George Spaulding has seen the demise of the Detroit auto industry. And he's seen the rise of the College of Charleston.
He's optimistic about the future for both.
This week, Spaulding turns 90. Long ago he worked as an executive for some of the world's major car labels -- Buick, Chevrolet, Opel, Pontiac and General Motors. But in recent times, he's been a guest lecturer, advocate and ambassador for the college. Hundreds of students have heard him speak.
School officials said a 90th birthday party Friday is a good time to pay tribute to a someone who's helped raise millions of dollars and brought in a variety of business leaders to the college campus.
"He has a tremendous passion for the basic philosophy of the College of Charleston," said Howard Rudd, a professor at the college's School of Business. "His own purpose is to make this a better place for students to develop, and to more easily transition into the real world."
Born in Flint, Mich., Spaulding entered the car business after World War II, where he served in the Navy in the Atlantic and Pacific. His early business career spanned the golden age of American autos when chrome, paint and fins dominated the U.S. market. Today, Spaulding said, the lines were largely junk.
Most cars went under the "fits and finish" business model, he said, of keeping the assembly line moving no matter what. "All you were judged on was production," he said.
Even with the recent troubles for Detroit, Spaulding sees better times ahead from the Big Three. "I see it being very competitive, probably as competitive as ever," he said. They "are all building better quality to meet the European and Japanese standards."
One of Spaulding's claims to fame is that, as a general sales manager, he set records by selling more than a million Pontiacs in 1979, according to his biography.
After leaving the auto industry, Spaulding retired to Kiawah Island where he struck a friendship with College of Charleston basketball coach John Kresse and his future wife, Sue Sommer. That friendship eventually turned into a nearly three-decade, five president relationship with the college.
Besides teaching, Spaulding has served on the school's Board of Governors and recruited business leaders as part of the George Spaulding Distinguished Speaker Series. Some of the lecturers he's helped bring in include the CEO of Proctor & Gamble, executives from the auto industry and from Avon.
"He's a renaissance man who gets involved wherever he feels there's a need to serve our students and faculty," said Sommer-Kresse, vice president of community relations at the college.
Spaulding's favorite talk is a "Life 101" address he calls "Make Your Own Coffee." It's a catch-all, life-lesson for students who may not have a full grasp of the life hurdles coming their way after graduation. The name stems from the simple lesson that the dollars students waste buying designer coffees every day can better add up to hundreds of dollars saved every year.
"I tell them bottled water is more expensive than oil," he said, pointing to another college-aged group habit that he wants to break. Other lessons include how best to shop for a car, pursue a mortgage or buy a home.
Spaulding, who also finds time to write a 23-years-and-running automotive column for The Post and Courier, said he appreciates all of the time spent with students, most of whom are some seven decades younger than he is. "I've received more from the College of Charleston than I've given," he said.