Diverse experiences preceded Dick McGinity’s role as acting UW president

Bill Daniels Chair of Business Ethics Dick McGinity stands in the University of Wyoming president’s office Friday afternoon. McGinity took on the role of acting UW president last week following the resignation of UW President Bob Sternberg. JEREMY MARTIN/Boomerang photographer

Acting University of Wyoming President Dick McGinity sits in a large, drafty office that was once occupied by Bob Sternberg, who resigned last week after taking office in July.

Dressed in a brown suit, matching cowboy boots and a tie with a UW cowboy logo pattern, he speaks with a latent Boston accent.

McGinity worked a broad range of jobs throughout his career, going from the military to the private sector, then to higher education. Because of his experiences, McGinity is one of a fortunate few who actually became exactly what he wanted to be growing up — a pilot and a cowboy.

“(It was) Probably because of my father, and then my brother before me was a Navy pilot also,” he said. “Back in the ’50s growing up, Gunsmoke was on TV But I never had any expectation that I would.”

McGinity was born in 1944 in Pratt, Kan., where his father was stationed as a member of the United States Army Air Corps. A Vietnam veteran, he lived for many years in New Jersey and Boston.

McGinity said one of the things he is most proud of is attending Princeton University on a Navy ROTC scholarship and later financing a masters and Ph.D. at Harvard with the G.I. Bill and money he saved in Vietnam.

His shaved head maintains his naval officer presence and he has worn the style for more than 40 years. McGinity said he was already balding when he went to get his haircut at the base barbershop in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.

“I think I was the barber’s first case,” he said. “So he is clipping away and clipping away. He turns me around in the chair to look in the mirror and it looked just awful. It looked like I had the mange. … I just thought, if you don’t have any on top, just get rid of it all. It’s much easier to take care of.”

McGinity attended flight school with nine people and flew patrol missions around Cam Ranh Bay from 1968-71. He spoke this week at the Laramie Rotary Club luncheon, telling Rotarians he was lucky to be alive.

“Everybody in Vietnam had close calls,” he said. “So we went through and I and one other of the ten did not crash or get shot down at least once. The other eight all did, and two didn’t make it. In fact, my college roommate didn’t even get out of flight school. I just consider myself very, very lucky.”

McGinity returned stateside, completing an MBA and DBA at Harvard before embarking on a career in venture capital and private equity. In 2001, he went to work for Canada Southern Petroleum Ltd., a small publicly traded company that explores and productizes oil and natural gas resources in Canada.

McGinity said he came on board when the company was involved in what at the time was the “longest commercial litigation in the history of Canada.” After settling the lawsuit involving Shell Oil, Devon Energy and British Petroleum, the company became attractive again. In 2006, Petro-Canada attempted to buy CSPL, offering less than half of CSPL’s value.

“Basically they launched a hostile takeover on the basis of what was essentially insider information,” he said. “And I was really, really angry. I just wasn’t going to let it go.”

McGinity admits he didn’t sleep much during the takeover attempt, but was able to eventually help save the company.

“It really was an exciting, very, very stressful period of time,” he said.

In 1988, McGinity visited Wyoming for the first time “and just fell in love with place.” He admits being skeptical about fulfilling his second childhood dream.

“I thought it would be fun,” he said. “But I thought ‘I’m now way too old and sophisticated and cool for any of that cowboy stuff.’”

On that first visit, McGinity said he met a ranch manager named Ken Neal, who now lives in Dubois. The men became friends.

“He was one of those Wyoming types,” he said. “He just kind of treated you as though, ‘you can do this.’ And he was a great teacher.” 

McGinity moved to Wyoming in 1999, settling in Crowheart. He served as head of the Wyoming Business Council for seven years. In 2007, he became an adjunct professor teaching business ethics at UW. He said he chose to leave the private sector for higher education because of the “challenge.”

“When I was in business school, there were no courses on business ethics or corporate governance or that sort of thing,” he said. “So I thought (serving as the Bill Daniels Chair of Business Ethics) might be an interesting thing to try for a little while.”

This fall, Sternberg tapped McGinity to serve as interim vice president of academic affairs. Per university policy, he took over presidential duties following Sternberg’s resignation. McGinity told the Rotarians this week that “the ball is in the (Board of) Trustees’ court” and he will serve as president for as long as he is needed.

“It’s been a really interesting life,” he said. “And it keeps getting more interesting.

‘I’ve been free to do the kind of work I wanted to do, and for the most part, it’s worked when I’ve tried it,” he added.

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