New Albany News

Businessmen find common ground in Jefferson Series


The New Albany Community Foundation's Jefferson Series began Feb. 5 with a chat between two successful businessmen: Leslie Wexner of New Albany and T. Boone Pickens of Texas.

Though the two men followed different career paths, both said they began with the support of a strong family unit and both became strong philanthropists, giving back to their alma maters -- Wexner to the Ohio State University and Pickens to Oklahoma State University.

Wexner said he was supported by his parents and an aunt, who loaned him $5,000 to start his first Limited Store in Upper Arlington on Aug. 10, 1963.

L Brands now includes stores that sell women's apparel and lingerie and bath and body products. It employs 100,000 people, mostly in the United States and Canada, according to the company's website.

Pickens said his family unit included his parents, a grandmother, an aunt and two cousins. He credits his father with helping him find his way in college, saying his father told him after his first year and a half that he needed a plan.

"He told me any fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan, and your mother and I think we have a fool," Pickens joked.

He said his father encouraged him to go into geology or engineering and finish college in four years. Pickens said he learned he could graduate on time with a geology degree and he had his plan.

After graduation, Pickens founded Mesa Petroleum, which became one of the nation's largest independent oil companies; he later found success in investment funds, said Dennis Welch, the vice chairman of the community foundation board who introduced the speakers.

Wexner said he was encouraged to become a philanthropist by John G. McCoy, his banker.

Wexner said McCoy told him he should consider tithing in time and money, so he thought about what is important to him before he decided to focus on Ohio State, Columbus and his religion.

"How lucky I was that John G. said that to me and how lucky I was to play with that idea (of philanthropy)," Wexner said.

Michael DeAscentis Jr., chairman of the community foundation board, said the Jefferson Series will continue May 20 with author Doris Kearns Goodwin and on June 12 with politician and former astronaut John Glenn.

DeAscentis said the series was named after Thomas Jefferson, who devoted his life to lifelong learning.

New Albany Mayor Nancy Ferguson said the series is off to a good start and it will "be hard to top this program."

"This program got everyone in New Albany excited about having more events like this, bringing in other people with varying expertise that we might not otherwise encounter in our daily lives," Ferguson said. "We're in a small town, yet we have the best and the brightest right down the street from our homes."

New Albany-Plain Local spokesman Patrick Gallaway said Jim Miller of New Albany paid for a private reception with Wexner, Pickens, Ohio State students and 10 New Albany High School students who are members of the National Honor Society.

The donor paid the students' admission to the lecture as well, Gallaway said.

Tickets for the event were priced at $5 for students and $10 to $30 for adults.

The Jefferson lecture series is open to the public. Lectures are held at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts in New Albany.