Up Close and Personal: Jim McGlothlin '62, J.D. '64, LL.D. '00

  • McGlothlin Leadership Forum
    McGlothlin Leadership Forum  During his class at the Law School, Jim McGlothlin '62, J.D. '64, LL.D. '00, fielded questions from students about how to find success and meaning in their careers. Dean Davison M. Douglas, at left, was on hand and joined in the discussion.  Photo by Skip Rowland '83
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Jim McGlothlin Hosts Law School Class During Inaugural Leadership Forum

When Jim McGlothlin '62, J.D. '64, LL.D. '00, needs inspiration, he looks to a portrait of legendary William & Mary Law School Dean Dudley Woodbridge prominently displayed on one of his walls. And, nearly 50 years after McGlothlin graduated, he likewise brings similar inspiration to today's law students.

McGlothlin, the founder and current CEO and Chairman of The United Company, shared his wisdom on the final day of the inaugural McGlothlin Leadership Forum when he led a seminar at William & Mary Law School. Twenty law students were on hand to learn and to engage him in a conversation about leadership and personal career decisions.

After recounting his childhood in Buchanan County, Va., McGlothlin told the class how different it was when he began practicing law in 1964. It was a time when working for a small firm in Grundy, Va., meant earning less per month than when he drove a bus and waited tables as a student at William & Mary. It also meant being thrown right into the middle of a major case four months out of law school.

A man comfortable with taking risks, McGlothlin decided to enter the world of business after several years practicing law. When an opportunity came to purchase a failing coal company, he took it, despite knowing little to nothing about the business. Hard work, integrity, and an eye for treating people fairly helped him grow the company into what is now The United Company.

Realizing that many students in the class were on the verge of starting their own careers, McGlothlin shared advice to help them realize their goals. The economy may be in disarray, he told them, but as someone who always sees the glass as half full, he thinks it is an exciting time to start not only a successful career but also a meaningful one.

"There are great opportunities for fertile minds," he said. Using examples from his own life, he told students to think outside the box, be innovative, surround themselves with great people, and to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards.

Students also asked him a number of questions about ways to achieve balance in life and expand personal and business networks.   His in-depth answers impressed each of them.

"I enjoyed Mr. McGlothlin's candor and found his talk inspirational," said Julie Silverbrook, a third-year student who will become executive director of a non-profit after graduation. "He was willing to take risks, put himself out there, and work hard to achieve his goals."

Tony Guo, a third-year student interested in energy law, was likewise impressed by McGlothlin's modest upbringing, hard work, and success. "I found his positive energy contagious," Guo said. "His personal story about working part time as a bus driver while at William & Mary, his experience at a small firm, and his advice about practicing the law you want to practice even if you have to volunteer or work as a waiter [to help support yourself], was extremely apt in today's marketplace."

For his part, McGlothlin is proud of his career arc from lawyer to business executive. He is also inspired by today's William & Mary students, and admits to being a little envious as they start out. He cited the international scope of today's marketplace, as well as unprecedented opportunities in law, business, and government, as reasons for law students to be excited.

"Choose what you want to do in life," he told the class. "It's about being happy and loving what you do."

McGlothlin and his family have been longtime supporters of the College and Law School. The Law School's McGlothlin Courtroom, for example, is named in memory of B. F. and Annie L. McGlothlin, in recognition of a gift made to the Law School in 1990 by their son Woodrow W. McGlothlin, grandsons Jim McGlothlin and Nicholas D. Street, and The United Company.  Jim McGlothlin is an emeritus member of William & Mary's Board of Visitors.

With the inaugural McGlothlin Leadership Forum having successfully introduced William & Mary students to the highest caliber of national leaders in business and law, plans are already afoot for future annual forums. And that suits Christa Barber, a third-year student just fine.

"I would absolutely recommend this event to other students," she said. "I expect that future events will continue to provide valuable information and networking opportunities for students. Moreover, it is inspiring to listen to the stories of William & Mary grads and other successful professionals who have used their legal education to make significant changes in our society."