01 Sep 2004

Bill Dunaway (MBA 1964)

by Julia Hanna


A self-described SOB — son of the boss — Bill Dunaway grew up working in his father’s pharmacy in Marietta, Georgia, a town of 61,000 outside Atlanta. After expanding the business to a chain of 18 drug stores, Dunaway sold the operation in 1989 and opened the 1848 House, an upscale restaurant located in a Greek Revival plantation home. He now serves as mayor of Marietta, a job he describes as both rewarding and frustrating. His reason for running? “Payback. It’s a trite but true answer. This town has been good to me.”

My father worked his way through the University of Georgia. When I was in high school, he had built up his business to five drug stores. He said, “If I ever failed along the way it would have been OK. I came from nothing. If you fail, you’ve got a long way to fall.” He’s the one who suggested HBS. He wanted me to have an opportunity that he hadn’t.

When I got up to Boston, I was scared to death that everyone would be smarter than me. And they were. On the first day of class we were all anxious to talk and make a good first impression. I held my hand up until it had gangrene. Then Professor Ted Levitt ate me alive. I used some marketing buzzwords, and he got right in my face and made me define them. It was his way of saying, “Don’t bring book knowledge in here. Bring your experience.” That kept me quiet for quite a while! He was a dynamic, dramatic, and damn good professor, very well loved and respected.

No one forgets where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot. I was on the fourth floor of McCulloch, just coming out of class. That night I’d planned a “Retire John Kennedy” party and decorated my hallway with posters, just to throw it back in my Democratic friends’ faces. I was a Republican and one of the few people from the South. After I heard what had happened, I ran up to my room and tore down the signs. As it happens, I had voted for Kennedy. It was a tragic, terrible thing.

I thought I would stay in the retail drug business for the rest of my life. My advice to new MBAs is to keep your options open. It’s never too late to change. I opened a fine dining restaurant at 53 and became a mayor at 62. HBS didn’t give me the confidence that I would never fail — but it did give me the confidence that I could get back up if I did. — JH

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1964, Section B

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