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McMillan, Pilnik wow students this month in B&E Distinguished Speaker Series

Robert McMillan

The Fall 2014 edition of the B&E Distinguished Speaker Series featured two dynamic speakers during the month of October.

Robert McMillan, President of the Jefferson Distributing Company in Martinsburg, West Virginia, spoke at the Erickson Alumni Center on October 7. A member of the WVU Foundation Board of Directors, McMillan has been conducting business in the Mountain State for more than 37 years. He shared his vast experience and stressed the importance of pursuing one’s true passions.

McMillan was given the opportunity to work at several well-established corporations, but he was more interested in reaching his own goals. He shared with students the many challenges he overcame before owning his own company.

His life experiences included college, the U.S. Navy, and working as a mortgage banker, for Mobil Oil Corporation and a Charleston-based insurance business. While he considered himself fortunate, he wasn’t happy. And he stressed that success is meaningless without happiness.

“I found out I don’t like working for the government, and I don’t like big corporations either,” McMillan said. “I had written a paper on liquor, beer and wine in business school. My lawyer’s buddy was involved in that (industry) so we got together.” He spoke with him about the possibility of buying his business.

“I was turned down flat by that man,” he said.

But he was persistent. After much work and three attempts McMillan got the business.

“Don’t lose sight of want you want… It takes guts to decide that you’re not happy where you are. It’s easy to be complacent,” he said.


On October 23, Richard Pilnik, former president of Global Commercial Solutions of Quintiles Transnational Corp., spoke to students. A pharmaceutical executive with 30-plus years of experience, Pilnik encouraged students to leave their comfort zones. The lecture, titled “From Chili Dogs to Light Switches,” was presented at the Erickson Alumni Center.

Pilnik, a native of Sao Paulo Brazil, explained that when he first came to America for college, his host family took him to get a bite to eat. They wanted to get him something particularly American. What’s more American than a chilidog?

But can you imagine what a chilidog must have looked like to someone who had never seen one before? Although he wasn’t so sure about it, he gave it a try. Then, when he got to his dorm, the light switch fascinated him. In his hometown, power outages were frequent and the norm.

The point he was trying to make was that what is common in one place certainly may not be common in another. The challenge when conducting global business is understanding that concept, as well as understanding that something that is beneficial in one place may not be good for another.

“We need to see the difference between what is good for here, and what is good for there. We are operating in a patchwork quilt, though we are moving toward global standards,” Pilnik said.

He told students that ‘light switch’ moments are waiting for them somewhere in the world. He suggested that they figuratively pack a bag for the journey.

“Please pack your inspiration. This isn’t a case study; it’s your life. Pack a lifetime supply of respect. You can and will change the world. Don’t lose sight of those who have mentored you to get there,” he said. “And finally, (pack) your sense of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously. This will help keep you grounded.”