Massachusetts native George F. Walker loves to call Mississippi home. Harvard grad J. Kelley Williams calls his management style “flexible.” J.L. Holloway said no other industry is as fascinating as offshore drilling. And William Taylor is just having fun.
On April 26, Junior Achievement and The Clarion-Ledger will induct these four prominent business leaders into the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame at the Jackson Hilton Hotel in Jackson. It’s the 10th annual induction ceremony with a roster of previous honorees that includes Bernie Ebbers, president and CEO of MCI WorldCom, Chief Philip Martin of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Sister Josephine Therese of St. Dominic Health Services Inc.
“These four join 35 other laureates who have been inducted into the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame since its founding in 1989,” said Harry Walker, president of Trustmark National Bank and chairman of this year’s event. “Each of them made unique contributions not only in their area of expertise, but in giving to their community and the state as a whole.”
A 17-person selection committee, comprised of business leaders and educators from state universities, chose four honorees from more than 100 nominations that were submitted.
J.L. Holloway, chairman and CEO of Friede Goldman International Inc., a leading international provider of offshore drilling services, said the company earned its premier reputation “by being one of the unique companies throughout the world that continually produces major projects on time and on budget.”
“If you have a vessel with $150 to $200 million value and maybe you’re spending $100 million on it, you want to get it back on the payroll,” Holloway said. “The most important thing is to get it out on budget, and more importantly than that, on time.”
Holloway said he doesn’t know of any business that isn’t rated on the basis of its employees.
“We have excellent employees that we have made co-owners in the company,” said Holloway, a native of Prentiss. “Many of our management people — more than a hundred in the management ranks — were in on our initial public offering of our company and were initial shareholders. They’ve been very, very concerned about how our company has done and have put forth a lot of energy and effort to make sure that we have not only done the job, but have exceeded what is expected of us.”
Working with a very small amount of capital in the beginning “was the biggest obstacle I faced,” Holloway said.
“We didn’t inherit any money, neither did I marry any money, so having to work from a very small capital base and build a company that is now quite large globally required a tight-fisted manner,” he said. “I also think those are some of the very reasons we’ve done so well because we still manage with that same cautiousness and carefulness with the way we handle our business and our people.”
If he had not built Friede Goldman from the ground up, Holloway probably would have started a business just as interesting that “would have allowed me to advance my career and work with people,” he said.
“It’s hard to top offshore drilling because it is highly technical and extremely interesting,” he said. “You’re talking about vessels that work in 5,000 to 6,000 feet of water and drill 25,000 feet below the ocean floor.”
WILLIAM A. “BILL” TAYLOR JR.
A Winston County native, William A. “Bill” Taylor Jr. has been CEO and chairman of family-owned Taylor Machine Works Inc. since 1968. Based in Louisville, it’s the only privately-owned lift truck-manufacturing firm in the U.S.
“My father birthed the business in 1927,” he said, with a chuckle. “Taylor Machine Works started out as a small automotive repair business.”
After studying at Mississippi College and Mississippi State University, Taylor landed in “Uncle Sam’s Air Force” and finished college at “my dad’s school — on the job, where he put me to work.” His dad had been busy producing the first conventional timber skidder for loggers and pioneering the development of forklift trucks and other equipment
Bill Taylor, who calls his management style casual, said, “we have a good, smooth flowing company.” Of 1,200 employees, about 90% are from a 50-mile radius.
“We like to get ‘em when they’re young and use every available training method possible,” he said. “Training is very important to us. We’re busy training all the time. We train for every position, from beginning jobs to my job.”
Taylor, 68, dismissed the idea of retirement, and said, “I’m simply having too much fun.”
GEORGE F. WALKER
In 1978, George F. Walker moved from Massachusetts to Mississippi to start Delta Wire Corp. in Clarksdale, which has become a world-class producer of under sea cable and wiring for all types of tires, including aircraft and spaceships.
“The business environments in the two states aren’t very different,” he said. “Historically, there are different types of industries, with textiles in Massachusetts, and more technical industries in Mississippi.”
Prior to moving to Mississippi, Walker was head of Johnson Steel and Wire. Walker decide to start Delta Wire Corp., the only one of its kind within a 300-mile radius, in Mississippi only after a thorough analysis was completed.
“The technology had been developed from steel and wire experts who had moved from Sweden,” Walker said. “We just moved that technology here.”
Success was a result of “an excellent work ethic we found in people in this area — 99% are from Coahoma County — and the excellent cooperation we received from the state of Mississippi since the day we started.”
Walker has served in several capacities as an advocate for workforce training, or what he calls, “a one-stop shop.”
“It’s very, very difficult for a business person to deal with four or five different organizations to get their people trained,” he said.
Walker has received, among many honors, the National Governors’ Association Distinguished Service Award. He was so involved in community service that “there came a time I had to make a choice of staying involved or semi-retiring. I decided to semi-retire.”
J. KELLEY WILLIAMS
A native of Greenwood, J.Kelley Williams, chairman and CEO of ChemFirst Inc., formerly First Mississippi Corporation, is a Harvard grad. He calls his management style “flexible.”
“Different situations call for different management styles and we’ve certainly been through a number of different situations at ChemFirst,” Williams said.
When the company was organized in 1957, he had to raise $5 million “in the days before venture capital and other financial vehicles were available,” he said.
“Over the years, that $5 million has multiplied many times in many business ventures,” Williams said. “It’s a tribute to the commitment the founders had. It has been instrumental in proving that we can compete here in Mississippi with anyone, anywhere. During the life of the company, on several occasions, we’ve been fortunate to have the right business at the right place at the right time.”
The biggest obstacle to overcome has been “change and the accelerated pace of change,” he said.
“Our employees, many of whom are Mississippians, have made the company a success,” he said. “Many of them were
educated here, left the state and returned to work here.”