The South Carolina Business Hall of Fame Banquet has been hailed as the premier business event in South Carolina practically since its debut in 1985. Honoring the Palmetto State’s business giants both past and present, the banquet showcases these leaders to the next generation of young “Junior Achievers.”
Dianne Chinnes, former president and CEO of Junior Achievement, first had the vision for the banquet after attending the U.S. Business Hall of Fame banquet in 1983. “It was a major event,” she says, “one that heralded the mission of Junior Achievement. It was a friend-maker, a learning opportunity for students and an occasion to recognize role models for all of us. I decided then that South Carolina should have its own Business Hall of Fame.”
Lowell Reese, former executive vice president of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce who also served as chairman of the Junior Achievement committee to develop the Business Hall of Fame Banquet, says, “Columbia was a significant population area without a Business Hall of Fame program, and Dianne recognized the opportunity and importance of establishing one. She had the will and talent to make it happen.”
Dianne contacted Ben Morris about The State newspaper serving as co-sponsor for the event. “I knew without Ben’s name and the name of The State newspaper that it might come across as just another non-profit having a fundraiser. We needed the event to be a ‘friend-maker’ not a fundraiser. I also knew people didn’t need another black-tie event to attend and nobody in Columbia had ever heard my name. We needed a big name. Ben agreed, and the rest is history. Without him, there never would have been a S.C. Business Hall of Fame. He was its father and the man who opened all the doors.”
With the support of Ben and The State, Dianne moved forward. “There would be no S.C. Business Hall of Fame had it not been for Dianne’s vision and her leadership,” says Lowell. “Dianne asked me serve on her board at Junior Achievement of Columbia, which I did, of course, for two reasons: to support the work of Junior Achievement in advancing the principle of the American private enterprise system in the Columbia area, and because Dianne was the leader of Junior Achievement, and she had previously done an outstanding job as executive director of the Hartsville Chamber of Commerce.”
Lowell says that it was the power of Dianne’s personality, her foresight and her professional abilities that got The State on board as co-sponsor and Ben as co-chairman. “It was a brilliant move, which led to an outpouring of support from top-flight business leaders across the state,” he says.
Roger Milliken also played a decisive role in the success of the event. At Ben Morris’s suggestion, Dianne contacted him to discuss his potential support.
“When I first called for an appointment with Mr. Milliken, his secretary asked me, ‘What year?’ I told Ben, and he got me the appointment within the week,” Dianne says. “However, the time I was to be in Spartanburg for the meeting was 7 a.m. Ben told me that if I was late I might as well forget it and just leave South Carolina. I was so afraid of being late that I personally paid to stay overnight in Spartanburg.”
After their meeting, Roger became a champion of Junior Achievement. “I asked him to tell me how to make the banquet the best because he kept telling me, ‘Good is the enemy of better and better is the enemy of the best.’ From then on, the morning after each banquet he would call me at 7 a.m. and tell me how to improve on the event he had attended the night before,” Dianne says.
“Those who had the honor of knowing Mr. Milliken understand that he demanded excellence not only of those around him but of himself. This permeated throughout the S.C. Business Hall of Fame and set the tone for the organization,” says committee member and long-time volunteer Jim Cantey.
“The depth of his involvement was just incredible, for here was a man who ran one of the largest privately-owned textile and chemical manufacturing companies in the world, yet he took the time to talk about how to improve non-business organizations that he felt were important to our state. There are similar stories about many of the laureates who took their valuable time and went far beyond the norm to help improve the Hall of Fame. I think this is the mark of a true leader and the pinnacle of a role model.”
According to Lowell, and to many others, Roger Milliken was the most significant businessperson in South Carolina during that time. “His full embracement of Dianne’s idea for a business Hall of Fame instantly sealed it, virtually guaranteeing its success, as if it were a program approved by the king.”
The first year was the only year Junior Achievement had to work at selling tickets. After that the S.C. Business Hall of Fame Banquet sold out every year and had long waiting lists for tickets. The laureates inducted into the first Hall of Fame in 1985 were Bernard M. Baruch, Charles E. Daniel, William Gregg, Francis M. Hipp, Hugh C. Lane, Roger Milliken and Elliott White Springs.
For Lowell, one of the hardest parts of starting the Business Hall of Fame was determining the eligibility criteria of prospective laureates, living and deceased.
“It is a basic but vital aspect of the committee’s work, and through my association with business leaders in the state Chamber, I was able to help arrange a panel of top-flight corporate leaders, acting in confidence, to select the inductees each year,” he says. “The most important decision made by the initial committee, however, was not to limit the proposed Hall of Fame to just Columbia and the surrounding area.”
One of Ben Morris’s suggestions was for Junior Achievement to surround itself with “the best.” Dianne and her team recruited hardworking volunteers, one of whom was Lowell Reese.
“He knew the business giants in South Carolina and had strong organizational skills,” says Dianne. “And Jim Smith, the longest serving chairman of the S.C. Business Hall of Fame, was the main leader during the Legacy anniversary year.” Other hard working volunteers were Kelly Jones, Jim Cantey and Page Morris, along with many others. After The State changed hands and after Ben was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame, publishers Frank McComas and later Fred Mott continued the newspaper’s strong partnership when they each served as honorary chairman.
“Over the years, many other newspaper employees were involved, among them Sid Crim, Jerry Whitley, Steve Burlison, Robert Kaminer, Larry Younginer, Nancy Atkinson and Norma Autrey, as were many other outstanding state chamber representatives including Mac McIlroy, Bert Lunan and Randy Bradley,” Dianne says. “Frank Harden was the long-time emcee and became known as the voice of the S.C. Business Hall of Fame Banquet.”
Not only did Ben Morris make a lasting impact on the Business Hall of Fame, but he also had a knack for match-making. He introduced Dianne to Bob Pierce and instructed him to introduce Dianne to everybody in Columbia. Ten years later, Bob and Dianne were married. Bob, as a senior editor and editorial writer at The State newspaper, was incredibly important behind the scenes in the success of the S.C. Business Hall of Fame.
“His respect at The State, his relationship and his friendship with Ben Morris, his standing in the community, and his dedication in making the S.C. Business Hall of Fame successful and his research on prospective laureates — for all of these reasons and more, Bob was the program’s silent leader, complementing Dianne’s public role,” says Lowell.
“The banquets always had outstanding presentations, and part of those were the biographical sketches of the laureates, written by Bert Lunan,” says Lowell. “Bert was the communications director of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce at the time. I had hired him away from The State. Bert was mulit-talented. His literary touch was special, and his work will be forever embedded in the history of the S.C. Business Hall of Fame.”
In 1999, the S.C. Business Hall of Fame announced two major projects at its 15th anniversary banquet. The first was the publication of Legacy of Leadership, a limited-edition hardback book featuring profiles of the first 63 Hall of Fame laureates and documenting their roles in state history. The stories of these ambassadors of free enterprise will inspire future generations to build legacies of their own.
As its anniversary gift, the Hall of Fame donated a copy of the book to every college and high school library in the state, the major public libraries and each of the 63 laureates or their family representatives.
The second project was a television series, “Legacy of Leadership,” hosted by ETV’s Jim Welch, that aired on SC ETV during the spring of 2000. The 18-part series featured interviews with some of the Business Hall of Fame laureates as well as biographies of all 63 laureates. The half-hour shows and biography videos on the laureates were available to South Carolina schools to teach and inspire future business leaders.
Working with Jim Smith of Bank of America and Dianne to make the Legacy gift a reality were Charlie Dickerson of R.L. Bryan, Mike Brock of UPS, Paul Amos of SC ETV and writers Bert Lunan and Bob Pierce. Gov. Jim Hodges and U.S. Secretary of Education Dick Riley used one word to describe the Legacy project: “remarkable.”
“Jean Longphre from Junior Achievement worked above and beyond on this project,” says Dianne, “and she always did it with a smile. She worked many nights and weekends with Bert, Bob and me on the book and the series. Jean made work fun.”
The S.C. Business Hall of Fame serves many purposes. “I think of it as an annual history lesson in the role business leaders play in our society and how their contributions have influenced the history of South Carolina,” says Dianne. “They represent the possibilities of the free enterprise system and serve as role models for leaders of today and tomorrow.”
According to Jim Cantey, “It also showcases to the youth of our state – students in all grades – the importance of hard work, intelligence and perseverance and the success they can bring. The laureates, their character and their stories epitomize what can be accomplished. The S.C. Business Hall of Fame showcases role models for our young people.”
For Lowell Reese, the S.C. Business Hall of Fame is about honoring the leaders of business and industry who created the jobs where South Carolinians have worked throughout the state’s history. “It goes beyond individual laureates, living and deceased, and recognizes the importance of the economy on the culture and glorious history of South Carolina,” he says. “It nurtures economic development. The laureates are economic and cultural role models for those who follow in their footsteps.”
The S.C. Business Hall of Fame is also about the strong personal relationships that develop out of a common goal for high achievement and success when working with leaders of character. The laureates have consistently shown that while they had tremendous business success, it was not what their life was based upon.
“When I was facing surgery for a brain tumor, Roger Milliken called and offered to fly me anywhere I needed to go for treatment or additional surgery,” says Dianne. “Then when I retired after 23 years with Junior Achievement, Roger sent me 23 white orchids. It was impressive enough that he remembered my favorite flowers but that he remembered the number of years was almost beyond my comprehension.”
Buck Mickel was known to remember special details about Junior Achievement students, even the names of their dogs. Guy Lipscomb was passionate about interacting with the students, making an effort to learn their favorite subjects in school. Dianne remembers Gayle Averyt’s humility, “Hootie” Johnson’s accessibility and John Lumpkin’s sense of humor. Joel Smith became known as a Super Achiever years before he became a laureate. He was a volunteer in a Junior Achievement classroom, engaging with his students in discussions about the free enterprise system.
“Those of us who knew the giants like Charlie Coker, Craig Wall, Jr., Hugh Chapman and Buck Mickel knew the higher up they went, the nicer they got. They let the light shine on others. They gave back. As a friend once said: ‘All the laureates are the kind of people you want your children to grow up to be like,’” says Dianne.
It was Buck Mickel who suggested the pause at each banquet to remember any laureate who died within the past year. Thus, the Sentimental Journey segment was added to the program. Buck said, “Never go so fast that you don’t pause to remember your friends.”
When asked about his favorite S.C. Business Hall of Fame Banquet memory, Jim Cantey replies, “No doubt it was the evening when my father was inducted. It was truly a great honor to him and for our family. In addition to that I am always overwhelmed by the quality and character of the student ambassadors and how well they present themselves. Their intelligence and poise give me hope for the successful future of our state and nation. Also it never ceases to amaze and inspire me when I see the laureates, all highly successful leaders in their fields of expertise, give their precious time and energy to bettering the youth of our state. They are an extremely humble and caring collection of leaders who freely give of their talents to help others. In my book, that’s a great description of a role model.”
Dianne Chinnes says making Junior Achievement students a part of the ceremony is her favorite responsibility. “While we were recognizing the state’s business leaders, we were also introducing the success of free enterprise to generations each year. From 1983 to when I retired in 2006, more than 300,000 students participated in our Junior Achievement program. I could write a book about the brightest and best young people in South Carolina who won the honor of being Student Ambassadors.”
“For me,” says Lowell, “attending the banquets – the room filled with South Carolina’s business elite there to honor not just the laureates being inducted but the history of business in the Palmetto State – was always a surreal experience. The instant attraction of the business community statewide, the sold-out annual banquets, the perfected administration of the event, top-notch presentations of the awards, and the good-times and contented faces all made and continue to make the banquet what it is today.”
Stephanie Stuckey joined Junior Achievement in 2000 as a part-time administrative assistant while in college. Now president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina, Stephanie says she feel privileged to be a part of an event that celebrates the past while at the same time inspiring our future.
“This year will mark my 14th S.C. Business Hall of Fame event. Over the years I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet business legends within our state. If it was not for Junior Achievement and Dianne Chinnes, I can’t say that I would have ever had such an opportunity,” says Stephanie.
“Last year as I was finishing up preparations for the banquet, I walked into the ballroom before all of the guests started to go in to find their tables,” Stephanie says.
“Dianne was standing there looking around the room. I went to speak to her, and she gave me a hug and when she pulled away she had that warming smile on her face. She said to me how proud she was of me and what we were doing that evening and where the event was. I told her that the event is what it was today because of her and everything she did to start it and build it in the beginning. She simply looked at me and said, ‘But look what you have done with it.’ That is a moment that I will never forget.”
Stephanie says she is fortunate to work with many wonderful, smart and talented individuals who help make the event happen. The list includes the S.C. Business Hall of Fame Committee both past and present, the many vendors who work so hard leading up to, during and after the event, the returning laureates and the current honorees who agree to share their stories.
For Stephanie, one of her favorite moments each year is to see the Student Ambassadors’ faces light up when they have the chance to meet the laureates who return year after year. “The students study and prepare for the moment that they meet these titans of business and they understand the importance of the evening. We hope they are picturing themselves on that stage one day accepting the same honor.”
This year marks a major milestone for the S.C. Business Hall of Fame as it inducts the 100th Laureate. Next year will be the banquet’s 30th anniversary.
“We are grateful for the companies that attend this event year after year,” says Stephanie. “This not only helps the success of the event, but it also helps to build the tradition. Without the Banquet Committee, the Laureate Selection Committee, past and present laureates and honorees, family members of deceased laureates, the students and their parents who help them prepare and make sure that they are at rehearsals, all of the vendors, the emcee and the Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina staff, this event could not happen.”
South Carolina is indeed very blessed to have such an accomplished organization and annual event to recognize and honor the business leadership and character that has carried the Palmetto State.
“I have had the privilege of serving on the Hall of Fame committee since, I think, 1988,” says Jim Cantey. “I retired after last year’s banquet and can easily say it was one of the best run organizations with which I’ve had the pleasure to be associated. The volunteers are truly dedicated and do an excellent job. The staff is tireless and demands excellence. It was a most enjoyable experience. Dianne Chinnes brought it to fruition and nurtured it into now what is probably the most successful Hall of Fame in the country.”
“I love South Carolina — its people, its history, its stand for free enterprise and, yes, even its politics,” says Lowell. “While the principles on which America was founded are drifting away in many states, they endure in South Carolina more than any other place. South Carolina remains a place where free enterprise is public policy. And the S.C. Business Hall of Fame carries on in that tradition.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Self-Reliance, “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” While Ben Morris and many others were instrumental in its initial and continuing success, the S.C. Business Hall of Fame is the lengthened shadow of Dianne Chinnes.
For more information on the 2013 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame Laureates, click here.
For more on Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina, click here.