BBA, 1974; MBA, 1978; Master of Insurance, 1983
Gary Meggs helped create the Bermuda Scholarship Fund, which brings the best and brightest Bermudians to the GSU Risk Management & Insurance program.
When Gary Meggs graduated high school in 1970 he wasn’t entirely sure what direction he would take with his life.
Today, some of that uncertainty is gone. Gary is Southern Company’s director of risk management. He remains active at his alma mater, Georgia State, having served for 16 years on GSU’s Risk Management Foundation and currently as mentor to students in the Risk Management and Robinson Honors programs. With the help of another GSU supporter and business associate, he co-founded the Bermuda Scholarship Fund, bringing the best and brightest Bermuda students to GSU.
But in 1970 Gary had a different idea altogether: He loved the outdoors, and considered working as a forest ranger. As a freshman at Clayton State University, however, Gary learned how much forest rangers made and realized that would be a problem. So he spent a few semesters “wandering around” before discovering another passion.
“You know, I think I was well into my junior year before I decided I really wanted to be in business. It made sense to me, the accounting and economics. I seemed to have a knack for it,” he said.
Gary transferred to GSU to pursue his BBA. Life was hectic at the larger downtown university, and he worked an average of 40 hours a week as a delivery driver and working in restaurants, pursuing his undergraduate studies in the evenings. Later, while in graduate school, he worked in the operations department of a commercial trucking company. But there was a catch: The job entailed 80 hours of work one week, then the next week off. To squeeze 80 hours of work in one week meant Gary worked 12 hour shifts for seven nights straight, and his classes had to fit between those shifts.
“It was terrible to get any sort of decent sleep. I drank a lot of vending machine coffee trying to keep myself awake for classes, but I think it was a great experience. It was always exciting to be downtown in the hustle and bustle of Atlanta,” he said.
The early ’70s were a sobering time. The Vietnam War was still ongoing and there was a real possibility of being drafted. “We were all sitting around waiting to see if we were going to get called into service. And many did. It was a different time,” he recalled. But he was fortunate — he had a high draft number and was never called. He also benefited from attending evening classes with many of those veterans who, upon completing their service, returned to GSU on the GI Bill. As Gary recalls: “Many of those evening students were older and brought with them a maturity, as well as life and work experiences, that enriched the classroom experience.” After receiving his BBA in 1974, he remained at Georgia State and earned his MBA in 1978. After his master’s graduation ceremonies, a friend introduced Gary to Southern Company; he submitted a resume, and on August 14, 1978, Gary started a new job.
Pay It Forward
“I think it was Jackie Robinson who said — and I’m paraphrasing here — that the most important thing is not what you accomplish on your own, it’s the legacy you leave behind,” Gary said.
Gary knows firsthand how valuable the guidance of a mentor can be. He was inspired by GSU instructors Bill Feldhaus and Larry Gaunt, and former Dean of Business Administration Mike Mescon: “I was very fortunate to have Mike Mescon in the very first management course I took. He was a great professor at Georgia State, a wonderful speaker.”
In 1981, Tom Nunnelly, executive vice president at Southern Company, took Gary under his wing. “It all starts with character. That’s everything, your character and your values. And Tom was very inspiring that way,” Gary said. Tom taught Gary the importance of leadership, interpersonal skills and strategic planning, and it was Tom who saw the potential and encouraged Gary to pursue the risk management profession and return to Georgia State, where he earned his master’s in risk management. Gary also benefited enormously from the experience and mentoring of John Hall, former director of risk management at Southern Company, who Gary eventually succeeded when John retired in 1988.
Gary has been mentoring since. The work has been rewarding on both sides of the relationship; Gary has no children of his own, but he says that “friends are the family we choose,” and many of his friendships have lasted well beyond their original mentorship.
“Some of my fondest memories and moments are my dealings with the students over the years,” he said. “It’s wonderful to have that, to be invited to a wedding of a former intern or mentee, and to watch them grow and develop and accomplish great things in the field. It’s been one of my great pleasures and something I take great pride in.”
The Next Step
Gary has 35 years with Southern Company this August. Retirement is now approaching, but he has no plans for settling down.
He has more traveling to do. As a younger man Gary saw much of the world, and mountaineered Mont Blanc, Mount McKinley, and the 23,000 feet of Aconcagua in the Andes. His journeys these days don’t take him to such oxygen-depleted heights, but he remains active in the outdoors. For the past six years, he’s gone on annual walking holidays in the UK, typically walking 80 to 100 miles over a week, including Scotland’s West Highland Way. This year he plans to do the Coast to Coast walk in England, covering 184 miles in 15 days. And his experiences abroad have played a part in his own growth:
“There are places you can go and stand, and it changes the way you think about yourself and relate to the rest of the world. When you’ve been to Nepal, which is the fifth or sixth poorest country in the world, and meet the people, who are the poorest but friendliest and hardest-working, it makes a profound difference in how you view the world and the people in it.”
The Bermuda Scholarship Fund is a profound result of his insights from travel. Bermuda has become a world capital in the risk management industry, but historically many of the higher level positions were sourced out to ex-pats. Gary explained that this arrangement understandably bothers the native Bermudians, which gave him an idea – widen Georgia State’s exposure in Bermuda by bringing the best and brightest Bermudians to the university’s RMI program, which in turn prepares them to take executive-level positions back home. It also builds a bridge between Robinson’s Department of Risk Management & Insurance and the island, paving the way for research and executive education opportunities, among others.
Harold Skipper, GSU professor emeritus and former chairman of Risk Management and Insurance, wholeheartedly agreed, and with the help of Greg McCollister of McGriff Seibels and Williams, a business associate and avid GSU supporter, together with other key sponsors on the island and RMI Foundation Board, the scholarship was opened in 2004. To date, more than $200,000 has been raised, and six Bermudians have received scholarships and attended Georgia State’s RMI program.
Back home in Georgia, Gary also volunteers. Two of his Norwich Terriers — he has three: Baxter, Belle, and Ginger — pitch in with the community service, donating their time to the non-profit Happy Tails. Their specialty is working with seniors, many of whom had to leave their dogs behind to enter assisted living.
And he continues to seek new opportunities. Gary’s holding out hope that he’s going to discover a latent talent, and to that end has begun wood carving classes. He also plans on learning a new language fluently, and wants to take up playing the harmonica.
“I feel like that’s a much better choice than a piano. First of all, it’s a much smaller capital investment, and second, if I’m a spectacular failure it’s not going to be sitting there in the house as a reminder. I can just put it in the drawer,” he chuckles.
Forty years after his high school graduation, Gary has a better idea of the direction of his life, and he’s looking forward to what comes next. But one of his greatest virtues remains — he’s open to the possibilities.