For Significant Sig and Order of Constantine Sig Bill George, GEORGIA TECH 1964, the road to leading companies like Medtronic in executive leadership positions and authoring bestselling books on authentic leadership and finding your true north began in the early 1960s at the Fraternity’s Georgia Tech chapter house in Atlanta. He counts his experience serving the chapter as its Magister as a transformational time where he learned important lessons about life and leadership that have influenced his career.
George, who won Sigma Chi’s 1964 International Balfour Award as the Fraternity’s most outstanding graduate that year, sat down during the 83rd Grand Chapter in Scottsdale, Arizona, with 2019 International Balfour Award winner Andrew McMahon, BIRMINGHAM-SOUTHERN 2019, and 2020 International Balfour Award winner Sam Romes, LOUISVILLE 2020, to talk about Sigma Chi’s impact on his career and to get his thoughts on the younger generation of leaders.
The chapter had a huge impact on my life and on my Georgia Tech experience. I felt like I was coming home. It felt like ‘Wow, this is where I should be.’ It was so fabulous being in a big school, but with a group of people. And everyone was just great, accepting you for who you were and it really made me feel good. It really kicked off my whole time at Georgia Tech. We actually pledged before we started school and I was initiated in the winter of 1961. Then, a very important thing happened to me. I got a call from my brothers to go to workshop … and that [experience of attending] was an eye-opener for me. I was in the underclass group and my discussion leader was [48th Grand Consul] Chuck Thatcher, [MICHIGAN 1943,] who was then a professor at Michigan. Chuck taught me something that I never forgot: People support what they help create. It took me a long time to learn that. I thought ‘Hey, I’ve got these great ideas. I’ve got to sell everyone on my ideas.’ And that’s the one reason everyone was taking to them. Being Magister was one of the great experiences. It kind of shaped everything I’ve done since then because everything I do now is try to help other people realize their full potential and become great leaders. … That’s my whole purpose, my whole mission. So, it really came out of that early experience. I really learned it in the Beta Psi chapter. That’s why I’m still dedicated to that chapter and go back there all the time and am involved with the chapter.
Because Sigma Chis values are so clear and the purpose and mission is clear, people can translate that into their leadership. So, I think it’s really great training for people. You guys have experienced that and I think it’s these really important opportunities [that Sigma Chi involvement presents] to grow as a human being.
Sigma Chi was very valuable to me for the relationships. Having close, intimate relationships with a group of brothers and other Sigs I met along the way. The important thing is that you have this bond between the alumni and the brothers. I think that’s so important, and so I feel that is my obligation and desire to give back to the Fraternity.
To me, leadership is character and Sigma Chi is really a character-building organization. It takes young men and helps develop them throughout their lifetime if they stay engaged, which I hope they do and will. Why would you live if you have no purpose in your life? What are you living for? Just to eat, drink and be merry? I think we’re placed on earth and are given gifts … and your job is to use those gifts to help other people. If you don’t, that to me is a great sin. I think it’s our job to use those. The principles in Sigma Chi are not dissimilar to what I have in True North. In fact, they’re very parallel. I think these learnings early on where extremely helpful to me and carried through my life. I don’t want to retire. I may have retired from Medtronic, but I haven’t retired from life so I want to keep going. That’s why I’m trying to spend time mentoring a lot of young people. Some of them aren’t so young. Some of them are in their fifties and are CEOs, but they’re doing really well. … I’m very excited to see that the leadership is really changing. Younger generations of leaders have far better leaders than we ever had in my generation. They’re really concerned about [questions like] How are we impacting society? Are we improving health? Are we overcoming racism? Are we providing opportunities for everyone to have a good life and a good financial life? I think that leadership is far better today than it ever was, so I am very excited about that.
From left, International Balfour Award winners Sam Romes, LOUISVILLE 2020, and Andrew McMahon, BIRMINGHAM-SOUTHERN 2019, talk with Significant Sig and Order of Constantine Sig Bill George, GEORGIA TECH 1964, during the 83rd Grand Chapter in Scottsdale, Arizona, in June 2021. Photo illustration by David Jones, DEPAUW 2019.