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Darla Moore School of Business

One of first Moore School MBA graduates learned “markets drive everything” as greatest lesson from his program

Feb. 21, 2020

A member of the first Moore School MBA graduating class recounts a “camaraderie” and feeling of “learning something others didn’t’ know” with the other nine students in his program as he looks back almost 60 years later.

Bill McGill (’60 business administration, ’64 MBA) began taking classes for his MBA in 1961. He decided to enroll in the first MBA class because his father had had a stroke, and he needed to be available to help him in Columbia, South Carolina. He was also a reserve for the South Carolina Air National Guard, which called him up for active duty in the middle of completing the MBA because of the Berlin Crisis.

“I was looking around, they were just starting the MBA, and I took the graduate record exam (GRE) the last day you could possibly take it that year and passed,” McGill said. “As far as the MBA, I had no idea what it was honestly.”

He said he did not know any of the other nine students in the inaugural MBA program, but he said he was close with each of them by the time the program was over.

“They were my dear friends,” he said. “In February during that first year [of the program] when my father died, seven of my nine classmates came to the funeral.”

The MBA program began in the Callcott Building behind the Russell House University Union.

“We all wore coats and ties back then in class and had our own little study hall,” McGill said. “I know everybody helped everybody, everybody wanted everybody to succeed.”

McGill, who had been in a fraternity as an undergraduate at USC, said the MBA program “replaced my fraternity; it gave me a feeling that maybe I was a cut above everybody else in business,” he said. “By getting my MBA, I was learning something they didn’t know.”

The main skill McGill said he gained from the 12 MBA program courses he took in the early 1960s was the importance of market research.

“You have to have the facts before you make the decision. Our market research professor said, ‘Markets drive everything,’ and he was right,” McGill said. “If you don’t have the market for something, it will fail, so you have to do the market research.”

After finishing the MBA coursework in 1963, McGill was not quite sure what his next steps would be, so with no interviews scheduled, he looked in the newspaper for jobs and applied for a research analyst position with the State Development Board or what is now known as the South Carolina Department of Commerce.

“It was the only job interview I ever went on,” he said. “I was interested in it because of that MBA professor who sparked my interest in market research.”

While McGill finished his MBA coursework in 1963, he neglected to apply for formal graduation until 1964 since he was already working as a research analyst.

After spending eight years as a research analyst and later the director of research and planning for the Department of Commerce, with partners, he started Vismor, McGill and Bell, where he spent the next 15 years consulting all over the Southeast about city planning, economic development and real estate feasibility.

McGill left to found Development Properties Inc., which developed hotels and office buildings, mostly in South Carolina, over the next eight years. After spending all of his life in Columbia, South Carolina, he opened the Hilton Head, South Carolina, office for the Edens and Avant commercial real estate firm in 1996, though he said he commuted to Hilton Head from Columbia for two years while his wife finished her Ph.D. at USC. He and his partners bought out that office two years later and formed Seaboard Commercial Properties, where McGill still works at 80 years old, even after a health scare in 2019.

He said in the 60 years since the first MBA program was first implemented, a program he couldn’t quite define in its first class has become an elite and sought-after degree.

“Since they built two business schools since I was there, it’s changed dramatically,” he said. “I can’t relate to it [with how big it is now]; there was only 10 of us in 1961, now there’s about 100.”

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