Alumnus accounts for Mississippi State success with gift

Susan and Mike McIlwain (center) with their children. From left are Allie, Joe Watt, Kathryn, Amelia and Grace, seated next to her father.

A lifelong connection to the state of Mississippi’s largest university and one of its best-known towns remains strong for Mike McIlwain.

Born to Starkville natives, he grew up with a great affection for the town and Mississippi State University. Now, a new gift from McIlwain and his wife, Susan, will cement his family’s Bulldog legacy as it furthers an earlier endowed scholarship and creates an excellence fund, both in the Richard C. Adkerson School of Accountancy. The investment affords the Kildeer, Illinois, couple a greater impact on the school that already boasts 100 percent placement of its graduates.

“I want to further my university’s growing reputation for having an exceptional accounting school with emerging national potential,” McIlwain said.

“Professor Shawn Mauldin’s strategic plan as director is what I support, and I am behind his innovative vision for the school by providing financial resources for its pursuits.”

The McIlwains initially established the Joseph Watt McIlwain Scholarship in memory of Mike’s dad, who died in 1989. The first in his family of seven siblings to attend college, Joe Watt McIlwain proudly graduated from Mississippi State in 1962 and 1972 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial arts education. He was a successful teacher and athletic director at Pahokee High School in Florida, where he and his wife, fellow Starkville-native Bess McIlwain Stacy, raised Mike and his two brothers.

“In following in my dad’s footsteps by attending MSU, I got the basis for my career and I hope to provide that same great foundation for others through the scholarship,” said McIlwain, a 1987 accounting graduate. “Furthermore, as the proud parents of five children, Susan and I find ourselves passionate about helping educate the youth of our nation.”

“I want to further my university’s growing reputation for having an exceptional accounting school with emerging national potential,” McIlwain said.

At Mississippi State, the Joseph Watt McIlwain Scholarship benefits full-time students enrolled in the Adkerson School of Accountancy who are minoring in entrepreneurship in the College of Business. The first recipients of the scholarship, Ann Marie Ory of Destrehan, Louisiana, and Amanda Garnier of Navarre, Florida, both received $1,000 each toward their academic pursuits. With the endowment, more McIlwain scholars will follow in the coming years.

Along with Mike’s dad, his mother Bess and her late father Robert Henry “Goober” Sikes instilled a love in him for all things Bulldog. However, it was his great uncle, Starkville resident Bill V.J. Robinson, who made a truly lasting impact on his academic pursuits.

“Uncle V.J. owned the Western Auto store for decades. I looked up to him and his success as a local businessman,” McIlwain said. “Although he is now retired, V.J. traveled everywhere as a Bulldog supporter and that unwavering commitment really inspires me to give back from wherever I live.”

Along with his MSU accounting degree, McIlwain earned a master’s degree in taxation from the University of Alabama, using both degrees as an accountant with KPMG and Arthur Andersen before becoming chief financial officer of Motor Coach Industries. He joined PSAV, a company known internationally for setting the standard for event technology services within the hotel, resort and conference center industry, in 2009. Since 2011, he has been president and CEO.

McIlwain’s nearly three-decade career has been recognized by Mississippi State. He was named one of the College of Business’ top 100 alumni for its centennial anniversary. He also served as a distinguished speaker for a well-known lecture series that began in 1984 and continues to bring many inspirational leaders to campus.

“It floored me to make the top 100 business alumni list, and I had a great deal of pride as I read over the names of many accomplished graduates who were included,” McIlwain said. “My earlier selection as a featured speaker for the Seal series held special meaning because the noteworthy lectureship began when I was enrolled as a student at State.”

For McIlwain, becoming a Bulldog was inevitable because of passionate family ties, and he works hard to remain an ambassador for the university.
“Although none of my five children has selected MSU for their education, yet, I strongly promote my alma mater to the two who remain at home,” he said. “It was always cool to be a Bulldog fan growing up in Florida, and it’s still cool for our family to be Bulldogs living in Illinois."

By Amy Cagle