2010 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumni Award
Alfred “Al” White ’76
When a good cause needs help, Al White ’76 is your man. Al raised more than $150,000 to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He tapped into the power of his fraternity brothers nationwide to organize a series of love-offering Sundays that raised more than $1 million for St. Jude Children’s ResearchHospital. And when local youth mentoring programs in the Winston-Salem area needed a financial boost, he donned an apron and raised $93 selling concessions at WakeForest basketball games.
Al knows who will write a check for $1,000 with very little convincing. Which may be why Camille Roddy ’87 sought his help when BAR needed to add to its coffers. Though he had very little free time, he made some calls and came back to her with $15,000 in corporate contributions.
Al is a man of great ideas — as in, “I have a great idea!” — and family and friends soon find themselves involved. Like the time rain threatened to ruin a joint family vacation weekend in Atlanta with his best friend Tim Hunter’s family. Al and Tim rented a stretch limo for a few hours and asked the kids where they wanted to go. And being kids, they said, “Taco Bell.” The limo made it through the drive-thru, and the vacation was saved.
In school, Al’s friends called him “Bilbo Baggins” after the protagonist in Lord of the Rings who was always going outside his comfort zone on an adventure. He’s creative, innovative and very determined, said his son, Alfred White Jr. “His innovative ideas, you’d be like, no, Al, that won’t work. He doesn’t care. If he comes up with it, he’ll do it.”
That sort of thinking has propelled his career. Al has worked his way up the corporate ladder at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. since 1988. Now the senior manager of compliance within the Supply Chain Management division, Al is renowned for business innovation, financial restructuring and improving efficiency in operations, said his longtime friend and co-worker Alan Caldwell ’78. His innovations have saved the company millions of dollars and led to his receiving RJR’s Golden Eagle Award for Outstanding Performance and its Operations Leadership Award. Because of his efforts with the Small Business Administration to improve small and minority-owned businesses’ participation in government contracts, Al received the Special Congressional Recognition Award. As chair of the Carolinas Minority Supplier Development Council, Al increased minority business opportunities with corporations by 110 percent.
At RJR, Al is responsible for moving millions of dollars of inventory. His commitment to excellence shows, said Rusty Chatham, sales manager for a transportation company that contracts with RJR. “When you meet folks like Al, they stand out,” she said. “It’s just so obvious what they stand for.” Al has impressed her by his dedication, confidence, honor and integrity, she said. He is never afraid to air his opinion, even to his superiors. He is often witty and always very kind.
Al had no aspirations for leadership when he arrived on campus in 1972 from the small town of KingsMountain at the urging of Dean H. Bentley Renwick. But others saw something in Al that he didn’t recognize in himself. He joined the Black Student Movement and served as North Campus representative and on the central committee. He became the first black president of Grimes dorm and was appointed chair of Project Uplift.
As a student, Al joined Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and has stayed involved all these years. He became the youngest regional director when he was appointed at age 34. He is now in his 12th year as the fraternity’s chief financial officer at the national level.
Alfred Jr., also a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, recalls his father taking on the challenge of keeping young members of the fraternity engaged at national meetings. Al Sr. came up with the idea of Quiz Bowl, a contest that pitted chapters against one another, answering questions about the fraternity. He recruited Dell Computer and Best Buy as sponsors to give prizes to the winning team.
Al has a strong connection to young people, and he mentors them the way others mentored him. He remembers how, after he bombed his first accounting exam at UNC, his friends Ben Boykin ’72 and Charlie Caldwell ’72 put in long nights of studying with him and soon had him at the top of the class.
The early ’70s was a tumultuous time on campus, but everyone in Al’s dorm kept their doors open, literally and figuratively. They listened to one another’s music and bonded through the shared experiences of transitioning from kids to adults.
“I meet many different people in my work today, and I understand that they are all people. I learned that early on at Carolina,” Al said. “That culture exchange was one of the greatest things that could have happened to me.”