A brain trust of the state’s innovative business minds will receive their laurels Nov. 12 at a banquet inducting seven Alabama natives into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame. The Hall, which began in 1973, is organized by the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce and recognizes honorees for financial and philanthropic achievements.
“This is the premier event for business people who have done amazing things and have brought fame and glory to the state of Alabama, ” says Susan Newman, who is coordinating the event. “Our seven nominees this year have made such an impact, not only on business in Alabama but on volunteerism and philanthropy.”
A 12-member board selects the winners each year, selecting honorees who “have been in retirement at least three years or are 65 years of age or older prior to the date of induction and still active in their careers.”
“It’s an amazing feat in itself to be nominated for the Hall of Fame, ” Newman says. “This is a distinguished group of Alabama business people who, together and individually, influence the economic, political and cultural aspects of our state. Each has done something to make Alabama proud.”
William Michael Warren Jr.
Energen, Children’s of Alabama // Birmingham
When Mike Warren went to law school, he knew that individuals with law degrees have the opportunity to do a wide variety of things. After graduating from Auburn University and law school at Duke University, he sampled that variety. Now chairman and CEO of Children’s of Alabama, Warren started his career as an attorney, joined his client Alabama Gas Corp. where he became president and moved to chairman and CEO of Energen Corp. before taking the hospital helm.
“Working as an attorney afforded me the opportunity to ultimately leave the practice and go with a client, but I also learned that one of the many virtues of law school is that it provided me a platform of opportunity from which to do a lot of things I would ultimately enjoy.”
Throughout his career in utilities and oil and gas, Warren was faced with the challenge of finding growth opportunities through diversification beyond the traditional business verticals. He led Energen Corp. on a 10-year streak of expansions and transformed the company into a pioneer in nontraditional natural gas extraction.
Warren served on the board for Children’s of Alabama for more than 20 years before he was picked to lead the organization. Warren led the hospital through a $400 million expansion and effort to connect the hospital to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Warren recently received the Auburn Alumni Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the Vulcan Gamechanger Award and the Alabama Appleseed Brewer/Torbert Award, among others.
For Warren, the career moves have aspects of similarity, he says. All involve a large number of employees in people-oriented organizations. All involve the need for rapid decision-making and a willingness to be accountable, he says.
While unpredictable, he wouldn’t change anything about his career, though he thanks his wife, Anne, for being his biggest supporter.
“I’ve always enjoyed what I was doing, ” he says. “Right now, I’m having an incredible time doing what I’m doing. There are so many people here that are absolutely committed to the mission of taking care of kids — that’s inspiring to me.”
James “Jimmy” Lee III
Buffalo Rock // Birmingham
James C. Lee serves as chairman of the board and CEO of Birmingham-based Buffalo Rock Co., the largest privately held, family-owned Pepsi-Cola franchise in the U.S. His company operates 14 distribution centers in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, an area with more than 6.5 million residents.
He is the fourth generation of the Lee family to serve at the helm of Buffalo Rock.
The company began with the creation of Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale, the first soda produced by the company. Sidney Word Lee developed the recipe with a Selma chemist, based on a ginger elixir used to treat gastrointestinal complaints of Confederate soldiers.
For more than 100 years, the company has been influential and innovative in the bottling and soft drink industry.
Lee’s father, James Lee Jr., introduced the concept of non-returnable bottles to the market.
“It was industry changing, ” Lee says. “My father established the first non-returnable bottles, eliminating the inconvenience for the customer, and the storage responsibilities of the retail location selling our product. It transformed the entire industry.”
Buffalo Rock’s innovation and success also won James Lee Jr. a spot in the Alabama Business Hall of Fame in 1998. The company continued its culture of innovation with the introduction of the 3-liter bottle, and continues that focus today.
Lee started working for the company as a child. He fell in love with the job, and knew he’d one day take over the family business. He was named president in 1991 and was named chairman and CEO in 2011.
A graduate of Auburn University, Lee is focused on continuing his family’s legacy in the community. He was honored as Pensacola Business Leader of the Year in 1999, the March of Dimes Citizen of the Year in 2012 and serves in several civic offices. He is the chairman of the board of Children’s of Alabama, the director of the National Center for Sports Safety and is also the director of Alabama Beverage Association. He is an annual supporter of United Way, UAB Hospital and Children’s of Alabama.
IBM, Lexmark // Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Imagine the world today without barcodes. Imagine checking out at the store, and having your cashier manually key your items into the register. Just 25 years ago, that’s exactly the way it was done. Marvin Mann, former vice president of IBM and founding chairman and CEO of Lexmark International and several other IBM divisions, played a key role in helping today’s world become a reality — with his contributions to the development of the universal product code, UPC code.
Mann joined IBM in Mobile in 1958 as a computer systems account executive and worked his way up to vice president. He and his IBM colleagues, in partnership with major retailers and manufacturers, helped develop and standardize the UPC.
The world and the neighborhood stores and supermarkets were much different places in 1973, Mann said in his speech to the Smithsonian Institution’s celebration of 25 years of the UPC. “There were fewer items available. And the business was more labor intensive… For those in the business, labor costs were eating into the already thin profit margins.” A newly created UPC committee asked leading technology companies for a solution, and Mann helped lead the team at IBM, which ultimately gave the UPC to the industry.
Throughout his career, Mann served as president and CEO of the Satellite Business Systems Co. He managed the company and later led the sale of the company and merger with MCI Corp. He served as general manager of the IBM typewriter business where he and his team laid the foundation to transition from typewriters to computer printers. He was president of the IBM Information Products Division that developed and manufactured typewriters, printers, copiers, ATMs and other banking systems, and numerous other worldwide businesses.
After he retired in 1991, he became chairman, CEO and investor in Lexmark International, a computer printer company operating in more than 150 countries and listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Mann retired in 2010 as chairman emeritus of Lexmark for life.
Alma Gates Scroggins
Turner Broadcasting Co. // Atlanta, Georgia
News today is at your fingertips. With the touch of a button you can see what’s going on across town or across the world, but it wasn’t always that way.
In 1980, Ted Turner was one of the first to bring “news on demand” to the masses via CNN — a division of Turner Broadcasting System — and hall of fame inductee Alma Gates Scroggins was along for the entire ride.
“It certainly wasn’t a career I expected, ” Scroggins says. “But I really don’t think I could have gotten the exposure that I did anywhere else. It was cutting edge, and I was exposed to so much of the business. It really kept you on your toes and that definitely made things fun.”
Scroggins, a native of Greensboro, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Alabama’s College of Commerce with a degree in accounting in 1969.
Her father encouraged her to do accounting because of the career opportunities available to the field. “He knew you could do a multitude of things with an accounting degree, ” she says.
Scroggins worked for a year as a CPA in Birmingham, before moving to Atlanta with her husband, Lee.
That turned out to be the right place at the right time, and Scroggins was hired for a position with Turner Broadcasting System. At the time, the company had 300 employees, one TV station, five radio stations and nine outdoor advertising plants.
“The company really grew around me, ” Scroggins says. “Ted was such a visionary, he could see things that others who thought in black and white couldn’t.”
Scroggins was targeted to lead the finance department of the newest 24-hour news division, CNN. She continued her work and was eventually promoted to CFO and senior vice president. She was the first female member of the CNN executive team and worked for the company for 30 years before retiring in 2000.
Scroggins earned the Media Award and the University of Alabama Distinguished Alumna Award in 1993 and 2003. Today, she focuses her energy in several nonprofit organizations and missions dedicated to helping women.
Communications Powerhouse // Palo Alto, California
Ginn, an ROTC member while attending the college of engineering at Auburn University, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army and got his start in telecommunications during his military service, setting him on a path as a visionary of the cell phone industry. After accepting a job with AT&T, he spent the next 40 years working in telecommunications all over the United States and the world.
“It was a hyper-growth period in the industry and very exciting, ” says Ginn, who recognized early that wireless communications would reshape the way the world connects.
In 1994, Ginn formed a promising start-up company, the forerunner of Verizon Wireless. AirTouch Communications became one of the world’s largest telecom companies in the late 1980s, before being sold for $65 billion in 1999 to Vodafone, which Ginn led through 2002.
“AirTouch was the largest wireless company in the U.S. and in 14 other countries around the world. I had a lot of fun growing that company. When I started, I had no idea I would be CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Through hard work and good luck and with the support of family, I made it.”
Ginn established the Ginn Family Foundation in 2005, with outreach to numerous organizations dedicated to the betterment of the community. A venture capital investor in several Silicon Valley startups, Ginn also serves as the founding director of credit card fraud detector OnDot, is director of the the Eisenhower Medical Center in Southern California, and director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
His $25 million gift to Auburn University in 2001 is responsible for the school’s wireless engineering program. He served on Auburn’s board from 2005 to 2012 and the university’s College of Engineering is named in his honor.
Reflecting on the impetus behind his success, the Anniston native says his mother graduated from high school, while his father never went beyond eighth grade, and his parents wanted their son to have opportunities they did not. “The thing that drove them was, ‘Sam, you’re going to get an education and have the ability to live better than we have lived.’
“That was always an assumption in our home. I took up that challenge, sometimes not very expertly. I understood education was very important, and my parents made sacrifices so I could go to school.”
As Ginn rose to the top at university and in business, the strong moral guidelines instilled by his parents guided him.
“Always there was an internal engine inside saying do your best and don’t disappoint people. Live by strong ethical rules and try to treat others the way I would want to be treated, ” Ginn says. “I realized it was not always the smartest people who succeeded, but the people who work most cooperatively and productively with others.”
William C. Hulsey
Real Estate Magnate // Birmingham
Hulsey, a University of Alabama alumnus, began his career in mortgage banking before turning to real estate development. He found his niche in 1977 by buying an interest in Arlington Properties, a 46-year-old company specializing in multifamily housing, with projects under construction in Virginia, Tennessee and Florida.
From that beginning, critical timing and monitoring the real estate market led to his recognition as a leader in business and benevolence.
“Initially, the company was involved in moderate to low-income housing, ” Hulsey says. “In the latter part of the ’70s, we were involved in upscale garden apartment communities.”
With a flair for keeping up with a mercurial market, Hulsey’s company tailored its projects to the times.
“For the past 20 years, we have focused primarily on apartment communities from development to construction to management. We have been very fortunate to be in the Southeastern United States, where we’ve seen so much job expansion and growth, and the economy has expanded.”
Arlington’s vertical integration hones in on properties with the most potential and manages them from ground breaking through the lease-up stage to management, which operates in 53 communities and eight states in the region.
“Ultimately, when we find the best opportunity, these projects are sold, ” Hulsey says. “I enjoy finding where a development should be in a particular market and the opportunity to provide apartment communities where there is a demand. I enjoy the market studies and feasibility studies and the development.”
“We’ve been fortunate over the years to have good people who have done a great job for our company, ” Hulsey says. “An integral part of our business operation is to have expertise in construction and management and to continue to improve on what we do and on the design and utility of the apartment communities. We judge what people are looking for and what their needs are.”
Hulsey is a model philanthropist, as well as a model entrepreneur. In 2008, Hulsey and his wife, Millie, endowed the William Cary Hulsey Curatorship of American Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Hulsey has served as chairman of the Birmingham Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, chairman of the Eye Foundation Hospital and president of the Rotary Club of Birmingham and the Civic Foundation Club.
“I have been blessed by the greatest successes, and it’s important to me to give back to the community in any way that I can in gratitude for the blessings I’ve had over the years, ” Hulsey says. “The institutions that I’ve supported are important to me and to my children, and will be important to my grandchildren. We want to do every thing we can to support these institutions that make our city so great and continue to make it a better place to live.”
J. Smith Lanier II
J. Smith Lanier & Co. // Formerly of West Point, Georgia
Lanier’s posthumous induction into the Hall of Fame recognizes his contributions to J. Smith Lanier and Co., one of the oldest and largest insurance brokerage firms in the nation. Lanier served as chairman and CEO of the agency until 1998 and was chairman emeritus until his death in December 2013.
The firm was founded in 1868 in West Point, Georgia, and later purchased by Lanier from his aunt in the early 1970s. His unerring moral compass guided the business to great success. According to the agency, “Smith’s strong beliefs made it possible to continue a family business built on the principles of service — first to God, then to one’s fellow man.”
Lanier’s widow, Betty, said the honor means much to her.
“He would be overwhelmed as we are, by this honor, ” she says. “He was devoted to his career, his church and his family. He really never felt like he went to work a day in his life. He never dreaded a Monday. He just enjoyed his work and enjoyed challenges. He always felt having loyal employees around him was a key. We’re very pleased for the company to continue and to see his legacy go on.”
Lanier’s influence stretched across the South as a founding director of many companies, five of which were publicly traded, including Interface Inc., SouthernNet and Powertel Inc. (formerly Intercel Inc. and now T-Mobile). He received numerous honors for his business prowess, including being named Georgia’s Small Business Person of the Year in 1997 and the National Small Business Person of the Year in 1998.
According to Lanier’s nephew Gaines, chairman and CEO of the company, “I am a very blessed individual to have been mentored in my business career by my uncle. He set the bar very high in both his professional and personal life, but none higher than his belief in God and to lead J. Smith Lanier & Co. with Christian values, which is the cornerstone of our company.”
Lanier was a strong advocate for education, a political leader and had a hand in many philanthropic works in the community. He led a capital campaign to build the state-of-the-art Center for Therapeutic Recreation at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. Since 2005, J. Smith Lanier & Co. has been the signature sponsor for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Charity Golf Classic, which has raised more than $2 million. J. Smith Lanier & Co. also donated $50, 000 toward the Haitian relief fund and supported Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center for Housing.
Cara Clark and Alysha Schertz are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Clark is based in Birmingham and Schertz in Mobile.
Text by CARA CLARK & ALYSHA SCHERTZ