Michigan State University College of Business alumnus Drayton McLane Jr. learned at a young age what a Spartan education means—in fact that’s what drew him to the college’s master’s degree programs in the first place.
After hearing the dean of the MBA program, along with three students, speak at a conference in New Orleans in 1958, McLane told his father he wanted what they had —that confidence, that communication skill, that knowledge.
“The dean had the ability to communicate, to tell you how you would be able to relate this college experience to the real world,” McLane said. “It was clear, and it challenged me.”
So, as a junior at Baylor University the self-described shy underclassman reached out to the dean of the then College of Business at Michigan State and told him he was interested in admission to the program.
What he found was that he had to work hard just to get in the door. He was told he would need perfect grades in his last two semesters at Baylor to be eligible for the program.
“I had never gotten straight As in my life,” McLane said.
But he believes that challenge may have been the first step of his maturity and drive to do things greater than he had expected before. Up to that point, he really wasn’t thinking about the future, he explained, he was just experiencing college life and doing some learning along the way.
But that would soon change.
At the age of 20, McLane stepped on the Michigan State campus and began his master’s degree studies in business. The work wasn’t over yet.
“I was immature,” he said. “I remember a professor telling me that I had to start participating and doing graduate level work, or he would ask the dean to take me out of his classes. So, I began working harder.”
The preparation took him through graduate school and into the business world, he said, where he took his family business, McLane Co., to a higher level and eventually sold to Wal-Mart. From there, he began the McLane Group, a holding company with a diverse industry focus, including technology and logistics, as well as his most notable purchase of the Houston Astros, which he sold in 2011.
“One of the things that I learned from Michigan State is how to work with others,” McLane explained. “You can’t get anything done if you don’t work together, even when it is getting others to see your point.”
He also stresses honesty and integrity in business—those two things you cannot get back. Even if one of your endeavors blows up, you can start over if you’ve kept your integrity and worked honestly, he explained.
That’s the beauty of business and the world, he said, you learn from your mistakes. “Just don’t bet the farm on one idea,” he warned.
When giving advice to students at the Michigan State University Broad College of Business during a late February visit, he told them to take chances and challenge themselves to do things that may make them nervous.
“One of the most important things is the ability to communicate and express your thoughts and ideas to other people,” he told a group of undergraduates at the Broad College’s Residential Business Program. “Ask questions so you can learn what others know.”
And, he added, “Be interesting. Do a variety of things.”