Jim McGill

In 1961, Jim McGill (BS ‘65) drew a picture on a sheet of notebook paper that has stayed with him for 40 years. The same piece of paper hung above his desk at his first job, the environmental firm he started in 1970, through several venture companies he’s invested in since his first retirement in 1987, and it’s now with him at Anyware Mobile Solutions — the company he came out of retirement to run in 2002.

What is illustrated on that piece of paper goes beyond inspiration; it’s a reflection of McGill. But before you can see what McGill drew, you have to know his story.

Growing up in a worker’s camp just northeast of Tulsa, built by the factory next door, McGill attended a one-room grade school accommodating six grades. In the 1950s, a minimum standard law for teachers passed. McGill’s school was consolidated into East Central High School, one red-brick building for first through twelfth grades from which McGill graduated.

He received a limited education from the small school house, but he graduated with a football scholarship and college was within grasp, until he hurt his knee. The injury left him with two options: join the Army or work full time to pay for a college education. At his mother’s prompting, McGill’s next stop was The University of Tulsa admission office.

“Neither one of my parents made it past the 10th grade,” he said. “My mother primarily wanted all her kids to have college degrees. She believed that if you work hard, obey the law and get a good education you can be anything you want to be.”

Being a full-time employee at a stone quarry and a full-time student at TU didn’t leave McGill much time for anything else, including time to eat or play. During his four years at TU, he lost 40 pounds, attended one basketball game, one football game and walked away with only a handful of friends.

McGill, however, was there for the education. And it paid off. He went from being told in his first year that he had little hope of earning a passing grade in calculus to graduating second in his class with a chemical engineering degree.

“My feeling was if I didn’t make it through that course, I wasn’t going to make it at all,” he said. “I realized that if I could make it through the first semester, I could make it.”

What McGill drew on a single sheet of notebook paper his freshmen year reflected his fear at the time; now the reflection is of his courage. It’s a picture of a man who appears to be melting under a massive weight he’s holding up.

But it didn’t turn out to be a picture of McGill.

The man who came to TU with two pairs of Levi’s, two shirts and a pair of cowboy boots went on to join Dresser Engineering in Tulsa. He was soon managing a natural gas processing plant construction project in Texas with 600 employees. After five years on the job, he saw an opportunity designing equipment to meet new federal laws to reduce air and water pollution. He left Dresser to develop his ideas in 1970, the same year he was called upon by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help draft the new agency’s regulations, and started his own company, McGill Environmental Systems. Four years later he received the first of 25 U.S. and foreign patents awarded him through 1985. In a span of five years, his company went from revenues of less than million to an excess of million.

McGill sold his company in 1986 and retired — in his own way. Since then, he’s been a part of starting several other businesses like SciFit, a fitness equipment company, and ProShot Golf, which uses global positioning technology to give players precise distances to the next hole. His most recent investment called him out of retirement in 2002 to run Anyware Mobile Solutions, a mobile software provider.

His many professional accomplishments will be recognized by The University of Tulsa family during Homecoming 2005.

McGill now sits on TU’s Board of Trustees and chairs the Technology Transfer Committee, providing leadership and funding scholarships for the benefit of present and future students alike.

“If there had not been a college in Tulsa, I would have joined the Army,” McGill said. “And if people hadn’t been there to provide scholarships, build buildings, teach classes — I wouldn’t have been able to go to college.”

His support of TU goes beyond gratitude for the education and prestige he received as a graduate. For McGill, TU opened his eyes to an inner hunger for a world of which he was unaware — a world of asking questions, coveting knowledge and developing solutions.

As for McGill’s drawing, he keeps it around knowing that if he didn’t melt then, he never will.