Bill White

Georgia State Opened a World of Opportunity for Bill White — Now He’s Returning the Favor

It was the spring of 1964, and Bill White was staring at a dead end.

Four years earlier, Bill had started what looked like a promising career at an Atlanta business magazine publishing company. He thought his engineering degree from Georgia Tech and experience as editor of the Tech weekly newspaper would help him advance. However, the company lacked the opportunities and vitality Bill wanted, and he sensed it was “going nowhere.” Purely by chance, he attended a large social meeting at the Heart of Atlanta Motel, where a young, dynamic guest speaker was introduced.

“The meeting moderator told us where the speaker got his bachelor’s, his master’s and his Ph.D. — three degrees, and he was my age,” Bill remembers. “And suddenly a spark generated in my mind, and I said, ‘By gosh, I’m going back to school.’ The next morning, with the door to my office closed, I started calling local colleges.”

That fall, Bill enrolled in business school at what was then called Georgia State College. He earned his marketing M.B.A. in June of 1966, and just a few months later he had a job at IBM. “I’m very thankful for the fact that Georgia State enabled me to get into IBM,” he says. “It was the right combination of ingredients coming together. If that combination had never occurred, I don’t know if I would ever have had another opportunity like that.”

IBM also gave Bill the chance to participate in its generous employee stock-purchase plan — to which he allotted 10 percent of his salary over 26 years. Now he’s showing his gratitude to Georgia State by donating half of that stock as a legacy gift, which will support university-wide scholarships granting today’s students wider opportunities of their own.

Professors ‘in the Real World’

Bill can still remember his first night of class in Sparks Hall. “Dr. Bridges was the professor, and his class was administrative policymaking. And I realized that first night why the company I was working for was not right for me,” he says with a chuckle. “For example, I saw no visible procedures or consistent policies. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that before.”

Bill also took classes taught by David J. Schwartz, who’d authored The Magic of Thinking Big, and Elbert Eggers, “who was very dramatic — he was a character. We were all very impressed because he was doing outside consulting and making $30,000 a year, which was amazing money at the time. He was a great professor, kept us laughing.

“Over seven quarters, I took 12 courses, and I was so impressed with the quality of the professors at Georgia State,” Bill says. “They were in the real world. They were in academia, obviously, but they also did consulting and so forth. They knew how to apply what they were teaching, and were very much up to date.”

Just a few months after he received his degree, IBM conducted its first on-campus interviews at Georgia State. “Later, after some local interviews, an IBM manager I’d met called me one Saturday and offered me a job,” Bill says. “On Monday I gave one week’s notice at the publishing company. I started the following Monday at IBM and it already seemed like I’d been there forever — that’s how comfortable I was. I was thrilled and energized.”

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Bill spent more than a quarter-century at IBM, during which time he worked with and helped market the company’s then revolutionary System/360 family of interchangeable equipment, aiding customers in debugging their programs. The job afforded him opportunities to travel, yet it also allowed him to keep roots in Atlanta, where he’s been for more than 50 years. Though he was born near New York City and lived in Florida during his teen years, Bill has the enthusiasm and civic pride of an Atlanta native.

“I love Atlanta. It’s great,” he says. “I love telling people about Atlanta and showing them the city.” Today Bill spends time leading tours of historic neighborhoods and points of interest around the area. He’s a member of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Atlanta History Center and the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, among various other arts and history-related organizations.

And, as evidenced by his generous legacy gift, he’s also a devoted supporter of Georgia State. “I’m impressed by everything I see going on around the campus these days,” he says. “And I hope that what I leave for scholarships can help other students the way Georgia State helped me. The diversity and talent of the student body give me hope for the future.

“Georgia State enabled me to be hired by IBM — absolutely, I’ll state that to anybody. And being part of the great IBM enabled me to work here and make Atlanta part of my life. I’ll always be thankful that I was with IBM, and that I was able to get accepted at Georgia State. I appreciate IBM and Georgia State every day.”