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William C. McAllister

William C. McAllister

Engineering Mechanics
Class of 1965, BS

“My father always taught me that no one remembers who came in second place,” recalls Bill McAllister, a man whose leadership skills has led to the success of many others.

As Bill reflected on his own career, he chose this opportunity to first speak highly of his dad who started his career on the production line at Dupont. Then, after a stint as a private investigator, he went to work for a bank, repossessing cars. One promotion led to another until, in 1963, his father founded Security National Bank in Roanoke, Virginia. “My dad pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He had no formal education,” Bill says with obvious pride.

So, in high school, Bill began developing his own legacy. He was secretary of one organization, a treasurer of another. “I was on the fringes of leadership” but still developing his social skills, he says. “For example, I was selected to represent my high school in a public speaking competition. I got an A+ for the style of the presentation, but didn’t place well because of my topic.” That’s easy to understand when he tells you the title of his 12th grade talk: “The Equivalence of Mass and Energy and Its Relationship to Nuclear Binding Forces.”

A high school career preference test directed Bill to the engineering field, and he selected Virginia Tech primarily because it offered him membership in the Corps of Cadets. “I felt the Corps would increase my chances of success,” he says. In fact, “I had a defining moment when I became President of the Cotillion Club and realized leadership was a major turn-on for me.” He offers that he was not as “passionate” a student as he could have been, enjoying his leadership in the Corps, serving on the Regimental Staff as a senior, and the Cotillion Club. He also played guitar and autoharp in an off-campus coffee house. Despite Bill’s critique of himself, he graduated in the top five percent of his class and he was a member of Tau Beta Pi, Phi Kappa Phi, and Omicron Delta Kappa, the premier academic and leadership honorary societies.

As Bill completed his requirements for his engineering mechanics degree in 1965, he looked for opportunities to pursue his love of leadership. He created his own criteria for pursuing a business or management degree: a 12-month turnaround, no thesis, and the school had to provide full tuition. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute met his needs and, in 1966, he graduated with a master’s degree in engineering management.

Similar to his Cotillion Club presidency, Bill recalls another “defining” moment when he was passing through Miami in 1967. He observed all of the fine cars, the expensive hotels, and the wealthy looking people relaxing in the sun. “I wanted to know who these people were who had the time and the money to hang out in a place like Miami. After thinking about it, I concluded that being the owner of your own business could possibly provide those ingredients. So I set out to establish control of my own destiny.” He had this epiphany when he was working in Florida as a management consultant for Boeing on the Apollo project, and just before he spent the next three years as an officer with the Army in Germany to fulfill his military obligation.

Upon returning to civilian life, he found the ideal position to prepare for his entrepreneurial role. He spent the next 20 months with the Trane Company as an in-house management consultant. During this time, he worked with engineers who were starting new Trane franchised air-conditioning dealerships, training them in basics of accounting, finance, etc. With the knowledge he gained personally, and with a line of credit provided to him by Trane, Bill founded Colonial Mechanical Corporation in Richmond, Virginia, in 1972.

“Starting my own business was a whole lot harder than I imagined. After 90 days of frustration of trying to estimate and sell work while still managing the field employees, I ran a three-state ad campaign, and brought in a field superintendent at twice my own salary. I told him I never wanted to have to go out in the field again,” Bill reveals. “Bill Mallory became my first vice president and was a key to my early success. In fact, my entire business career was landmarked by people who helped me.” Over the next 25 years, the company grew to employ almost 800 people and ranked 42nd in size among mechanical contractors in the entire United States.

When Bill planned his own exit strategy from the company, he knew he wanted to reward the loyalty of his employees who had worked so hard for him. He managed to attract a lucrative offer for the business that would create wealth for his immediate partners as well as himself. They became multi-millionaires, and Bill earned his freedom in 1999 at the early age of 55.

As the talent and experience levels of Bill’s management team solidified in the 1990s, his community and philanthropic activities increased exponentially. “I was influenced by Bill Daughtrey, another Virginia Tech alumnus, who changed my thinking about giving levels, and the next thing I knew I was pledging $50,000 to the university. This was a new dimension in giving for me,” he says. “I also started making large donations to other charities, but Virginia Tech had a special place in my heart. I later merged that first $50,000 with a half a million-dollar donation to create the McAllister Leadership Scholarship in the College of Engineering. I also gave another $50,000 to establish the McAllister Emerging Leadership Scholarship in the Corps of Cadets.” Each year Bill meets with the recipients of these scholarships, now numbering 48, and stays in contact with many of the graduates.

He recently raised another $50,000 for a Corps scholarship from over 100 members of the Class of 1965, and he is the founding president of the new Cotillion Club Alumni Association. He is a member of the College’s Committee of 100 and is a Distinguished Benefactor in the Ut Prosim Society. In Richmond, Bill serves as a Trustee of the Children’s Hospital and is Chairman of the Finance Committee. He is also president of his community in North Carolina.

His wife Rennie shares in Bill’s commitments to charities. Bill has high praise for his spouse, saying, “Rennie is very passionate about children’s causes and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.” She has been on the Make-A-Wish Board of Directors for eight years, and has held numerous leadership positions there. In 2002, Rennie was given a Volunteer Achievement Award at the 75th anniversary celebration of the Richmond’s Junior League.

Rennie is a graduate of the Medical College of Virginia with a degree in nursing, but she spent her first two years of education in a pre-nursing program at Virginia Tech. Her career included the nursing management of the Pediatric Emergency Room at MCV Hospital where she worked for 11 years before joining Colonial Mechanical to organize its human resources function. She stopped working full time in 1995.

Together, Bill and Rennie share a passionate interest in travel, boating, and sport fishing. They spent four recent winters in Mexico living on their boat and taking friends sailfishing. As a thank-you for the McAllisters’ hospitality in Mexico, their friends have contributed over $30,000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Bill has three sons from a former marriage. Drew is a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps who served two tours in Iraq and remains on active duty. Brian just completed his military service as an Army Captain. He served two tours in the Middle East, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, both in a Black Hawk helicopter brigade of the 82nd Airborne. Michael is a residential carpentry subcontractor in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Class of: 1965
Year Inducted into Academy: 2005