William R. McNair
Inducted in 2010
From the start, William R. McNair demonstrated an ability to synthesize technical aspects with business needs in the telecommunications industry. This capacity would make him highly recommended throughout his career. McNair graduated from Auburn University in 1968 with a degree in electrical engineering and continued his education to receive a master’s degree in business administration from Auburn-Montgomery. Later, as a Sloan Fellow, he would earn a master’s in management from MIT.
McNair began his career with BellSouth in Birmingham, Ala., in 1968, and retired in 2001 as vice president of network operations. He rose through the ranks and across divisions, always being recruited when workable solutions were needed for complex problems. McNair has held positions in the company’s engineering, operations, human resources and marketing organizations—always coming highly recommended.
Only 10 years into his career, McNair was faced with the aftermath of Hurricane Frederick, the second costliest storm to hit the Gulf Coast at that time. Not only did he assess the damage, grasp the technical issues involved, and mobilize employees, but also, thanks to his long-range planning talents, McNair restored service quickly and with a more modern and technologically advanced design.
Then came the 1980s: a time of great technological and regulatory change. BellSouth President Jere Drummond, now retired, recalled McNair’s contributions in bringing the corporation up to speed seamlessly: “[He] provided exemplary leadership … anticipating and fulfilling customer needs and expectations. Bill provided significant direction and guidance for the design, cost
analysis, pricing, implementation, and deployment of forward-looking technologies. Additionally, he successfully integrated these new products and services into the marketplace along with the vast array of legacy technologies that had been utilized for decades throughout the industry.”
Some of these technologies included broadband data, DSL, internet access, digital switching and high capacity fiber optics—all of which would be needed in servicing the rapid growth of the Southeast and the challenges inherent in broadcasting the events of the 1996 Summer Olympics.
In the civic arena, McNair served in various capacities, including 15 years on the board of directors of Junior Achievement of Georgia. During his tenure, he was instrumental in recruiting hundreds of BellSouth mentors for the Job Shadow Program, setting all-time records for volunteer participation. According to Donna Stone Buchanan, who was president of JA at the time, “Bill both expects and projects the highest possible standards in all he does … a man who sets the bar high but helps you reach that bar as well.”
As a reminder to bring out the best in people, BellSouth colleague and fellow Auburn alum Rebecca Dunn recalls the sign facing visitors to McNair’s desk: “What do you recommend?” This view is nowhere more evident than in his efforts in establishing Auburn’s BellSouth Minority Engineering Program, designed to increase the recruitment and retention of minority engineering students. Through it McNair wanted to ensure that all Auburn students seeking an engineering education were given the chance to succeed—so that they could answer the question “What do you recommend?” and as a result one day be highly recommended.