|Evans built foundation for success in Kentucky
The following story appeared in this month's issue of Kentucky Monthly and was re-printed
RELEASED: April 18, 2002
DANVILLE, KY-Lessons learned while growing up in Kentucky molded James H. Evans into a dynamic and influential leader in national corporate and civic circles.
As a Louisville Male High School student in the 1930s, he had a paper route with The Courier-Journal. After graduating in 1939, he received a scholarship that enabled him to attend Centre College.
"At college, I learned three things that were essential and have stuck with me to this day," said Evans, who retired as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Union Pacific Corp. in 1985. "First, I learned to be a member of an intimate community. Centre was small and personal and I found out quickly that there's no place to hide. I also quickly understood that I was accountable to others professors, classmates, teammates.
"Second, everyone expected our best effort in all that we did, and I felt a deep obligation not to let them down. Knowing your professors, coaches, and mentors personally makes all the difference.
"And third, I learned the power of a true liberal education. Attending a liberal arts college provided a broad sampling of courses that didn't just train me and my classmates to perform specific tasks. Rather, it introduced us to the major fields of knowledge and compelled us to think independently."
Those lessons gave Evans spectacular successes.
During a long and varied career in New York and Chicago before joining Union Pacific, he held top jobs at Reuben H. Donnelley Corp., Dun & Bradstreet Inc., and the Seamen's bank for Savings. He began his career as an attorney and loan officer with Harris Trust & Savings Bank in Chicago following his service in World War II as a Navy lieutenant and commanding officer of a sub chaser.
"I was educated at a time of uncertainty, coming out of the Great Depression and World War II," said Evans, the son of a Baptist minister.
"And while many of my peers graduated from college and entered on a career that lasted until their retirement, I had an experience much like today's generation I was given the opportunity to try a range of careers, and fortunately I was able to derive true job satisfaction along the way."
Following his service in the Navy, Evans went on to earn a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1948.
The splendid grounding I received at Centre, particularly the ability to speak and write fluently, made law school studies relatively easy," said Evans, who serves on the governing boards for both schools.
Evans, who lives with his wife, Mary, in New York City and East Hampton, N.Y., also has served on the boards of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, American Red Cross, White House Preservation Fund, Central Park Conservancy in New York, and National Recreation and Park Association.
He is also a former director of AT&T, Bristol-Myers Co., Citicorp/ Citibank, General Motors Corp., and Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.
In a commencement address at Centre in 1979, Evans said the most important quality in a business leader is enthusiasm.
"By enthusiasm I mean enthusiasm about everything your country, your church, your friends, your family, your career, the books you read, the games and sports you play.
"As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it about his youth and childhood: 'It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing and we were permitted to scorn nothing but indifference.' This advice holds true today: never be indifferent always be deeply involved and enthusiastic," he said.
Evans himself continues to be excited about life.
"The lessons learned as a young man sustain me in an active, rewarding retirement and enable me to regard the future with enthusiasm," he said.
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