Lawton M. (Mac) Nease III
MBA, 1968; Ph.D., 1976
Mac Nease can still hear his mother’s words echoing in his ears: “You should excel — you don’t have anything else to do.” Though she spoke those words when Mac was in grade school, he has carried them with him through the years. By any standards, Mac has excelled.
He is now president of Nease, Lagana, Eden & Culley, Inc., an insurance firm that focuses on complex estate planning and executive benefits. Mac holds an undergraduate degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and an MBA and Ph.D. from Georgia State University, and has been a part-time instructor for graduate students at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He and his wife, Brenda, have endowed professorships and funded student scholarships at several educational institutions. Yes, Mac Nease has done well. However, there was a time when he easily might have chosen a different path.
Mac was born and raised in Guyton, Georgia, a town of 800 people, 30 miles outside of Savannah. His parents met in the first grade, and his dad ran a service station and tire business founded by Mac’s grandfather. At the tire shop, Mac learned the fundamentals of hard work, and he enjoyed it. “We opened at seven in the morning, and we closed at seven at night. We were open six days a week, and we always were closed on Sunday,” Mac remembers.
By the time Mac graduated from high school, he would have been perfectly happy to stay in Guyton and take over the family business. He had already met his future bride, Brenda — they started dating in the ninth grade — so there was no compelling reason to leave. “I didn’t want to go to college. I just went because my mother said, ‘You’re going,'” Mac said. “I didn’t have any more vision than that.”
All the same, Mac headed off to Georgia Tech. He didn’t know what he wanted to study, but after the first few classes, he knew he wasn’t interested in the engineering curriculum and settled on an industrial management major. Despite the grueling class and lab schedule, Mac managed to have some fun. A self-described baseball junkie, Mac played for his college team. “It was obvious fairly early that I needed to study more and play less,” he said.
After graduation, most of Mac’s contemporaries from Georgia Tech went on to pursue jobs in engineering, banking or high-tech companies. Mac had a couple of scholarships to MBA programs in other parts of the country, but he still couldn’t visualize what he would do with another degree. And repaying $15,000 to $20,000 in student loans — especially since starting salaries for Georgia Tech graduates were about $7,000 a year — didn’t strike him as a good decision.
That’s when one of his fraternity brothers introduced him to the life insurance business. His friend convinced Mac that selling life insurance was a great way to work his way through graduate school because he could set his own hours. And so, Mac and his wife, Brenda, decided to stay in Atlanta. At 21 years old, he began selling life insurance during the day while pursuing his MBA from Georgia State at night. At the time, Mac could not have anticipated the implications of his decision: “Selling life insurance wasn’t a career choice. I never started in the insurance business with any idea of staying in the insurance business,” Mac said.
While at Georgia State, Mac met Dr. Kenneth Black, Jr., chair of the Department of Risk Management and Insurance (and later the dean of the Robinson College of Business.) “He was a great mentor for me,” said Mac. “So many students at Georgia State at that time were night students, had jobs in the daytime, had career paths planned out.” Mac, on the other hand, had no specific plans and was entirely unsure of the direction in which he wished to go.
Black took an interest in Mac and ultimately persuaded him to go into the RMI Ph.D. program directly after he finished his MBA. Because it made financial sense, Mac decided to stick out his life insurance job for another three years while he completed the coursework for his Ph.D. Then he would take a job as a professor of insurance while he wrote his dissertation. “I liked life insurance. I liked studying life insurance; I liked learning about how it was applied professionally in business situations. I just didn’t like to sell it,” Mac said.
Upon completing his coursework, though, Mac again chose to stick with selling life insurance. His client base in Atlanta had grown considerably over the previous five years, and it made good financial sense. It took him four years to finish his dissertation, which meant that he had 10 years under his belt as a life insurance salesman. While those 10 years were full of hard work and long hours and were not particularly fun for Mac, “somewhere in that process I began to like the insurance business.”
With his Ph.D. in hand, Mac interviewed for faculty positions around the country. However, much to his surprise, he “then decided to keep doing what I was doing. And 45 years later, I’m still doing what I was doing,” he laughed from his sunlit corner office at NLEC.
Mac did return to Georgia State as a part-time professor and to this day remains connected to his alma mater. “I think Georgia State is an enormous asset to the Atlanta business community,” Mac said. “There’s just so much synergy between people in this town who did the same thing. Maybe they didn’t go to the same undergraduate school, but they went through the same graduate program at Georgia State. When I taught at Georgia State, I taught a lot of the people that are now advisors in the community.”
Thinking about retirement, Mac is once again not entirely sure what his plans are, but he doesn’t feel pressured to make a decision at this point in his life. “I worked so hard to build this business to where it is, and I love doing what I do so much, I can’t imagine not doing it,” Mac said.
Besides, the longer he works, the longer he’ll be able to give back financially in ways that are meaningful to him. “What are you going to do with your money when you get old? Are you going to sit around one day and count it? Or can you do something with it that you feel good about doing?” he said.
As if tipping a hat to the young Mac Nease who only wanted to play baseball and run the family business, Mac and his wife, Brenda, have established need-based scholarships at a number of institutions to help other young people find their paths. “My passion really has always been education because it was a life-changing experience for me,” said Mac.
He shared the story of a young girl who, long after Mac began his journey as a businessman, grew up three blocks behind his boyhood home in Guyton. A scholarship funded by the Neases helped her pursue higher education, and she is now working on her Ph.D. in Tokyo. Mac smiled and said: “She’s working hard to achieve her goals, and it feels good to have been able to help her along the way.”