The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga posthumously inducted business legends O. Wayne Rollins and Olan Mills Sr. into the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame Thursday night.
The companies and products the men built now are household names.
Gary W. Rollins and Olan Mills Jr. accepted the honors on behalf of their fathers during the ceremony, each sharing insight into what made the successful men tick.
“Their stories and their achievements are remarkable, and I offer my congratulations to their families,” said UTC Chancellor Steven R. Angle. “It’s so important to take time to honor contributions to the spirit that makes this place special.
“The Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame is a very public way for us to recognize the proud entrepreneurial spirit that builds our country and to inspire our students as the next generation.”
Wayne Rollins 1912–1991
Wayne Rollins built a radio and TV empire from scratch and used it to finance the purchase of the Orkin extermination company in 1964 in what was the first leveraged buy-out in the United States.
His pioneering move remains a case study in business schools around the world. Rollins went on to grow Orkin into the world’s largest pest control company, eventually spinning his business into publicly traded companies, Rollins, Inc. and RPC Energy Services, Inc., which now are valued at a combined $2 billion.
“He’s the epitome of the American dream,” said Robert Dooley, dean of the Gary W. Rollins College of Business. “His story illustrates the power of entrepreneurship, one that’s transformed individuals, industries and communities.”
Rollins spent his early years working on the family farm in Ringgold, Georgia. After graduating as class valedictorian from Ringgold High School in 1930, he got his first job at Standard Coosa Thatcher textile mill in Chattanooga for $10 a week during the Great Depression.
In 1948, Rollins formed a partnership with his younger brother, John, and bought their first radio station, WRAD-AM, in Radford, Virginia. Their business grew into television and eventually into Rollins Broadcasting. That success led to the company buying Orkin, which Business Week compared to “Jonah swallowing the whale.”
“Dad was a devoted husband, a good father, a Christian, and he gave back to countless others in many ways,” Gary W. Rollins, a 1967 graduate of UTC, said at the Hall of Fame dinner.
“It may sound corny, but he really believed in The Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Rollins said.
“He didn’t believe there was any such thing as a self-made man. He recognized that he didn’t have to have all the ideas and all the answers.”
Olan Mills Sr. 1904-1978
Olan Mills Sr. pioneered the American portrait photography business, taking it from a door-to-door operation in the 1930s to an international juggernaut headquartered in Chattanooga.
In the late 1920s, Mills began a photo restoration business with his wife Mary Stephenson, an artist. In 1932, the couple moved the family to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where students at the University of Alabama became their primary customer base.
By 1935, the Mills had settled on a look that would become associated with photographs produced by Olan Mills Studios. A hand-signed logo on each picture helped build the Olan Mills brand.
Throughout the company’s history, Mills embraced innovations, including telemarketing and the introduction of the “club plan,” which allowed customers to pay one fee for multiple sittings and kept a steady flow of customers coming into the studio.
Mills retired from the company in 1969, as he always said he would, at the age of 65. A second generation of the Mills family, brothers Olan Mills Jr. and Charles George Mills, stepped in to lead the company.
“He had exceptional energy and drive, listened to the ideas of others and got to see his vision unfold,” Olan Mills Jr. told Hall of Fame attendees in the ballroom where his father held the company’s conference in 1946.
“This is a poignant experience for me, especially living in Chattanooga for so long,” he said. “We are honored as a family and know that he would be honored by everything and everyone here tonight.”