by Gary Leftwich

When Roy Richards Jr. looks at his father’s 1931 graduating class photo from the Fourth District A&M School, he sees more than smiling faces and academic regalia. He sees hope—hope that remains as strong today at the University of West Georgia as it was when the camera shutter snapped on that photo.

Roy Richards Jr.
Roy Richards Jr.

“They were farm boys and farm girls,” Richards—chairman of Southwire Company, founded by his father, told a crowd gathered recently to celebrate the 50th anniversary of UWG’s business college and the 20th anniversary of the naming of the Richards College of Business.

“This institution had the ability to change their lives,” he added, attributing much of that power to Irvine S. Ingram, the school’s principal at the time. “He could find in people the ability to move to the next stations of their lives.”

Eighty-six years later, that remains the top priority of the Richards College.

“We are in the business of transforming lives through education engagement and experiences,” said Dr. Faye McIntyre, dean of the college. “We are committed to training the business leaders of tomorrow, whether they stay here in Georgia or travel to other parts of the world.”

Growing up in the small hamlet of Hulett, about a dozen miles from the UWG campus, Roy Richards Sr. matured through the tough life of the rural South during the Great Depression. Not even in his teens, he started his first job picking cotton for 10 cents a day, getting paid every two weeks.

His first paycheck of $5 funded the extraction of a tooth that started aching just before payday.

Dr. Faye McIntyre
Dr. Faye McIntyre

“Dad said, ‘We were poor. But, everyone around us was poor, so we didn’t know we were poor,” Richards Jr. recalled.

The son of a “highly motivated entrepreneur,” the elder Richards ran his father’s saw mill, churning out lumber at age 10. At 14, he quit school to run the business full time, handling employee matters, payroll and the mill’s general operation.

One morning, a man stopped at the mill, asking Richards Sr. where his father was. The reply was, “I don’t know.” After waiting for most of the workday, the man asked again where his father was.

“It was then he realized he was doing a man’s work,” Richards Jr. said of his father. “That helped him realize what he could do.”

From there, Richards Sr. went to Berry College and then to the Fourth District A&M School. Ingram’s encouragement directed his path to Georgia Tech, where he earned a degree in engineering.

Returning to Carroll County, Richards Sr. started Southwire on a cool March morning in 1950 with a dozen employees and three second-hand wire-making machines. Today, the company, still headquartered in Carrollton, employs some 7,500 people worldwide and is North America’s largest wire and cable producer and the third largest in the world.

“I grew up in the shadow of this institution,” Richards Jr. said. “This institution has filled our community with hope and opportunity. The University of West Georgia is a beacon of light, not just for higher learning, but for what is possible in quality of life, opportunity and education.”

Dr. Kyle Marrero
Dr. Kyle Marrero

Together, Southwire and the Richards College of Business developed the Southwire Sustainable Business Honors Program, which allows students to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, along with a certificate in sustainable business, in four years. Students work alongside company executives on sustainability programs and developing business plans, which they present to top leadership.

Richards said Southwire employs 90 student workers from UWG. About 325 employees—10 percent of the company’s local base—are UWG alums.

“Our company would not have prospered without this institution and we could not continue to prosper without the partnership we share,” Richards Jr. said.

Founded in 1967 and led by Dr. Mark Miller, the Division of Business and Economic Studies conferred 64 degrees in its first year. The first MBA was awarded in 1971 and the division became the West Georgia College School of Business two years later. With support from the Richards family, the school was named in honor of Roy Richards Sr. in 1997.

Last year, the college conferred 545 degrees, pushing its total to 15,123. Three quarters of professors hold doctoral degrees and all of those are active in research. That research has been cited by others more than 17,000 times.

Looking to the future, McIntyre and UWG President Kyle Marrero shared plans for a new building to house the college. The project remains in the design and fundraising stages.

“This will be a home that brings us all together,” McIntyre said. “We have been in two separate buildings for 14 years now and we are looking forward to having everyone under the same roof.”

“This building will be the pinnacle of continuing our legacy into the future,” Marrero said. “Somewhere around 2020ish, we will be able to have students walk into those halls and continue our legacy. I am excited to build together and see where we can take ourselves in the future.”

Posted on October 23, 2017