Lonnie Poole NCSU '59
Naming Gift Reflects Importance of Giving Back, Donor Lonnie Poole Says
December 20, 2010
“Giving this kind of money and making this kind of a gift is important,” said Lonnie C. Poole, Jr., founder of Waste Industries, in his remarks at the December 17, 2010, announcement of the $40 million gift that he and his wife, Carol Johnson Poole, gave to North Carolina State University.
The significant portion of that gift – the largest in the university’s history – is funding a $37 million endowment for the College of Management, which is now called the Lonnie C. Poole Jr. College of Management. The gift includes $2.5 million that will fund The Carol Lynn Johnson Poole Club House at the Lonnie C. Poole Golf Course and $500,000 that will fund The Carol Lynn Johnson Poole Endowment for Humanities and Social Sciences.
Speaking to a capacity crowd at the college’s Nelson Hall auditorium, Poole explained why he and his wife made their significant gift to the college of management. He also answered a few questions in an interview with the college’s communications director. Following are abstracts from his remarks at the announcement and a Q and A summary of his interview.
“Whatever you do, wherever you go, you need to be willing to give back and you need to have God on your side. Those are two important things,” Poole said, stressing that the gift was not his alone. “I get all the name recognition but this is a gift from my family. It’s also a gift from a company. Waste Industries made this money, not me. I just chose to give it away.”
He acknowledged long-time friends and business associates to helped him launch the company – Jim Perry and Greg Poole (not related). “Without them, there wouldn’t be a Waste Industries as there is today.”
Also key to the company’s success, he said, were area banks that provided the capital needed to launch and grow the business.
“If it weren’t for for the banks, a healthy banking community in this town … we would not have put Waste Industries together,” he said.
About his decision to support the College of Management, Poole cited remarks by Ira R. Weiss, dean of the college, regarding how the funds would be used.
“Ira mentioned several things – entrepreneurship, environment and ethics – valid studies and things the business community needs to pay more attention to. And I think ethics is the biggest of all,” he said. “Ethical behavior in the marketplace and the business world must be something that we study. As we become a more diverse our community, it must be found in the college. I commend the college for its endeavors. Carol Lynn and I bought into your program and it is an honor to be able and willing to be associated with North Carolina State University. You have been a big part of our lives and now Carol and I will be a part of your life.”
- Check out a slide show of images from the gift announcement at the NC State Poole College’s Flickr account
- Largest Gift to NC State Includes $37 Million Endowment, Naming of the Poole College of Management
- Dean Ira Weiss Announces Plan to Establish Center of Excellence in Sustainability
- Jon Bartley Calls Pooles’ Gift a ‘Game Changer’ as He Traces the College’s History
- What the Poole Gift Means to Me – blog post by Poole College student Chandler Thompson
Following the announcement, Lonnie Poole answered a few questions for the college’s communications office. A summary of the interview is provided below.
Q: You have an interesting message on the back of your business card for Waste Industries. Can you please elaborate about that?
A: It’s our mission statement and our policy statement. Company policies too often are lengthy and you just can’t really get into them. It’s much easier to put them on the back of the business card. Key things in our policy statement: to provide economically sound solutions to environmental problems, to treat others with dignity and respect, and to grow and prosper.
*Q: Where did you get the commitment to those values? *
A: So I guess that the background starts at home, and the hardened principles and good business practices, certainly I learned that all at the church, which was Mount Moriah Baptist Church. My family was always involved very heavily in that church and I was there on a regular basis, I went through all the grades and I had very fairly good teachers who taught me what’s right and what’s wrong.
Q: You were the first in your family to go to college. Do you have any words of advice to other students who are the first in their families to go to college?
A: I think that probably it is … to make friendships and then keep those friendships alive, because one day you’ll come back together and you’ll either be able to help them and they’ll be able to help you – and that sometimes will help more than whatever education you’ve got.
Q: Dean Ira Weiss has mentioned your interest in sustainability. Please elaborate on that.
A: That movement probably got it start about the same time that Waste Industries, my company, got its start. There was not an EPA, there was an environmental division, I believe it was called, and it was based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and it said we simply needed to do a better job attending to our waste, especially our solid waste and our hazardous waste.
Based on that and what studies had been done I decided to [move] back to Raleigh and [start] Waste Industries from scratch, feeling that the environmental movement would make some radical changes in how we disposed of waste, and that there was an opportunity here to develop a waste company and be successful at it. Based on that, we left a good job in Ohio and came to Raleigh to start Waste Industries. The movement started then, but it had a long way to go.
I think all too often we forget that all of our lifestyles, the way we enjoy ourselves, is at a pretty high price when it comes to what we extract from our environment. And there are certain areas that are going to require some attention as we go forward as business people, as engineers, and the folks that are graduating at NC State. Growing attention and awareness to the problems of overextending what our environment can take is very important, very, very important. So [the dean’s] remarks … about sustainability and the environment as well as the other two E’s – entrepreneurship and also ethics – were things that Carol and I listened to. We just liked what the dean said – these were some programs that needed financial support and that a gift that would make a significant difference in making that happen.
Q: What advice to you have for college students who have set a course for themselves toward entrepreneurship?
A: I think I have to say it’s going to be twice as hard as you think it is. When I received the Entrepreneur of the Year Award some 15 years ago, it was provided by Ernst and Young. And I said, ‘entrepreneur is a French word that means you’re unemployed.’
I would tell people who are going to do that, start early on, in any job, whether it’s flipping burgers, maintaining a lawn service, manual labor, whatever it is, you need that background … uh, academics is not going to get you through. It’s going to be hard work.
You have to an understanding of the people who are going to perform the work. I could not … start a garbage company and lead it for some 40 years without knowing what it means to get on a truck and go out [and] pick up garbage. So I would advise you, whatever it is – if you’re going to start a plumbing business, you’ve got to know how to fix the pipes. And if you’re going to start a garbage business, you need to know how to drive a truck and pick up the garbage.
It’s fundamental to starting any business: you have to understand what it is that you’re providing, what value is it to those you’re providing it for, what is a fair and reasonable price to expect for it, and to also be able to take that story and make a compelling case for someone to loan you money. Because before it’s all said and done, you’re going to have a banker on your side.
Can I say one other thing? At Waste Industries, it is a first job for a lot of people. And it’s an entry level type of job. It provides a living for some 2,000 people. One thing that we’ve done for years and years and years is our Christmas party – it’s very difficult for a garbage company to get everyone together and Christimas seems to be the time. They bring their wives, they bring their children, and we try to make their work seem important.
So it’s not enough to understand how to drive a truck and how to perform your services. You’ve got to make sure that you remember to make the folks who are doing it, all through their career, to make sure they feel good about doing it and the one thing that I’ve done for over 25 years – my part at the annual Christmas festivities – is to simply tell the Christmas story. It brings back the reason for the season and it lets everyone know that you spiritual life is important, because believe me if you are an entrepreneur, you will be doing a lot of praying. So we think it’s good for our company, it served us well, and it’s meant a lot to us as well.
Q: You mentioned banking and the need for capital. Please comment about entrepreneurship in today’s financial conditions.
A: This is probably my fifth recession. I feel like I went through the Great Depression because it was all my grandfather told me about. He had me convinced until I was about 13 or 14 that I should never put money in a bank. After a while, he was finally convinced that getting robbed was probably the worst thing that could happen and said, “you know I think you could go and put your money in the bank.”
The banking situation today is a frightening event but this too will pass. The five or six recessions that I’ve been through – and the depression that my grandfather went through – [are] just simply one of the hard bumps in the road that you might as well get accustomed to. If it’s not a lack of funds from banking, it’ll be other things.
Our company always had basically three barriers. One, of course is the banking. We’ve had plenty of jobs and we’ve had the ability to sell the work and do the work, but we didn’t have the money to fund the equipment to do it. But at other times, we had the equipment and we had the money, but we didn’t have the marketing skills and people just weren’t buying, so that could become an encumbrance. And there were times when the sales force was doing great, and we could get all the business in the world, borrow all the money that we wanted, but we just didn’t have the people on the ground that had to get up at 5 a.m. in the morning and get out there and pick the garbage up and get it all done by Friday at 5 o’clock. So your limitation today may be banking, but you have the others – marketing, you have to be able to sell your service – and to prove that you’re able to perform the work. The trick is to get all three of them in equilibrium.
Q: What about the importance of giving back?
A: Well, as I said in my earlier remarks, I never took a course in benevolence, neither at UNC-Chapel Hill nor North Carolina State University. You can’t start too early in the university talking about it but even in my life – I mentioned Mount Moriah Baptist Church – giving was a part of what the Baptist church preaches, and they’ll pass the hat at the drop of a hat, and so giving and tithing was a part of what I grew up in with. So as I went through life I tried to (give). It’s not just money – it’s a tithe of your money but it’s a matter of giving of your time and believe me, sometimes that can be harder to give than the money.
It gets easier as you get older because there are so many needs (when you’re young) – you’re raising children and they’re going to college and you’re trying to grow a business. You have a lot of other priorities and they can get in the way.
What I could advise – and I think it made a big difference is – I got a start in a very early age in giving to my church. And when I came back to Raleigh, I volunteered. Early on, I didn’t have a lot of money to give but I did have some time and I started with the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, I went from there when to North Carolina State University and served on that board and later became its chairman, and after that the endowment board
You have to be comfortable about who you’re giving to, and you’ve got to feel that it really does make a difference, and that it really does serve a beneficial purpose. So we feel very comfortable with all of those things but we didn’t [just] find out about that … it’s just a matter of being personally involved for over 20 years.
Lonnie Poole NCSU '59