Hometown: North Cumberland County, Virginia
As the eleventh child of Washington and Sallie Webster Finley, Albert Earle Finley truly understood America was the land of opportunity from a young age. After attending business school in Maryland, working as a stenographer and serving a brief period of time in the Army, he joined the General Utilities Company as an office manager in 1926 and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. He was so successful in the sale of heavy equipment that he and his business partners founded Raleigh Tractor & Truck Company in 1929. In 1931, he struck out on his own with the firm North Carolina Equipment Company. This business was the springboard for the organization of many others, including A.E. Finley and Associates, Superior Block Company and N.C. Products Corporation.
By 1951, his network of companies was spread out over five states, making Finley the largest equipment distributor in the United States. Successful businesses were only half of the picture for Finley. He gave generously to many organizations. He was a member of the Raleigh Lions Club, a supporter of his local YMCA, a benefactor to several colleges and schools, and devoted to better health through the support of hospitals. A strong believer in the free enterprise system, Finley founded Citizens for the Preservation of Constitutional Government to promote a small central government and economic freedom for all. Despite Finley's death in 1986, his philanthropic wishes, vision and dedication continue to live on in the A.E. Finley Foundation.
Hometown: New York
Industry: Textile and Chemical Manufacturing
Born in 1915 in New York, Roger Milliken's introduction to the textile world began at an early age. Both his grandfather Seth and father Gerrish ran a small family textile business known as Deering Milliken, which formed in the 1860s. After graduating from Yale University with a B.A. in 1937, Milliken immersed himself in the textile industry. He became a director of the family company in 1941, and president in 1947. In the 1950s the business changed names to Milliken & Company, and continued to see rapid growth. With a serious dedication to quality and a keen business sense, Milliken helped pioneer many tactics and techniques now common in the textile industry.
A staunch advocate of education, Milliken created a learning center within the corporate campus, Milliken University. The school strives to help the men and women in its workforce reach their fullest potential, while insuring company growth. Milliken's name is associated with the American quality movement, and his Pursuit of Excellence process, which encourages associates to share their thoughts on how excellence can be achieved, has been recognized by the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. He has been inducted into the South Carolina and U.S. Business Hall of Fame. Milliken is also renowned for his conservation and tree planting and has been recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation. His passion for excellence and commitment to quality has never wavered, and his company continues to experience great success.
Hometown: Guthrie Center, Iowa
Industry: Food Service
Jack A. Laughery grew up in the small town of Guthrie Center, Iowa. He studied business at the University of Iowa, graduating in 1957 and later joined the regional fast-food chain Sandy’s as a manager in 1962. Immediately showcasing an incredible talent for the restaurant business and for managing people, Laughery quickly rose to the position of president and chief executive officer by 1971. Shortly thereafter, Laughery helped negotiate a key merger between Sandy’s and Hardee’s Food Systems, which proved to be an important strategic move for both companies. During that time, he relocated to Rocky Mount, North Carolina and became executive vice president of Hardee’s. Under his leadership, Hardee’s expanded from 909 to 3,291 units and earnings rose 22 percent annually.
After leaving Hardee’s in 1990, Laughery worked with Papa John’s pizza chain as a director and a partner. His awards are numerous and include recognition as the North Carolina Restaurateur of the Year. As an active figure in politics (locally and nationally), he served in many capacities including a position on the North Carolina State Advisory Budget Commission. The depth of his philanthropic endeavors lives on in events like the annual Jack Laughery Ride for Knowledge, which helps sponsor continuing education scholarships. Before his death in 2006, Laughery explained his success in his retirement statement: "Projects and events don’t happen because some executive sends out a memo. They happen because people are dedicated to making their company the best."
Hometown: Concord, North Carolina
Industry: Marketing and Textiles
As the youngest of five children Edwin A. Morris grew up picking cotton in the early 1900s. This early lesson in perseverance served Morris well as he studied business administration at Washington and Lee University and Harvard Business School in the 1920s. He gained experience in the textiles industry by working at a Massachusetts textiles firm, and then moved to Abingdon, Illinois to work as a plant manager for the Blue Bell-Globe Manufacturing Company. Within a quick ten years Morris became president and CEO of the company, then known as Blue Bell, Inc.
Morris' marketing insight may have been the company's greatest strength when he noticed a company they had acquired was manufacturing a brand of jeans called Wrangler. With Morris' business savvy the brand took off and became a major competitor in the western wear marketplace. Until his retirement in 1981, Morris continued to work with Blue Bell, Inc. Not only was he a principled businessman, Morris was well known for his generosity. He was active in philanthropy through the E.A. Morris Charitable Foundation until his death in 1998. To honor him as a founding father of the North Carolina conservative movement, the E.A. Morris Fellowship for Emerging Leaders was created in 2006. By encouraging the growth of committed, diverse, and principled North Carolinians to pursue greater leadership roles within their professions and communities, Morris' legacy continues to thrive.
T. Boone Pickens, Jr.
Hometown: Holdenville, Oklahoma
From humble beginnings in a small depression era town, Thomas Boone Pickens, Jr. used his entrepreneurial spirit to become one of the nation's most successful businessmen. At an early age oil was a part of Pickens life. His father Thomas and his mother Grace both had ties to the oil and gasoline industry. Pickens used this experience and a geology degree from Oklahoma State University to create his own company in the late 1940s. His venture, Mesa Petroleum, eventually became the nation's largest independent oil company.
During his time at Mesa, Pickens was an innovator and pioneer in both business practices and employee programs. Under Pickens' direction Mesa created a corporate wellness program complete with stress management classes, a gym and medical screenings. The program was a success and the first to be accredited by the Institute for Aerobic Research. His stamp on corporate America continued throughout the 1970s and 80s as he continually reinvented his business ventures.
During the span of his career he made millions of dollars, created countless jobs, and always found the time to give back. The breadth of his philanthropy, more than $600 million to date, includes children at risk, education and athletics, conservation and wildlife management, health and medical research and entrepreneurship. Pickens has received numerous awards during his career including the Horatio Alger Award and is in both the Texas Business Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. He currently lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife Madeleine.
John William Pope, Sr.
Hometown: Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina
Industry: Retail Stores
Growing up in a small North Carolina town, John William Pope rose above his competition and successfully turned a small family business into 500-store company. Beginning at age 10, Pope learned about hard work first hand by working in his father's variety store. He joined the U.S. Army Air Force at age 17, training as a navigator. After being discharged in 1945, he attended the University of North Carolina and graduated with a degree in commerce. These formative years proved to be invaluable when he took over his family's five-store chain in 1949. With his unique blend of hard work and cost effective strategies he grew Variety Wholesalers, Inc. into a 500-store company.
Operating under the names Roses, Maxway, Super Dollar, Popes, Eagles and Super 10, the businesses stretched across 14 states and employed well over 7,000 people. He developed a well-known reputation for turning retail companies around, and did so for 56 years until his retirement in 2005. Pope's financial success enabled him to become a major supporter of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he served on the Board of Trustees. This success also led to the establishment of the John William Pope Foundation which funds numerous charities and free market oriented organizations, most prominently the John Locke Foundation, one of our nation's premier state public policy think tanks. Despite his untimely death in 2006, his legacy lives on in his foundation. According to Mr. Pope, the secret to his success was no secret-he just worked harder than the competition.