars a year coming from me personally.
It got dead quiet. And of course as the story would go, no, they did not boycott. Somebody stood up and said, well you know, this doesn’t make any sense and plus Mays Chemical does a lot in this community. They had not put together something, I mean it hadn’t clicked that the resources to help charities, to help United Way, to help churches, came from the Mays Chemical side, and that if those resources stopped, then they were going to lose too. So, needless to say, they did not boycott. I gave them, I said, what you need to look at, now that he is convicted, what you need to deal with, is how to keep him on a route that doesn’t provide for a long prison sentence. And I said, but you all haven’t, don’t even have the connections to make that kind of appeal to the judge that’s going to do to the sentencing, which is true.
SCARPINO: What kind of qualities do you think heroes should possess, if we just turn it around?
MAYS: Well, I think heroes should be looked upon as someone who accomplishes what the everyday person doesn’t accomplish. I mean the Tuskegee Airmen are a good example. Now, you can say, well, that was in segregated times in World War II, but those were just as skilled professionals flying aircraft and you can debate whether or not they lost five planes or twenty-five planes but the point is that under the conditions they had to operate—separate training, separate planes, the whole bit, probably not the best equipment, they did a miraculous job and they finally got recognized by this country very recently in Washington D.C. with—well, the whole group got the Congressional Medal—but each of them got a Bronze Medal, I think, and they were just as proud as they could be those who were still alive to see that. That’s my idea of a hero, someone who’s operating under adverse conditions but still manages to excel and achieve.
SCARPINO: I was interested in something you said vis-à-vis your editorial on Mike Tyson. The petitions of the ministers were circulating, that was actually underwritten by somebody outside of Indianapolis who was…
MAYS: Sure, Don King was his manager.
SCARPINO: …Don King? Okay.
MAYS: Sure, the money came from King. There was no question of that, and so, I said, well why? Because, they wanted the Recorder to do it, and I said, well there’s no way we’re going to support this kind of action. And I mean, it’s not even a discussion. There’s nothing, you can’t buy me, so there’s nothing to discuss, and the people in the paper knew exactly my position (laughing) so they can read it.
SCARPINO: I am going to shift gears here and put a few more of our standard questions in, and then I am going to switch back and ask you about philanthropy before we go our separate ways.
SCARPINO: How would you characterize your idea or your concept of leadership? Who is the leader? What constitutes leadership?
MAYS: Well, I think again leaders have to lead, and my idea is a leader is someone that under adverse conditions is still able to make positive decisions that are not clouded by their own personal kinds of convictions. And by convictions I’m really talking about their own personal gain, I guess it is the way to say it. That’s why some of the best leaders, I mean you look at a Winston Churchill. I mean, the reason that he stands out so much was the kind of charisma and the kind of leadership and the kind of hope that he gave Britain. I mean, it’s just that simple. You look around and there’s very few that—they may be “president,” but they don’t exhibit that same kind of hope and quality and whatever including our current president.
SCARPINO: You mentioned a little while ago that you don’t watch much television?
SCARPINO: And I am wondering if, in your opinion, do you think that persuasiveness of television in our society and culture has had any influence on the way people understand leadership or what a leader is?
MAYS: Well, I think you have to view television for what it is. It’s entertainment and so the message they’re trying to get across is selling sponsors, selling money, selling commercials. So, the people, and this is one of the more negative things, I look at somebody like Bob Johnson who ran Black Entertainment Television and got criticized because it wasn’t more educational and he says, this was not Black Educational TV, this was Black Entertainment TV and I’m in this to make a profit and I’ve got shareholders. I’ve got people that count on me for turning this over. So, I look at it and I laughed because when they sold that company for, I don’t know, to Viacom—two billion dollars or some huge amount. And I’m saying he’s accomplished what he was trying to do as a leader and he turned right around and bought some other things—the basketball team I guess, the one in Charlotte—and who knows all the stuff that he is buying with that kind of money. So, I think the television situation, I just—in the 60s and 70s the programs on did not necessarily portray what—they were entertainment and so that the programs at the very top, I mean even now, American Idol, I don’t see any leadership in American Idol. But it crosses black, white, man, woman, I mean it can be the talk of—you can get into arguments over whether he should’ve been cut. I don’t see any leadership in Donald Trump. He’s very successful. But I don’t see any leadership in him as a person as an individual. Now, is he is successful? There’s no question of that.
SCARPINO: So, there’s a difference between leadership and self-promotion?
MAYS: That’s correct. That’s correct. Leaders don’t have to do that: self-promote.
SCARPINO: How would you describe your own style of leadership?
MAYS: I’m probably a dictator. (laughing) I’m more a consensus builder than a leader in the standpoint of “follow me.” My idea is to try to surround myself with people who have the skills and who have their own leadership and I try to bring out in them what’s necessary to make something successful. I’m amazed sometimes when I look at the various boards that I sit on or the leadership positions that I have been thrust into and whether it’s chairman of the United Way, whether it’s the chairman of the lottery, the first African-American on the IU Foundation and on and on. And now, you know, if I wanted it and I don’t think it’s any great secret to people who are in the know—the governor’s going to appoint some trustees to Indiana University. He’d love to appoint Bill Mays. But Bill Mays will say no. First of all there’s too much stuff going on but I’m past that point now in my life that I want to work that hard. So—and that takes real leadership to get a consensus on that, the board of trustees.
SCARPINO: My sense is that they work really hard.
MAYS: They work extremely hard and you know, let’s face it. I don’t think those checks come rolling in commensurate with the time. You can’t get enough basketball tickets, whatever they get—football tickets.
SCARPINO: What has worked well for you about your concept, your style of leadership?
MAYS: Oh, I think the leadership role is not, my leadership role is not seen so much as a dictator but I think it’s seen more as—let’s get the job done. My basic philosophy, which carries over into the leadership role is you either get the job done or you get credit for getting the job done. But you rarely get both. So, to me a leader has to be one who is willing to forego the credit and deal with let’s just get this job done. Whether it’s raising money, whether it’s cleaning up a neighborhood, whatever it is, meeting a sales objective, and so I think that has worked and stood me very, very well throughout the years.
SCARPINO: What has not worked so well for you about your style of leadership?
MAYS: Oh, I think that criticizing or failing to—figuring out how to criticize someone in a constructive way. I don’t tend to sugarcoat a lot of things and so people can get crushed pretty easily just by telling them—it could be the truth, but a leader has to be able to somehow figure out how to say the truth, but do it in a way that you don’t crush the individual you are trying to help or the situation you are trying to overcome.
SCARPINO: Is that a difficult balance?
MAYS: It is extremely difficult. And I’m not sure that I’ve done it very well, that I’ve conquered that. That’s still something I’m working on.
SCARPINO: Do you see a distinction or a difference between leadership and management?
MAYS: Oh, yeah. That’s why I say managers tend to dictate, tend to tell you what to do. Leaders provide the opportunity for you to do without being specifically guided, I guess is the way to say it, and that’s tough sometimes. And all of us have a tendency to manage but a true leader is, as I say—is someone who can set the tone so that those qualities or those areas that you want to improve or overcome are handled but you haven’t told somebody this is how you do it, go do it.
SCARPINO: Can you think of an event or an incident that best demonstrates your style of leadership?
MAYS: Well, I think the ability to take the United Way Campaign and to run that where you have to depend on volunteers, where you have to set a different tone and that’s what I tried to do while I was chairman, while I was campaign chair, I looked at what has been successful that others who’ve been in this role have done. Well, there are people that work second shift and third shift, but most of the time people, you know, in those roles only want to go visit from eight to five. And I said, well no, you know UPS is working all night. They’re big. Why don’t we set up a time? I’ll go out there at two in the morning or Federal Express—and so, I think the willingness to do something different is what prompted us to be successful in that United Way campaign raising thirty-one million dollars fifteen years ago. Not that they haven’t been somewhat successful since then but you extrapolate that over fifteen years and you say, well, we still haven’t gotten to fifty million dollars, I think this year we are going to make it fifty million whether we can get to it or not. So, you know, it’s kind of hit a plateau.
SCARPINO: Some of the, I guess scholarship, that attempts to analyze leadership of what it means to be a leader, argues that leadership or leaders are sometimes born or forged in a crisis or a challenging situation. So, the question is, was there an event or crisis that helped forge your view of leadership?
MAYS: No, I think about some things. I laugh about Alexander the Great who cried because he had nothing else to conquer but I also kind of like Genghis Khan because he was “bad boy” out there. And I think about someone that— Hannibal that burned the bridges once he crossed the Alps to say there is no turning back, we have to go forward. I don’t know if there is any specific incident in my life that kind of forged. I’m sure there were many little things but it wasn’t an “a-ha moment” I guess is the way to say it. I think about—and again, haven’t had many crises but coming home from school, on getting a call from my mom that my dad was gravely ill when I was nineteen and driving half the night from Bloomington. One of my friends brought me down and getting there and the first thing my mom says, I’m sorry he died before you could get here. And I mean at that point, you know the impact of that—that I’d never see him alive again and that’s what she was trying to get me to come down and I did as soon as—but you know it’s a big campus and you’ve got to find me and they don’t have cell phones in those days.
SCARPINO: I’m going shift away from the standard questions and ask you few questions about philanthropy. You have a long and impressive record of philanthropic giving and promoting philanthropy. A few examples include your involvement with the United Way of Central Indiana, Indiana University Foundation Board, the state board of the United Negro College Fund and so on. What do you think are the purpose and significance of philanthropy?
MAYS: Well, I think again giving back is very important to me and should be important to anyone after you have reached a certain modicum of success, and that success is not always measured in financial terms. As I said, my family was not wealthy but there was always a giving aspect at church. We attended church every Sunday and you were expected to save part of your allowance and put it in church. And that’s kind of hard for somebody who’s seven years old, the choice between an ice cream cone or putting the quarter in church where you get this
basket passed in front of you and you know this is kind of like why am I, I mean do it?
So, I think that the whole aspect of giving back is what makes it for me and watching others succeed knowing that I kind of gave them that little boost and I never share that talking about with anybody particularly, but just the fact the inward feeling knowing that, you know, I helped him get, helped him be where he is today and I’m proud of him. He’s going on to do better things, more successful things. That’s another reason for mentoring the businesses because what I’d like for them to do is be more successful than even I was and again that takes, you have to really feel good about the philanthropic activities in order to consistently do them. Whether it’s the Art Museum, the Children’s Museum, or whatever, and I try to instill that in my kids. And you know it’s tough, I mean do they go out and get a new BMW or do they try to put together some kind of entrepreneurial venture that will, down the road, hopefully turn into something successful. Yeah, they can take the same money and buy a brand new car but that’s the instilling of this entrepreneurial spirit is what I try to do.
SCARPINO: Do you see yourself as a leader in philanthropy?
MAYS: Yeah. I guess I will say that whether I consider it or not it doesn’t matter. Other people just absolutely feel that it’s important for Bill Mays to be on this board or that board or whatever and in the not-for-profit world, I mean, even with the School of Philanthropy, I mean I’m sure that if I just even raised a modicum of thought process that with the appropriate people over there they’d like nothing better than for me to come on that board. But you know, I went on the board of Randy Tobias, the overseeing group, because of the friendship with Randy, and I said, I don’t need another—it won’t take much time, that’s the standard line and it never takes much time. (laughing) But then, you know, I’ll have folks say to me it is extremely important that we just have you on the board even if you don’t come to a meeting because we need to use your name and the fact that if we need you we can call you and we won’t call much, won’t call often. I am amazed at several boards that I’m on that I haven’t been to a meeting in two years but they want to keep my name on there and they want to be able to say, well, Bill Mays supports us and I’m kind of saying, what does that do, I don’t do anything? Well you give us money. Well, yeah, but I don’t need to be on the board to give you money.
SCARPINO: I guess that is one function of not-for-profits boards is that…
MAYS: Oh, absolutely. It is.
SCARPINO: …make rain.
MAYS: It is. There’s no question with that. There is absolutely no question. I mean the Society of Retired Execs, the Commission on Indianapolis, the Mayor’s commission, that he has, downtown commission. There’s any number that would just want to be able to say that you support them and that helps them get money from other sources. I took, an extent, the United Negro College Fund. I happen to believe in that cause and I tell them and I said, I just don’t have time to go to the meetings but I’ll support you where you need support and I’ll be able to not only provide money but I’ll also be able to convince others that this is a worthy cause and help you set up just like they set up a meeting, an effort in Evansville, which had really been something. I said it should be the whole state. Why don’t you go to Evansville? We don’t know anybody in Evansville. Well, I sit on the board of Vectren which is a large corporation in Evansville. So, I just asked one the senior vice presidents, I said, well why can’t you spearhead this down in Evansville? And he said, nobody asked me. But, Bill, I think it’s a worthwhile cause. So, before you know it, Old National Bank, and Citizens, and Fifth/Third and Bristol Myers and all of them kind of jumped on the bandwagon and said, this is good, but it took that first initial—and the person up here just didn’t know. I mean, didn’t know how to go about getting to somebody high enough that would make some sense, whereas for me he’s coming in presenting to the board every month, so it happened to be the highest-ranking African-American in Vectren so, I mean it follows that Vectren would support it and they did, financially and otherwise.
SCARPINO: And his name is again?
MAYS: Ellis Redd.
SCARPINO: Talk about the United Way for a bit. You involve yourself and Mays Chemical extensively in the United Way of Central Indiana; you were a campaign chair in 1991, and 1993/94. Mays Chemical won recognition for its high rate of participation in the United Way. Why do you encourage your employees to get involved with the United Way and other philanthropic causes?
MAYS: Well, I think that it certainly esprit de corps is one factor. But I think again it’s—we’ve been blessed in this company. We’ve never had a layoff and we literally have been profitable virtually every year and we pay reasonably well, have good benefits. So, it should not be out of the question for the employees to share back, and that’s the only cause that I really encourage everybody in the company to participate in. And I’m saying that you can find some United Way Agency that you can respect, admire, and want to support. I said there is, I don’t know eighty, I don’t know how many, there’s a bunch of them now, maybe closer to a hundred. And I’m saying you can look through this list if you want to designate money to go to that organization, that particular agency, then do that. We’ll just take it through United Way and whatever. So, we were for several years and still pretty high, the highest per capita giving in our category and we probably still are. We run close to five hundred dollars per employee per year.
SCARPINO: In your concept or understanding of leadership do philanthropy and business fit together?
MAYS: I think so. I mean all you have to do is look at the leaders who are involved in philanthropic causes and then look at the other side and say what did they do? Where does that leadership come? It comes out of the business community for the most part. Now, you could say well that part of that is the fact that they have the resources and that’s true. But I think that you are taught and trained as a leader so you are sought out if you are in business to come over because so many of the not-for-profits mean well, but they don’t know how—they don’t have the business concepts. They can’t run the budgets. They can’t manage the people and so it makes sense that they have to be taught just like we’re taught on the business side.
SCARPINO: In 1992 you became the first African-American to serve as chairman of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. What attracted you to that position? That had to be very labor intensive.
MAYS: Well, yeah but again I wouldn’t do it again but that overlapped. I wouldn’t do— at this point, that overlapped with my chairmanship with the United Way. So, I had both of them and that wasn’t intended to be that way. What happened, Tom Binford was ahead of me. He was the campaign chairman a couple years, and normally the campaign chair goes in and serves moves on up to the chair that is kind of his, that’s the way that goes. Earl Herr, Dr. Herr, was the campaign chairman immediately before me and so there were supposed to be at least two other people that would serve in chairmanship so I would have a couple years to rest in there.
Tom Binford went to Herr and said, you know, we’re old farts. We need to step out of the way and let younger leadership come in here and Mays has proven that, and we need to show this is a diverse environment and I think that I’m going to pass my tenure for chairman and suggest that they talk to Mays. Earl said, I couldn’t agree more with you. So, it is kind of like I look up and whoom! Here I am chairing it and I’m saying, well, okay, but I’d been on the executive committee for some years. I was a vice chairman so for at least three years and so, I felt that I had, I knew the inner workings of the chamber very well, and I did, and I still do. I’ve taken a lesser role now, obviously, but I still serve on a couple of the committees and attend the board meetings.
So, I’m not sure a lot of the news media was focused on the fact I was the first African-American chairman. I’m saying, well yeah, except most of the businesses have nothing to do with being black. There were, at that time, over 3,000 businesses that were members of the Chamber and I said, so the programming and the issues that I have to look at are much, much broader than anything in the African-American community, and that is still very true. Now I could do some things because I was the chairman and I had access, because that’s really what the leadership positions give you is access to other leaders. That’s the thing that scares, I think, some people because I can have my assistant call or whatever and the response would be totally different than if somebody else in the company called because they know, they understand, well his assistant talks to him everyday and if there’s something that isn’t right, he probably can pick the phone called the president of Indiana University, which I have done. Or, he had dinner with the new incoming president, with Mike McRobbie, and they were at the basketball game together. We saw the IU game. Well, you don’t have to be too bright to figure out if there’s an issue just like with the black faculty staff or the IUPUI scenario out there with the student union, that while I wanted to stay out of that, but I would say to Chancellor Bantz, you know, you need to get involved with this. This is an issue and it’s a situation that you don’t want to fester and you didn’t create it, but you have the responsibility to figure out some kind of solution to it, some direction that makes some sense.
SCARPINO: Are you satisfied with the direction that they appear to be headed in?
MAYS: (laughing) I don’t know. I haven’t studied it close enough. But yes, I think that Charles will get it together and I’m sure that there’s always a compromise and demands, and I’m not that close to it personally although I am pretty close. I may have mentioned at some previous point in our conversation that I was on the search committee that brought Chancellor Bantz in, and so I knew him from virtually from the first day he set foot at IUPUI. But then I’ve been on the search committee for literally each one of the presidents and I have may mentioned now that I’m on a search committee for the replacement for Curt Simic, who’s president of the foundation.
SCARPINO: That you didn’t mention but…
MAYS: I didn’t? Okay yeah, so...
SCARPINO: You mentioned in an interview with The Recorder you said, “Now you have an inside spokesman as part of the system. You can’t change the system being on the outside, you have to be on the inside…
MAYS: That is correct.
SCARPINO: …the economic system is not going to change until you get people into the system.” Who were you? Who’s your audience for that? Who are you trying to reach when you say that?
MAYS: Well, I think people in general who are protesting. You see, I wrote an editorial and that’s one of the things that I if had more time, I just don’t have the time. But I wrote an editorial and it was talking somewhat about— think about, we went from civil rights to political rights and moved close to economic rights. But just think how much better off we might be if we continue the journey through the economic rights. It seems like we got stuck. We got through the civil rights era. We protested, marched and got certain accommodations and whatever. We got the political rights. We got mayors of cities, we even have a governor and we have senators. You know, we have political stuff, but we didn’t use, we in the collective we, the black Americans—we didn’t use that political clout to then really get ingrained in the economic life.
I say that you cannot, it is very difficult, I won’t say you cannot, but it is very difficult to change any system from outside. You have to be in the inside. So, I can make changes in how the chamber functioned because I was on the inside. I could make changes in the allocation or the way in which the allocations were constructed for United Way because I was chairman of the board I was there. And on the outside you can bat your head against the wall but you know, just like in the education system the changes have to come from within. So you have a superintendent that’s inside now and is getting a great deal support and it takes some time, but Eugene White will change IPS.
SCARPINO: Okay. You’re talking about the head of the current Indianapolis Public School system?
MAYS: That’s correct.
SCARPINO: Okay. I want to step back and start with the civil rights movement because you talked about civil rights and politics and then economic opportunity. Do you think that people who were leaders in the civil rights movement, were they effecting change from the outside or the inside?
MAYS: Well, I think they were affecting change really from the outside. If you really look at it and think about it, someone like a Martin Luther King had allies like a Bobby Kennedy that was on the inside that was saying in a not so nice way to the people in Alabama—we’re were not going to tolerate this Edmund Pettus Bridge again. I mean that’s not going to happen again. You look at the civil rights era with the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Well, it was an insider, it was a president of these United States that says, well no, we’re not going to let innocent kids get hurt in this situation. So, he federalized and sent troops down there. Well, nobody on the outside —you could march all you wanted until you’re blue in the face, but until somebody on the inside said, I see the point here and I’m going to make some changes to the system so that it is more acceptable and certainly illustrates more of what America should be. So, I think that I would say that the secret to the civil rights era was that the civil rights leaders figured out how to get insiders to help them in their causes.
SCARPINO: Do you think that when you go from civil rights to politics, to economic opportunity, that it’s harder to organize for economic opportunity?
MAYS: Well, you know, you can have boycotts; you can have all kind of actions. But I think that, I wouldn’t say that it’s harder. I think that it’s different because there’s been a—in the world there’s always been a history of protesting as a method of change. So, there are all kinds of models of protest, I mean, whatever. I mean, some of them work and some of them don’t work so well. The political side is relatively new in having people of real power. You can have the mayor of Gary, but Gary’s so depressed economically, it wouldn’t really matter because there wasn’t anything there that…
SCARPINO: Mayor Barnes I think was the person?
MAYS: Well, Hatcher.
SCARPINO: Hatcher, okay.
MAYS: And so, you have, the old saying goes—they let us achieve political power in a situation where the system’s broke; where it’s poor, it’s hurting. And so now we can turn it over to you. And, you think a little bit about that and there is some truth even on the economic side. You know, I look up and I say, well gee, I wonder if the CEO’s of—I think about the CEO that came on from in New York that came in to run the Time Warner scenario at a time when the next thing that we know, they’re getting sued and the whole story. I mean all sorts of bad things happening to the company and they’ll pull themselves out of it.
The CEO who’s over the, I guess the, oh what’s the name of it, the housing kind of deal—Fannie Mae. And so, that institution was working well, but now we’re dealing with—is it faltering? So congress is looking to see—well, do want to make some changes now that there’s somebody in there and they seem to be trying to do something so now we want to fiddle with it and make change. So, I would not say though that it’s more difficult from economic standpoint. I just think that the models for the protesting and the political side are more known, better out there, and therefore it’s relatively new from the economic side. I mean the number of black businesses. I mean the BE 100 chronicles it every year. I look at it and fifteen to twenty percent of those businesses fall off each year.
SCARPINO: That’s Black Enterprise top one hundred?
MAYS: That’s Black Enterprise, yes, of the top one hundred. Well, you look at—let’s take the Fortune 500. You have positions changing but if you look at the 500 companies, it’s not like next year there’s going to be a different fifty. There may be a different two or three because some of them consolidated or this or whatever. But it’s not like there’s that kind of turnover and that’s consistent in the chronicle of minority business particularly, is that they’re fragile enough that the least little something—well, car dealers. So, I think that it’s just a difference. The economic side is just different and we’ll learn how to work that through.
SCARPINO: You also said in the same editorial in The Recorder, you said, “Hopefully to cause a dialogue, a long-term genuine dialogue with business leadership in the city of Indianapolis to include minorities, and women in all aspects of their business.” Did you see part of your role as facilitating that dialogue?
MAYS: Certainly, absolutely. I think again I was an insider in many instances to the business community because I was chair of the chamber. So, I don’t care how much an NAACP or an Urban League—those are two very strong civil rights, very well—I don’t care how much they dealt with until somebody on the inside was willing to change and he could see that it made sense then, the system just wasn’t going to—the system will bend, but it wasn’t going to change.
SCARPINO: If you look back on your experiences as chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, what impact do you think you had?
MAYS: Well, I think quite a bit. All you’ve got to do is look at fifteen years later and look at the minorities that have leadership roles in the chamber, and by that I mean, head of the education, certainly one of the vice chairs, the political are all headed by African-Americans, which were put in place. The groundwork was laid so that I could pull them into the inner circle, into the executive committee, and different people could see this businessperson in a different light. It’s not just a minority business this is a businessperson who understands certain things. And so, by putting people in those leadership opportunities, then if they chose to, they could rise up in the chamber and that’s just like what’s happened. The first woman chairman came on was appointed on the executive committee during my tenure. When she came up…
SCARPINO: What was her name?
MAYS: Yvonne Shaheen. When she came through and could work through the chairs, and that’s what we call it, then folks looked at her as—hey, this is a real—she’s a real leader. She runs an electrical contracting company, and she cracks the whip and is really successful against a lot of odds and she’s very helpful in the community. I mean the Children’s Museum, the this and the that. And so, I think that that’s how I would characterize my tenure. It enabled other minorities and women to get an opportunity to get to the table, to sit at the table.
SCARPINO: I pulled one more line out of that editorial, and you said, “I think there is sensitivity that I bring to the table. I think by and large, Indiana businesses and Indiana as a community is willing to change and share the power because that is really what we’re talking about. The power has been held by a few for so long.” How do you explain power?
MAYS: Well, power is power!
SCARPINO: Is it a commodity, is it…
MAYS: Very few have it. I mean, power is the ability to effect change. You have very powerful people and unfortunately for so many years—and this is what I was trying to say to the folks when I took on the role of working with this present governor, I said, you have to get to the power and the governor is the power. So, if you’re going to effect change in health care or effect funding as it relates to certain kinds of activities then you have to be able to influence that power, and as I say power it is more than just money. I mean there are some non-wealthy people that have a great deal of power because they have a lot of respect. But you know, you think about power people and I don’t think anybody would argue with the fact that someone like Jeff Smulyan who heads up Emmis Communications is a pretty powerful person. Obviously the politicians by definition carry a certain amount of power but you look at them outside of that and outside of that arena and you’ll find power, and I call power the ability to influence change.
SCARPINO: And so part of your agenda was to expand the pool of people who had the ability to influence change?
MAYS: Exactly, exactly. Because it’s too easy for our leaders to—for there’d only be a few and what we need is enough, so many, that in effect you can’t just pinpoint. It’s easy. The reason Bill Mays gets beat up all the time is because they can pinpoint him. I wake up every day and think about any actions that I’m doing or taking or whatever, that whatever I do I don’t want to be on the front page of the Star. The Recorder I can control but the Star is something different, or whatever, negative, you know, because they will always gravitate to the negative, which is as I think we talked about this bar. I mean I laugh at it because I am saying you spend so much time and attention on the bar but I could write that same check to United Way and it wouldn’t even be a paragraph. Let alone pictures and whatever else.
SCARPINO: I’m going to wrap up by asking you the last few of our standard leadership questions. And what these questions are aiming to figure out is measuring the success of leadership in terms of impact and influence and the perceptions of others. So, do you think leaders are born or made?
MAYS: I think they’re developed. So, maybe that’s saying the same thing as made. I don’t think you’re born with leadership. You may have leadership qualities, but I think the leadership skills have to be developed, or made.
SCARPINO: Do you think that it’s either important or necessary for a leader to have a positive, reasonably well-supported set of goals and projected outcomes?
MAYS: Oh, I think it’s certainly—the leader should have an idea of what he wants to accomplish but not necessarily how he’s going to accomplish it. Because I think there’s a big difference. I want Mays Chemical to be successful but I if I had to write down, I could write down certain qualities, certain characteristics, certain direction that the company should take but in order to implement that I’ve got to have others around me that have a different skill set. I can’t balance—I’m not an accountant. I certainly couldn’t deal with some of the relationships that we have in some of the sales arenas, some of the more technical things that we have, but I can say this is what we really want to see. We want to have a quality system that reflects getting us a thousand rating, 980 rating on our quality evaluations. Or we want to strive toward Six Sigma as our objective. Now, we may never get there. I mean that’s a pretty tough goal.
SCARPINO: What is the word?
MAYS: Six Sigma is that you have 99.95 degree of accuracy as far as your measurements. So, that means you are only missing about five hundredths of a…
SCARPINO: Who assesses the accuracy?
MAYS: Well, you set targets and objectives and so you measure against those targets and objectives. Shipments, you know, you want to get shipments out on time. Okay, well you got to measure that. And so the goal is that you want to get literally, I don’t say 100%. So, I say well, we want to operate Six Sigma so that’s 99.9. If we get to 99, I’m very happy.
SCARPINO: No, I was actually just to trying to probe enough so that if somebody listens to this in 10 years we’ll know what you meant. Do you think that there can be a leader who pursues goals or pursues outcomes of questionable utility or morality? With you know, Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin, are they leaders?
MAYS: I wouldn’t call them leaders. I’d call them dictators. I mean, that’s the difference. If I have to hold a gun to your head I’m not leading you. And I think that you could argue that Hitler must’ve had some leadership characteristics to get people to follow, to a point, but then he was able to turn and cause that country to look upon a group of people as the enemy. And so, from that perspective, I think that he may have started off okay but somewhere or another it changed. I guess that’s the way to say it. Idi Amin, I just, he’s just…
SCARPINO: I just tried to pick some of…
MAYS: No, those are good ones. Two very—because that is a good question. I mean Stalin, I’d consider him more of a leader. What was Khrushchev, you know. I mean, I would consider the good example that I always deal with is that I for the love of me can’t figure out how Castro is staying in all this time. I mean, he’ll be there until he dies, I mean, which may not been much longer, but I mean, it’s been years and years and the Cuban crisis—I think that when I think about John F. Kennedy and the goal that he had, he says, we’re not letting offensive
weapons ninety miles off our shore, and I was in grade school then, whatever, it may have been early high school, but I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis just like it was yesterday. We had television, and the question really was—who’s going to crack? Is Khrushchev going to give in—because these ships are sailing, and at the same time, the President was talking and he moved the country, whatever DEFCON, like to the red alert, or whatever it is, launched the airplanes and said—if you cross this line, then we will board your ships or destroy your ships, so the question becomes, do you take that chance, and, you know…
SCARPINO: So, you would argue that if there is an individual who is pursuing goals that are of questionable morality or utility that they don’t fall into the category of leader?
MAYS: No. That’s exactly correct. I would say they do not. I would say they fall in more of a category of a dictator or a self-serving individual but not a leader. I still have this idealistic concept that a leader is someone that is doing good for somebody else, not for themselves. Now, along the way, you might help yourself, but...
SCARPINO: I’ve got two more questions, and one is a kind of a catchall in case I’ve forgotten anything. As you and I have talked for the better part of four hours we talked about you as a leader in various venues and business and not-for-profit, philanthropy, minority rights, access to economic opportunity, so here’s the question—in your mind, how do the pieces of your leadership career fit together: business, not-for-profit, philanthropy, minority rights and access to economic opportunity?
MAYS: Well, I think they come together because at different times you go through different phases and you have different objectives and you have different needs, psychologically and otherwise. There was a time when even the remote possibility of being on the Board of Trustees at Indiana University would have been the cat’s meow. It would have been—I would have done anything to do that. At this point in time I can pick up the phone and make that happen and I have no interest in doing that. So, you go through phases I think, and success is like that. Once you get enough money and whatever enough money is, then that no longer is the goal. Money itself is only in how it’s being used. So yes, I still want to make money, but it’s to make money for a different purpose. I’m not concerned about my retirement. I’m not concerned about the price of gas to go in my wife’s BMW. I’m not concerned about my kids. college or my grandkids. college, so at this point, it becomes, is there another world you want to conquer or another arena to be successful in.
So I think that’s the real challenge is to keep yourself motivated and changing as you go through life as a leader so that you attack different positions of leadership, different areas of leadership and I have become much more interested, and there was a phase where business was all there was, then philanthropy came into play, then you move on and it becomes more a matter of how do I help, and so charity was a factor. In order to be a good philanthropist, you’re going to have some money because that’s really what is expected and so, once you get to that point then you can look at other things. I’m at the point where even that art that I talked about, I kind of occasionally say, I just want to go do something different. And I have a Second Century Membership at the Art Museum, I can go anytime I want. They’re very—they know me, I’m a trustee. I get asked to every exhibit, VIP opportunity and I’ll go and…
SCARPINO: They did a stunning renovation out there too.
MAYS: Oh, yeah.
SCARPINO: You used a phrase a couple of times, two or three times, as we talked today, and a couple of times from the last time we visited basically about describing your activity in terms of the worlds to conquer. Is that kind of the way you look at things?
MAYS: Yeah. I think you…
SCARPINO: I don’t mean that in a sort of “shoot ’em dead way,” but I…
MAYS: No, no. But I think you have to look at it from the standpoint that you go through different phases and different perspectives and so, once you have been truly successful in a given venue, then it’s like being a champion. You want to be successful in winning games but the real success is winning the Super Bowl, if you’re an NFL team, and that’s your badge of whatever—well the real success, in the United Way campaigns here is to make the campaign goal. Now once you’ve done that, then you look at it and say, it’s time to leave that or move on. You still want to stay and make the organization successful, but you move on to a different phase—so then moving to the Chairman of the Board gives you an opportunity to impact more than just the campaign.
SCARPINO: Is there anything that I should have asked you that I didn’t because I wasn’t perceptive enough to figure it out and ask the question?
MAYS: No, no. I think it’s been very exhaustive. I think the only other thing I would say which is the quote that is certainly not original, but, behind every good man there’s probably a better woman that is supporting and encouraging and all the way back to when I started Mays Chemical, the encouragement from my wife to be able to just say—oh, I knew you’d do that, what took you so long to resign from that company? Or, oh yeah, I know you’ll have it all together by the time I get back and I will take care of the kids and you’ll be doing this, or well, I’m going to go off to Texas for my doctorate, but Bill, you take care of the kids and you’ll be alright. We’ll have housekeeper because we can now afford it and we’ll have a live-in babysitter and so, I think that it’s the stability of the family life is important too, so that—and we’re different people. I mean my wife and I are different from the standpoint that we’ve been together now, as a matter of fact, we just had our anniversary today.
SCARPINO: What year?
MAYS: Thirty-nine years.
MAYS: So, I gave her some jewelry or something and she wrote me a note and just kind of said, this is really beautiful, thank you very much, but I think I’ve got enough jewelry so what that says to me that she has moved past that part, and so…
SCARPINO: That’s not a world that needs to be conquered.
MAYS: That’s right. She’s got that world conquered, so I kind of said, well, what would you kind of like? She said, you know, I really would like you take some time off. I’d like to go back to the Grand Canyon, that’s where we celebrated our first—when we got married, celebrated our anniversary and went horseback riding in the Garden of the Gods and that was back in ’68 when we got married. So she said, but I know you’re not going to do that because you’re not a romanticist, so that’s not going to happen. She said, but what I would like to do is to take our granddaughters to the Grand Canyon so they can see that. They can see Pike’s Peak and the whole bit. Because you can do different things now, you can ride mules down I guess all the way to the bottom, I mean, you can do some different things. I think that that’s good, so I said, fine, I said, why don’t you do that and just take a week and just do that, and I said, I’ll pay for it, that’s not a problem. And she says, well, I can pay, because she makes very good money and has very little to spend it on other than what she chooses to spend it on, which is great, that’s true success. But I did want to say something because I think stability of the family is important and I’ve been very fortunate to have that stability for lo these many years and not only from my wife, but from my brothers, I mean the whole family, the Mays family is not a very large…
SCARPINO: How many brothers do you have?
MAYS: Two, and they’re twins. One lives in Evansville, and one lives up here. They’re both retired and we see each other periodically. As a matter of fact, I’ll just do something like to say to Ted, why don’t we just get in the limo and just go down to Evansville and visit Bob to have lunch? I have the flexibility to do it, he’s not working so he’s got the flexibility to do it, and we just get in one of my limos and just say hey, have the driver just pick us up. Go down and spend a couple of hours having lunch and then drive back, I mean, just folks say, well why would you just—well, because it gives a chance, my brothers don’t get together as much as I’d like for them just to interact with each other, and I said, this is a good way to do it, and I said, so we’ll go to lunch at one of the clubs comparable to the Skyline Club, I think it’s the Petroleum Club that he likes, and they have a reciprocal membership, so there’s no big deal. I go down there, call, have reservations and I can go right in, and whatever so…
SCARPINO: Well, Mr. Mays, thank you very much taking the time to visit with me. I really appreciate it.