If you’re only as good as the people you bring in to replace you, Billy O. Wireman must be damn good. He moves on from the presidency of his beloved Queens College after 24 years, handing off the reins to a powerful troika — Hugh McColl Jr., chairman of the Board of Trustees; Pamela Lewis, president; Peter Browning, dean of the McColl School of Business — determined to take the school to new levels, starting with a new name: Queens University of Charlotte.
The threesome has been in place and moving fast since February, long before Wireman cleaned out his collection of one-man’s-treasures from the big office overlooking the horseshoe. In April, the school’s trustees heard from all four and agreed to change the name of their little school to Queens University of Charlotte www.queens.edu.
McColl and Wireman both had been agonizing for some time about that first name, Queens (originally Charlotte Female Institute), and its less than he-man image. Even Lewis said “Queens” had to go, when she accepted the job of heading the McColl School of Business two years ago.
“We have an image problem in our geographic footprint, our market, of being a girls’ school,” admits Lewis. “But a lot of people wanted to preserve the name ‘Queens’ because we have nearly a hundred-and-fifty-year heritage. We found with focus groups in the field that if you change it to ‘university,’ that mitigates the issue of people thinking of us as a small girls’ school, because the ‘University’ gives it more breadth and diversity than the term ‘college.’”
The distinction is that universities offer post-baccalaureate degrees while most colleges don’t. Queens currently offers masters degrees in organizational communications, education and nursing. There are two MBA programs, plus the new Master of Fine Arts in Writing, Master of Divinity, and Master of Arts in Christian Education. Small wonder that for the past six years U.S. News & World Report’s annual education survey has listed Queens of Charlotte in the top tier of Southern universities – not colleges.
Name changes stopped phasing McColl when the NationsBank moniker was dropped in favor of Bank of America. He and his people decided that was good for business. And what’s good for business is a large motivating factor for this triumvirate.
McColl is a seasoned financial executive known throughout the Charlotte business community. Browning is just as seasoned an executive know throughout the corporate community. But Lewis is a newer arrival to the Charlotte scene.
Lewis Learns from History
Pamela Lewis started managing things when she was thirteen, running her father’s grocery store, and more recently ran the management department at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, before becoming dean of the prestigious Lebow College of Business at Philadelphia’s Drexel University. She’s the lead author of Management: Challenges for the 21st Century, of which she is currently preparing the fourth edition. Selling for $99.95, the textbook is required reading at two hundred business schools around the country. She’s 45 and bubbling with energy.
At first Lewis turned down the offer to move to Charlotte. She now believes that her change of heart was one of the best decisions of her life. She eats and drinks Queens, literally, since nearly every day includes one-on-one business breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Getting on her calendar is a challenge.
One of the things McColl and Wireman saw in her from the first was Pam Lewis’ flair for fund-raising. During her five-year tenure at Drexel, gifts to the business school rose from $800,000 to over $14 million. She looks at Charlotte’s big business trees and sees branches sagging with low-hanging fruit. And when it comes to harvesting funds, Pam Lewis grasps the lessons of history.
Queens’ history begins in 1857, when Charlotte’s well-to-do white Presbyterians wanted a school to “finish” their daughters, like Davidson was taking care of their sons. So on weekends, boys from Davidson would ride the trains and the buggies to their “sister school,” where the girls would be arranged, all laced and crinolined, in the parlor, to pour the punch. Queens was on College Street then; Myers Park had another half-century to put in as cotton fields. In time, it was discovered that gifts to all-female schools were less substantial than those of their all-male counterparts.
“The Davidson boys gave a thousand dollars a year to their alma mater,” Lewis says with a little grimace, “the Queens girls gave a hundred dollars a year. Today Davidson has an endowment of $350 million and we have an endowment of $35 million. What you can do with one is very different from what you can do with the other.” The tailspin only began ending when Queens finally admitted male students in 1987.
“Queens has always had to rely on tuition to operate. Solution: expand offerings. That’s how the business school and Hayworth [Evening College] got started, to generate resources. Nobody wanted to do that. Nobody said, ‘Wow, let’s have a business school!’ These were pure liberal arts people. It wasn’t a strategic move, it was a defensive move. They looked at those as kind of appendages. ‘But what we really are is a liberal arts college.’ And so we became kind of fragmented, with three very independent operations.”
Lewis actually widened the rift when she took over the business school. “I came here as McColl School dean and said, ‘Queens College doesn’t have much to offer to me in terms of building my brand. I’m going to invest in building the McColl School brand.” The business school, with its scent of prosperity and profitably, might have become the dog-wagging tail.
Wireman persisted in his goals of connecting the classroom to the workplace. “What makes a good business person is what makes a good citizen,a good human being.” he said, “We want to educate students so that they know noble ideas, have productive careers, embrace global citizenship. We want to vaccinate students with the virus of curiosity.”
Under Wireman’s tutelage, Lewis began to see that “liberal arts” was essential to her school’s identity. She began strengthening bonds with the other areas of Queens, to the point of bringing humanities faculty in to teach at McColl. Example: participants in the Executive MBA program take a course called American Capitalism, taught by Dr. Charles Reed, an Oxford graduate who is one of Queens’ four North Carolina Professors of the Year. Reed’s students write reports on eighteenth-century economic theory as reflected in the collapse of Enron and the struggling textile industry – and their writing is critiqued along with their comprehension.
“We’ve decided we’re better together than we are separately. Let’s find those linkages, let’s change the vision of the college to what we’re trying to do. My challenge is to get people to think of us as an integrated educational institution, which we are.”
The management team at Queens University has its work cut out for it, especially in the undergraduate programs that are at the heart of any small liberal arts institution. Right now, Queens has a total student population of 652. Compare that to the University of Richmond’s 3,652 and Elon’s 3,900. Of equal concern, the national average for female-male ratio is 60:40; at Queens it’s 74:26. The school’s newly adopted strategic plan calls for boosting the freshman class (last year’s, only 211 – eighty percent female) to 400, forty percent of whom are male, by 2005.
“Going forward, our first priority is to build our undergraduate student population. We really need to double our enrollment in incoming freshman classes, in order to be of a size that can keep us competitive. And that will make this a more vibrant, involved campus.
“Second, we want to selectively add graduate programs to better serve the needs of the community. Queens has an important role to play in terms of being an educational resource and community asset. We want to be responsible citizens of this community by assessing where those needs are and then meeting them.”
As in, for example, Queens University Law School? “It’s on our radar,” Lewis smiles.
One byproduct of the name change s better product differentiation. There were at least nineteen other “Queens Colleges” on the planet, from Oxford to New York to Lagos to Melbourne. As for “Queens University,” the only others are in Belfast and Kingston, Ontario. But while name recognition is important, the secret to successful marketing lies in the branding.
“The major branding will be around how we help you achieve your personal potential,” says Lewis. “We want people to understand that we’re here to provide an innovative way of learning, one that leverages our location in this city, one that treats you as an individual not a number, and one that provides you with an educational experience that you simply cannot get elsewhere. Because of that experience, you are going to expand the possibilities you have within you.
“Typically, any great city has a great private institution, emphasizing the social sciences. Like Emory in Atlanta, Rice in Houston, Vanderbilt in Nashville, SMU in Dallas. Queens has an opportunity to fill that void and that will be our goal.
“Queens is poised to emerge as the premier private institution in this city. We’re a great complement to CPCC and UNCC. We help stimulate the intellectual capital. Organizations will never exceed the quality of the people in them, and cities are the same. To be that overused term, ‘a world-class city,’ we need world-class thinking and leadership. We’re going to do our part to seed that, to deliberately build the intellectual capital.”
Her vision is shared by board chairman Hugh McColl, who says the name change is “just a start.”
“Queens has been important to the city in the past. Our president, Billy Wireman, has stood up and been counted on matters of social justice. The school has played a key role in bringing powerful speakers here, providing a forum that’s been well-received by the public. Going forward, Queens would like to become even more engaged with the city, particularly through the business school, in terms of leadership training and bringing in top thinkers in strategic thinking. We believe that could play a major role in helping people here sharpen their skills in those directions.”
By helping to build leadership within the community, McColl says, Queens can help Charlotte become a leader for the nation. He ticks off issues requiring such leadership, “issues we all sort of understand loosely: air quality, water quality, land-use planning, jobs, early childhood education, coping with inevitable growth. The city has already identified those. But we have other needs, needs that our College of Arts and Sciences can get involved in: philosophical and social issues, a good understanding of history, political science, religion. A thorough understanding of these subjects will help us achieve social peace in our community, and that is as important as anything there is. We’ve got a society where nobody’s really talking to anybody. What is it the United States is doing that makes other people hate us? This is the sort of thing we need to address. It has to start at the local level, because if you can’t get it right at home, you’re not going to get it right anywhere else.
“We really do have a good faculty at Queens, a marvelous faculty – I could name them all, but I’d forget somebody. For a little school, it’s remarkable, because our faculty has the ability to make a difference in intellectual discourse surrounding the social issues of our time, using their understanding of history and other countries as a backdrop. The hardest thing for our society today is to engage people in a truly meaningful, calm, dispassionate discussion over an issue. At Queens we have the wherewithal to make that happen.”
Ambitious expectations for a little school that many had given up for dead in the late 1970s. Some of its trustees saw no way out of a debt hole nearly $2 million deep. The piddling endowment was almost dry. Fewer than five hundred students, all of them women. They talked about turning it into a prep school, about just turning out the lights and selling the real estate.
Instead they brought in Billy Overton Wireman, the wide-smiling, crinkly-eyed savior of another little school, Florida Presbyterian – renamed Eckerd College after Wireman pulled in a $10 million gift from the drugstore magnate Jack Eckerd. A few trustees remembered Wireman from his days on the University of Kentucky basketball bench, assisting coach Adolph Rupp, not a favorite name in North Carolina. They brought him in anyway, and Queens has never looked back, growing into Queens University.
Billy Wireman’s loafers would look funny on Pam Lewis’ feet, so she doesn’t think about filling his shoes. She can’t help but to have noticed the way Wireman worked the students under the cherry trees and on the benches near the Diana fountain, heard the guys say, “Hey, Doc”, and the girls go, “Hellooo, Doctor Wireman.” He’s been their president too, not just the board’s.
But then, a good predecessor doesn’t leave you the business without leaving you a bit of a challenge.