He was a student at West Virginia University when the Evansdale Campus was nothing more than just Towers and Engineering, when the law school was downtown across from the campus library, when Mountaineer basketball games were played at Stansbury Hall and when there were just about 8,000 students in the entire University.
Now, his office sits right about where the old Mountaineer Field’s press box used to be, and the number of students at WVU has quadrupled in size.
Bill Hutchison graduated from the College of Business and Economics in the Master of Science in Human Resources and Industrial Relations (MSIR) program in 1969 before going into the workforce. He spent 32 years working for Union Carbide Corporation (now known as Dow Chemical Corporation) and worked his way up to the position of corporate director of compensation and benefits.
“I did just about everything in HR that you can do: managing HR within plants; negotiating contracts; establishing joint ventures all over the world including Kuwait, Italy, France and Malaysia; handling the integration when the merger happened,” Hutchison said. “I started here in West Virginia, moved to New Jersey, then over to New York and eventually the headquarters in Danbury, Connecticut.”
Though he had left campus in 1969, he returned back in 1972 for what he thought might be a one-time thing, a four-hour seminar on labor relations. That class turned into an all-day event for Hutchison the next year, and eventually became a three-day course that he would return for each year to teach.
After a fairly early retirement due to the company’s merger, he was approached at his retirement party in June 2001 by then-B&E dean Jay Coats.
“He took my wife and me to dinner and basically asked if I’d ever consider teaching; and I thought about it, how I was too young to sit on the front porch and do nothing, but also, in some ways from a calendar standpoint, I was too old to get a real job – even though I did get offered one,” he said.
The job he referred to was the position of corporate vice president of Coors Brewing Company in Colorado.
“I seriously considered the position with Coors and gave it a great deal of thought,” said Hutchison.
While the financial difference of taking a corporate VP position at a major corporation as compared to a teaching position was “laughable,” as Hutchison called it, the decision came down to what he was passionate about: education, training and development.
“The deal was that we would rent a furnished apartment with the intent of reevaluating our move after one semester of teaching,” Hutchison said. “And that semester has turned into 14 great years here.”
Hutchison admitted to the first semester being a little shaky for him.
“I knew how to train, I did not know how to teach – and there’s a huge difference between those two words,” he said. “Corporate training and teaching in the classroom with an eclectic group of students with different academic backgrounds, as far as coursework, was much more different than I’d originally perceived.”
By the end of the semester, things had smoothed over, and student evaluations he received weren’t bad.
“I assume it’s because I threw the first exam in the wastebasket and started over again with the students,” he said.
Now, 14 years later, Hutchison holds the same passion for the job as he did on the first day.
“To me, working with these young students, helping them get jobs, guiding them to the start of their professional HR career – and getting to bring my former friends and colleagues in the business into the classroom – I’m proud of what our program has done for our graduates,” he said. “We’ve had two years in a row with virtually 100 percent placement, we’ve got phenomenally-high starting salaries, especially compared to that of our competitor schools.
“We’ve got a great blend between theoretical and practical teachings in the classroom, because we know that is what employers want. We work with the advisory council to make sure our curriculum is up to date and reflects what is happening today, because that’s how we keep our placement rate high. The employers don’t adapt to us, we adapt to them in the changing dynamic marketplace. When the world changes, we have to change with the world.”
Hutchison described what he loved about teaching, and why it’s professionally the most satisfying thing he’s done in his lifetime.
“I had a wonderful career and loved most of what I did and the challenges that came with it, but to watch these people come in as first-year students and then see where they are after they’ve completed their required internships, and see them walk across that stage before going to work, it’s just so personally and emotionally satisfying – I don’t know why, but it is.
“I like to think of it as an extension of the career I had before – instead of managing careers, I’m launching them, and it’s the same process – how you take a piece of raw talent, mold it into something that someone is actually willing to pay a lot of money to employ. And to me, that’s a lot of fun, and very rewarding to watch it happen. To think that you somehow catalyzed something big in their lives is phenomenally rewarding.”
Hutchison reflected on how much the program has changed since he graduated in 1969. While he graduated with just one woman in his class, the program’s demographic is now more than 50 percent female. He also said how laser-focused on the job market the B&E faculty is, how much emphasis is put on contemporary technology, and how much input is given from the MSIR alumni advisory council that didn’t exist back then.
“We’re putting out students that have the academic background, to hit the deck running to make a contribution to them – it’s not the employer’s job to do remedial training on our graduates. Even if they’ll do it, if they don’t have to do it as much with a WVU graduate as they do some other comparable school, then our kids are more attractive and we place better.”
While Hutchison works year-round for the job, he is only on campus for six months; in the summer and fall, Hutchison and his wife spend their time in a lake house in Canada, which they started the plans for before ever moving to Morgantown. The couple goes to the lake house the weekend after Memorial Day and stays through the first week of November, but Hutchison says the most beautiful time of year there is September through October after the vacationers have all left.
Teaching is something Hutchison says he thought, just perhaps, in the back of his mind that he would do – but never this early in his life, and for as long as he’s done it thus far. He claims he’ll probably do one more year.
“It’s satisfying, and it’s fun. The side benefit of it is that the students stay the same age and I grow older, but being around these students keeps me mentally young. It’s pretty easy to be old and feel old, and I may be physically old but I don’t feel mentally old. I’m older than the kids, but I think I’m much different from many other 70-year-olds that live in a whole different world than I do. One thing that never gets old is that I look forward to coming back each year.”