Sorrell College of Business students need to have a plan of action in order to succeed, and one TROY alumnus has donated funds to help team students with business mentors to accomplish that mission.
Dr. Harrel McKinney, a 1962 graduate, founded Alabama Reference Laboratories, Inc. in 1972. In 2003, he was named the Distinguished Leadership Award recipient, and, in 2004, he was named Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. The University awarded him the honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1993. He serves on the Troy University Foundation Board of Directors and the Sorrell College of Business Executive Advisory Council.
“In a nutshell, my interest is to help encourage and support private enterprise in the United States – that, to me, is being attacked from every angle,” he said.
Last spring, McKinney donated $262,000 to the college’s IDEA Bank to establish The Dr. Harrel McKinney Mentor Program, which will provide students with suggestions and advice on student entrepreneurial interests and help them develop a network that leads to the launch of a successful business, product or service.
“I am very supportive of anyone or anything that has the initiative to make a success out of themselves without the help of government support and without government interference,” McKinney said.
McKinney knows what it means to pull oneself up by the bootstraps. He launched his medical laboratory using his personal savings, along with the help of four “silent” partners. He grew the company to almost than 500 employees with lab operations in nearly every section of Alabama and Panama City, Fla. He sold to his remaining partners and others in 1990.
“College students need more chance for success,” he said. “They need someone who has done it and can lend guidance for their aspirations. In other words, ‘I’ve done it, here’s how I did it and now you can do it, too’.”
TROY Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr. believes McKinney’s gift will give Sorrell College of Business students the chance to build relationships that will be invaluable in their futures.
“Dr. McKinney is the perfect example of an alumnus providing a very meaningful bridge for our students. Not only will students learn from business leaders who have experienced success and failure, but they will also gain relationships through mentorship that will serve them well in their future endeavors,” Hawkins said.
With his gift, students in the Troy Bank & Trust Entrepreneurship Program will be paired with mentors from business and industry who will help students build and refine business plans – one of the most critical ingredients for success in business, McKinney adds.
“Number One is to have a firm, written, viable plan of business. Not a pie-in-the-sky plan, but a step-wise working plan of action,” he said. “As important is to then take action. You have to act on your plan.”
McKinney said he’s seen so many people with great ideas, but “they never take action because of the fear of failure.” Success, he said, depends on acting on the idea.
A third piece of the puzzle in business success is to have a way to “stick it out.”
“When you do step out and get started, plan to stick it out. There were lean years and you have to be prepared to do without things . . . you have to have perseverance and not be pessimistic,” he said.
More than providing students with direction from real-world business success, the life experiences related by mentors can have a dramatic impact on the students.
“My upbringing was from a poor-man’s standpoint – I was used to having nothing as the last of seven boys,” said McKinney, who was reared at Esto. “I told people I was so poor I couldn’t afford a pet peeve. You have to be able to do with very little (when launching and growing a business).”
For McKinney, that meant doing without even a paycheck for a couple of years while the business was getting started.
“Too many people want to start out at the top, or in management, but if you are wanting a private enterprise to be successful, most of the times you have to start from scratch. You start out at the bottom and you do everything that needs to be done,” he said.
The self-made success – the knowledge, experience and ethos behind a successful startup – is exactly what SCOB Dean Judson Edwards wants to provide Troy Bank & Trust Entrepreneurship students.
“To have someone like Dr. McKinney actively engaged with the Sorrell College is truly a blessing to me, our faculty, staff, and most importantly, to our students,” he said. “His life story is the perfect testimonial to any student looking to become a successful entrepreneur.”
“Even more than his accomplished business acumen, it is through his actions as a husband, father, grandfather and citizen that students will better understand what it takes to be successful in life — being an honorable, determined, caring, and ethical leader. Spending time with him over the years has taught me much and being able to call Harrel a friend is an honor and gift, he is a true gentleman,” Edwards said.