As a member and past chairman of the University of Mobile Board of Trustees, Fred Wilson has had an insider’s view of the university’s challenges and successes for the past 11 years.
What he has seen brings tears to his eyes.
“For a Christian, your fundamental desire is to see God. We may not see Him physically as a person, but you can absolutely see Him work. And I’ve seen that so many times” at University of Mobile, Wilson said. “It’s so incredible. When you see and you know, absolutely without a shadow of a doubt, that you see God’s hand move – it’s overwhelming. I get emotional just thinking about it.”
Wilson has just completed his second term as chairman of the board of trustees. He joined the board after being part of an informal group of business leaders that met periodically with then-President Mark Foley.
He served on various committees, and was chairman from 2012 to 2014. When Foley told trustees he was planning to step down, the board’s Executive Committee asked Wilson to serve as board chairman during the search for a new president and the transition of administrations. Wilson also served as a member of the Presidential Search Committee that was led by previous board chairman Terry Harbin.
‘Christ is the Answer’
The native of Grove Hill, AL, earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration in 1974 and began his career in the production planning department at Vanity Fair Inc. in Monroeville, AL, later moving into the human resources division and serving as personnel manager. In 1980, Wilson saw an opportunity to go into business with his brother-in-law in Mobile. Another partner joined the company, and each of the owners handled the strategic area of the hard lumber and pallet business that best suited their talents.
Wilson’s easy manner and friendly personality served him well as he handled sales and export marketing, and P.J. Lumber Co. of Mobile grew internationally. He traveled extensively around the world, through Europe, the UK, Spain, Scandinavia and north Africa and, as markets shifted to the Far East, to Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia.
Now, Wilson is semi-retired and focuses on his family, a farm in Grove Hill, and University of Mobile. One truth drives all he does.
“I’ve been a lot of places, and I’ve seen a lot of the world. And I know that Christ is the answer. No matter where you are, what you’re doing, what the problem is – Christ is the answer,” Wilson said.
A Different Spirit
That biblical worldview is integrated throughout the university and is at the heart of the University of Mobile Board of Trustees, he said.
The university has a 17-member board of trustees who are Southern Baptist business and community leaders from Alabama that serve at the appointment of the Alabama State Baptist Convention and in collaboration with the president of the university and the university’s board. Members serve in strategic roles on the Executive Committee as well as various subcommittees that serve to guide the university in fulfilling its mission.
Each member can serve up to 12 years by fulfilling three consecutive four-year terms. A member must remain off the board for one year following the completion of a 12=year appointment prior to being considered for a reappointment by the Alabama Baptist State Convention.
Wilson said the board acts to support the vision of the university through prayer, financial support, time and service, and advice.
“One of the great blessings of being on the board is being able to associate with all the other trustees who are very humble, dedicated Christian men and women,” he said. That spirit makes the UM board of trustees different from other boards where he has served.
“In other boards, there’s almost always some personal agenda or small group agenda that is trying to guide things for personal benefit. Here, I’ve never seen that. There’s never been any politics. There’s never been any personal agenda outside of expanding the kingdom of God. Every person that has come through in 11 years, without exception, has been motivated by whatever is the best interest of the university,” he said.
‘God Did This’
Wilson said one of the most incredible experiences of his life occurred during the presidential search and his second tenure as board chairman. It started when Foley “called the shot” and said it was time for a leadership change.
“That’s a tough thing for an executive to do,” Wilson said. “In every career, everyone comes to that point, if you’re really committed to the best interest of the institution, that you know it’s in the best interest of the institution for someone else to come in. Usually, it’s for personal reasons, but here, it’s a God-led thing, which is different. It’s being sensitive to the leadership of Christ that motivates a lot of the action that goes on here” at University of Mobile.
A key to the smooth search process was the national search firm, JobfitMatters, that used surveys and meetings with UM constituents to develop a clear picture of what University of Mobile was about, and filtered the information from 38 candidates through their process.
The search committee was comprised of 10 people of varied backgrounds and experiences who were united in their desire to listen to God’s direction.
“We were 100 percent confident that God had it worked out,” he said. “Our fervent prayer was, ‘Please keep us out of this decision. Please don’t let us miss what You want for this university. Please don’t let us get our personal thoughts and ideas involved with it. Make it clear. And please make us listen. We have full confidence that You’re going to tell us. Don’t let us miss it.’”
The search committee interviewed six candidates, and Dr. Timothy Smith was the unanimous choice.
“It was clear. You just knew that’s who God had sent here,” Wilson said. Smith had what Wilson considered one of Foley’s strongest attributes: an unwavering Christian commitment.
“What God sent us, in His infinite wisdom and love for this place, (was) a man…with a love for Christ and an absolute commitment to leading this university the way God wanted it to go, and to reaffirm the biblical foundation for what we do here.
“So we got the same heart (as Foley exhibited), surrounded by a different set of experiences and skills. Only God could prepare somebody like that. I have no doubt that God did this,” he said.
God Always Provides
Wilson said he looks at the tangible needs of the university and sees God at work when there are buildings that need to be constructed, repairs that must be made, and upgrades that should happen.
“God always provides, and the needs are always filled. That’s the way He works,” Wilson said.
“We are to go forward in faith and full confidence in Him, because this is His university; it’s His institution, and as long as we keep that focus, there is no question about His faithfulness. It’s ours that gets shaky sometimes, but there’s no question about God’s faithfulness.
“And He’s proven it over and over again, through the years here. Whether it be a staff position that needs filling, a new president that needs to come in, some impact the university has made in the community or somewhere in the world – God orchestrates all that. And the board of trustees gets to see, from the inside, God doing all that.”
As Wilson serves the last year of his three consecutive terms on the board, he sees the potential for unlimited growth. The academic enhancements and repositioning of areas of the university are the seeds of a future that will be “incredibly exciting.”
UM, he said, is truly a unique place. It starts with the biblical foundation, the unique educational process, dedicated people, and a board that is the university’s “biggest cheerleader.”
“I will always be a fan and supporter of University of Mobile. It’s going to be exciting to see how the university gets from where it is today to where it’s going to be in five years. Because we will see God’s hand at work,” Wilson said. umobile