Riley’s love of business benefits Brenau

Gary and Georgine Riley. Gary Riley recently retired from Brenau’s Board of Trustees after 15 years of service. (Photos by AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

After a successful corporate career that took Gary Riley around the globe and landed him as divisional president of a major multinational corporation, he and his wife, Georgine, decided to retire in Hall County, Georgia.

Fortunately for Brenau University, retirement did not mean abandoning his love for all things business.

The quintessential Michigander replete as an avid University of Michigan fan, Riley holds up his hand to show where his hometown, Caro, is located in the “thumb” section of the state. He learned early the ropes of business at his childhood kitchen table as his mother owned many restaurants over the years. Sporting a population of just over 4,000, Riley says Caro was a great place to grow up, but he knew there was a world of opportunity awaiting him beyond its city limits.

And what a world it was. He and Georgine met in Ann Arbor and recently celebrated 52 years of marriage. “Convincing Georgine to marry me counts as the biggest accomplishment of my life,” Riley says.

Through hard work and a curious mind, he earned his pilot’s license at 18 and became president of a major Canadian pharmaceutical company by age 33.

Riley first encountered the Gainesville area about 40 years ago in his early career-building days. He traveled throughout Canada and the U.S. as a vice president of Rubbermaid, which had a manufacturing plant in Gainesville. Though he chalked up untold miles and lived in a number of locales around North America over his career, his brother having earlier moved to the area, the people, the weather and the culture of Gainesville made a lasting impression on him.

In addition to the warmer weather, when the Rileys moved to the area in 1998 they also appreciated the vibrant community offerings, especially through Brenau University.

“We love plays and the arts, and Brenau certainly fills the bill on both of these,” he says.

Along the way, the Rileys met then-Brenau President Jack Burd, and they were struck by his consistent positivity about the university.

Burd invited Riley to join Brenau’s Board of Trustees in 2004. Riley recalls how he was “honored and flattered to join this incredible group of people, but I had zero experience with the academic world, and I had never had a connection with a private university. But at some level Brenau is a business, and I do love business.”

In the typical business fashion of due diligence, Riley set out to learn how universities operate, why some succeed and others fail.

“While learning about the business of private universities in general and the business of Brenau University in particular, one of my first takeaways was how Jack Burd in his early days as president literally saved Brenau,” Riley says. “Brenau was in dire financial straits when Dr. Burd became president, but through his prudent management approach, he stabilized the institution as he cut expenses and strengthened the academic programs through strategically closing some while initiating others.”

Riley says that President Emeritus Ed Schrader was a great choice to follow Burd.

“Ed brought a lot of new ideas to the university and he modernized the university as a business and academic endeavor,” Riley says “Ed built on the great foundation that Jack provided.”

Gary Riley and his wife, Georgine.The ideal trustee

As chair of the board’s finance and investment committee and a member of the executive committee beginning in 2007, Riley’s skills as a businessman were instrumental during the recession that began in 2008. He spent countless hours on campus working with other trustees and university administrators to revamp Brenau’s financial path that continues to serve the university well.

“Part of the strength of Brenau University is its wonderful combination of gifted trustees and administrators who only want what is best for the university,” Riley says. “Many of these people have deep roots in the community, while others of us are relative newcomers or who serve on the board from well beyond Hall County. What we all bring is our unique skills that in total serve the university in powerful ways.”

Riley retired from the board this spring after 15 years of service. Pete Miller, longtime board chair, says Riley earned the board’s highest honor of trustee emeritus.

“While learning about the business of private universities in general and the business of Brenau University in particular, one of my first takeaways was how Jack Burd in his early days as president literally saved Brenau.”

Gary Riley, Brenau trustee emeritus

“Brenau University has no better friends than Gary and Georgine,” Miller says. “Gary is the ideal profile of what a trustee should be. During his leadership tenure, he provided exemplary guidance, wisdom and oversight to the university’s growth, stability, financial position and endowment portfolio, working closely with management and the board to ensure the university’s goals and objectives were attained. He and Georgine have provided financial support in many ways, and they have led by example. Their positive impact on Brenau students and financial affairs will be perpetuated for generations to come.”

Ever the Brenau cheerleader, Riley encourages others to invest their time and resources in Brenau.

“The future of Brenau is really just beginning,” he says. “While Jack turned the corner financially for Brenau, Ed launched it. Now, under the leadership of Anne Skleder and with the backing of a strong board, Brenau has a future of unlimited potential.”

You must be logged in to post a comment.