By Amanda Childers
Photography by Craig Mahaffey ’98 and Ashley Jones

Billy and Ann Powers make a transformational $60 million gift to the College of Business

It has been said that if you walk down the street in Florence, South Carolina, and ask if anyone has been personally helped through the generous acts of Ann and Billy Powers, about half the people in town would raise their hand.

Behind each of those hands is a story — a story of a failing business that suddenly finds an angel investor. A story of a family struggling with medical costs that are mysteriously and magically paid in full. A church budget that, with one phone call, meets and exceeds its shortfall. Little miracles like these have been happening in the Florence community for decades. That’s a lot of generosity, over many years. For a lot of people, a lot of families. And many more would raise their hands, except that they never knew the source of that generosity.

All this from a man whose family didn’t have indoor plumbing until he was in the sixth grade. From a couple who lives quietly, who still works hard every day and gets the most pleasure out of life by helping others.

This year, Billy and Ann Powers took that amazing spirit of generosity even further when they chose to make a transformational gift to the College of Business at Clemson. On October 16, Clemson celebrated the largest gift in the history of the University — $60 million — and the naming of the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business. Their gift is among the largest to an institution of higher education in South Carolina and will enhance the educational experience of the students who walk through its doors for years to come.

Clockwise from left: Billy Powers’ yearbook photo from Clemson; Powers at one of Powers Construction projects in progress; Billy and Ann Powers with Penny and Mark Burns, Chandler and Lydia Burns, and Jordan and Chelsea Burns; former president Jim Barker with Billy Powers after Powers received an honorary degree from Clemson.

The Power of a Defining Moment

The story of Billy Powers can be wrapped up in the few things that mean the most to him — faith, family, working hard and helping others. It began with farm life. As a young boy, his days began with 3:30 a.m. wake-up calls and chores before school in Timmonsville, South Carolina. Study hard, then more chores after school. His values were first shaped in those early years on the farm.

Billy, his sister and their parents, Fred and Katherine Powers, embraced the lifestyle of the Southern farm family. The work was hard, and everyone contributed. The life lessons of teamwork and doing the right thing were ever-present. Billy remembers, “It was a good life. We worked hard, and we learned a lot. We had a country store and sold about everything. We had a grist mill and built buildings. During my years on the farm, I enjoyed an absolutely wonderful life.”

But everything changed on the night their family home was destroyed by fire. Fortunately, everyone survived, but the Powers family lost all their material possessions. That’s when neighbors stepped in, providing the family with a place to live and everything they needed to rebuild their home and their lives.

That tragedy was a defining moment for Billy Powers. “You always helped your neighbors,” he recalls. “You’d work for your neighbor for nothing, and they would do the same for you. It was a whole lot different than it is today.”

But people who know them well will tell you that for Billy and Ann, it’s really not that different at all. During their long marriage, they have been quietly helping people in need, both lifelong friends and total strangers alike. During his early life, Billy Powers was on the receiving end. Because of the open heartedness of his community after the fire, he learned firsthand the power of giving back and how generosity can lift up a family in crisis, giving them a second chance. Offering hope.

After graduating from high school in 1953, Billy headed to Clemson College to study civil engineering. He joined the Air Force ROTC with dreams of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, his years at Clemson were cut short. In 1956, he returned home to help on the family farm when his father became ill. About a year later, Billy began working for the South Carolina Department of Transportation. A few years after that, he struck out on his own, establishing his first business as an independent land surveyor. A small construction company followed, and that small company grew to become one of the largest commercial construction companies in the region, building condominiums, churches, schools and government buildings throughout the Southeast.

Power Couple

For the past 38 years, Billy and Ann Powers have been inseparable partners in business and in life. They share a deep love for God, family, their community, business and each other    with a little Clemson athletics thrown in. They are known not only for their charitable deeds but also for their genuine humility, rarely seeking recognition or the spotlight. In fact, many recipients of Billy and Ann’s generosity are not even aware of the identity of their benefactors. A bill is paid. A plane is made available for a sick child to receive lifesaving medical treatment. A dream fishing trip is arranged for a friend with cancer. There is power in giving, Billy and Ann have found, but even more power in giving with nothing expected in return.

Ann is known as the stabilizing force that brings balance to Billy’s unstoppable energy. She is reserved to his gregariousness. She is patient to his persistence — the steel magnolia to his Southern gentleman. Friends say Billy values Ann’s opinion more than anyone else’s on things large and small. She is devoted to their partnership, both at home and at work. In every aspect of their lives, they make a powerful team.

Billy and Ann’s business instincts and entrepreneurial talents have led them to establish highly successful companies in a variety of fields, including real estate, aviation and manufacturing. The Powers’ enterprises encompass more than 50 entities, stretching to Mexico and Canada, and Billy and Ann both artfully manage the financial pulse of each of them.

Despite the massive scope of their portfolio, Billy still pays attention to every detail. Some say that is the key to his success. Friends have casually mentioned that Billy can tell you the exact number of nails it takes to build an apartment. One of his favorite sayings, “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves,” apparently applies to nails, paper clips and copy paper. Greatness is in the details.

  • College of Business By the Numbers

    A dual-tower, five-story structure

    176,000 square feet

    90-foot-high atrium, which provides
    natural light for every office

    303 total rooms

    24 teaching spaces

    1,660 classroom seat

    3,200-square-foot, 200-seat Phyfer Auditorium

    The Erwin Center for Brand Communications

    State-of-the-art Garrison Sales Lab

    80-person Johnson Study Lounge

    50-person Executive Boardroom & Terrace

    Melvin and Dollie Younts Trading Room

    48-seat behavioral lab with control room
    and eye-tracking capability

    78-step grand staircase

    40 Clemson alumni participated in this project
    as contractors, landscapers, consultants, architects
    and project managers

The Power of Fulfilling Your Dreams

Through his many business ventures, Billy finally was able to realize his dream to become a pilot. He says, “I think I was still at the highway department when I took my first flying lesson. And of course, flying has enabled me to do so many things that I never would have been able to do, as far as business is concerned. And I love it. I mean, I just love flying.”

Flying has not only been a passion but also a profitable business for the Powerses — and yet another way they serve others. Through their passenger charter service, Billy and Ann regularly make planes available to organ transplant patients and others in medical need. For every asset they have achieved, there is a component of giving back.

Even though he left before completing his collegiate career, Billy’s love for Clemson has never faltered. As devoted Tiger fans, he and Ann have been loyal supporters of Clemson Athletics for many years. They are Life Members of IPTAY and members of the Greater Pee Dee Clemson Club. Billy has served on the board of directors for the Clemson University Foundation and as a consultant for Clemson’s mechanical engineering and construction science and management departments. He is a member of the Trustee Oak Society and a founding member of the Leadership Circle. As a Georgia native, Ann adopted Clemson after marrying Billy. Despite her Georgia Bulldog family ties, Ann says, “Now Clemson feels like home to me too. I just love it here.”

Most importantly, in 2004, another one of Billy’s delayed dreams came true. Clemson University bestowed him with an honorary doctor of humanities degree. So, 50 years late, Billy Powers finally became a “true” Clemson Tiger. And the Tiger legacy has continued into the next generation and beyond. Billy’s two children, Tim ’81 and Penny ’84, and three of their grandchildren — Dawson Powers ’11, Jordan Burns ’12 and Chandler Burns ’15 — are proud Clemson graduates.

Sadly, tragedy struck the Powers family again in 2016, this time to their core. Their beloved grandson Chandler passed away after a sudden illness, only one year after receiving his Clemson degree. In honor of Chandler’s memory, and in tribute to his love for Clemson University, Billy and Ann have named one of the towers of the business school building after Chandler.

The Power of Doing Good with the Gifts You’re Given

Most days, you can still find Billy and Ann in the office bright and early, keeping up with the details of their many businesses. They continue their personal mission to help others as quietly and anonymously as possible. There is even a succession plan in place that will assure the goodwill will continue after they are gone through the W.O. and Ann Powers Foundation. Their work and legacy apply the values Billy saw modeled on the farm and encompass the devout faith that he and Ann share.

Billy sums up the meaning behind their mission to help others very simply: “You haven’t really helped anybody until you do things for people who can’t do something back in return. And that is very rewarding when you can do that (continued on page 36).
The Lord has blessed me beyond belief and enables me to do that. People have in their mind that life is all about making money, but that alone is not good enough. If that’s your goal, you’re in trouble. That is a byproduct of doing the things that God would have us do, to tell you the truth. And if you do it right, you will be blessed.”

Ann and Billy’s gift demonstrates the power a family can have to make a positive difference. Today, the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business at Clemson University is poised to become one of the top business schools in the nation. The elements of greatness are in place: high student demand, visionary leadership, effective faculty, a powerful Clemson brand, solid University support and a magnificent new facility. And now the final piece — the extraordinary example of visionary benefactors and role models who have used their success to make a difference for others.

“The impact of this gift is far beyond a very nice building,” says Wendy York, dean of the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business. “An even bigger impact is that it will allow us to deliver highly relevant impactful education for our students — creating the next generation of leaders.”

  • College of Business By the Numbers

    Departments and Schools
    School of Accountancy
    John E. Walker Department of Economics
    Department of Financial Management
    Department of Graphic Communications
    Department of Management
    Department of Marketing
    MBA
    Department of Aerospace Studies (Air Force ROTC)
    Department of Military Leadership (Army ROTC)

    2019-2020 Enrollment
    5,000+ students (up 26 percent since 2014)
    4,279 undergraduates
    797 graduate students (563 MBA students)
    165 full-time faculty

    33.6 percent of undergraduates enrolled in a business class in 2019-20.

A Powerful Legacy

The Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business will become a landmark at Clemson University for generations to come. Imagine a legacy passed down to future business leaders through an inspiring philosophy of doing good with the gifts you have been given. Imagine them as they enter the business world armed with the skills to succeed and also with the will to give back to those who are in need.

When asked what students in the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business should know about Billy and Ann, their good friend Paul Seward had this to say: “They should know that if they have a very strong work ethic and strong discipline, and are willing to study and learn, and don’t think the world owes them anything, then the opportunities are out there for them. Billy and Ann are both products of that. It’s been done.”

“Since the original gift that created the University, there has never been a more transformational gift in the history of Clemson than this, and we are incredibly grateful to Billy and Ann for their generosity,” says President Jim Clements.

 “Their gift will be vital to ensuring that students who come through the doors of the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business will leave Clemson prepared to live lives of meaning and significance. And what better role models could the students of Clemson have than Billy and Ann — who have modeled servant leadership throughout their lives.”

What better way to honor these humble benefactors than with the assurance that the next generation will be in the hands of well-prepared and honorable leaders? Leaders who, like Ann and Billy Powers, try to make the world a little better, one gift at a time. 

A Life Well Lived

The Chandler L. Burns Tower is a testament to a gifted young man and a loving grandson. Billy and Ann Powers made sure his name will always be remembered at Clemson.

By Miranda Risser ’17

As students, faculty, staff and alumni make their way back to Clemson this fall, the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business will be a striking addition to campus. The dual-tower, five-story structure stands across from Sikes Hall in the heart of campus. One of those towers bears the name of Chandler L. Burns ’15.

The namesake is Billy Powers’ grandson, who passed away in 2016 after a short battle with MRSA. Billy and Ann’s decision to name the tower after him came from the desire to indelibly link Chandler’s memory with Clemson’s campus.

As a child, Chandler was creative and thoughtful. His brother, Jordan, remembers that they were complete opposites growing up. While Jordan was interested in sports, Chandler had an artistic streak. And his knack for building was demonstrated early on. “The one thing we had in common was Legos,” Jordan says. “I’d follow instructions, but he’d always want to make things on his own — even when it came to Legos.”

Chandler dreamed of one day studying architecture at Clemson, and throughout high school, he worked hard to maintain good grades and keep his spot on the golf team. His mother, Penny, witnessed his drive firsthand. He would practice even in the dead of winter to prepare for golf in the spring. After playing for only two years, Chandler placed in the top five at the state championship during his junior year.

Chandler grew up near Billy and Ann in Florence, his life in part shaped by Ann’s warmth and kindness and Billy’s strong work ethic. Starting in high school, he spent his summers working for them at Powers Construction. During a family trip to Hilton Head during Chandler’s junior year of high school, his grandfather asked him to look over some plans for a future project. Billy began to see characteristics in Chandler that drew the two together: curiosity, sincerity and a willingness to work hard toward a goal.

After high school and a year of technical college, Chandler transferred to Clemson in 2012. The day he moved in, his father, Marc, handed him an index card with four simple handwritten words: “Clemson, Christ, Conviction, Commitment.” Marc remembers telling Chandler, “I want you to remember your four C’s, like taking Vitamin C.”

“He kept his faith, he kept his character, and he was determined to do well in life.”

Over the next three years, Chandler tackled his coursework and made friends easily through golf and connections from Florence. He grew closer to a friend from high school named Lydia Nolan, whom he would later marry. Every home football game meant a family tailgate, and Chandler never missed one. On May 8, 2015, Chandler graduated from Clemson with a degree in construction science and management.

After graduation, Chandler began to work for Billy and Ann at Powers Construction. Being the owner’s grandson didn’t grant him special privileges; if anything, expectations were higher.

Paul Seward, a close friend of Billy and Ann, said that not many people on the jobsites knew Chandler was Billy’s grandson. “He wanted to earn his own stripes,” said Seward. “He would get to work before everybody else. He wanted to work harder than anybody else. That excited Billy.”

Chandler’s widow, Lydia, remembers the pride he took in his work: “There was one project they had built in red clay. There was a bunch of red clay on the bottom of the apartment building, and everyone was like, ‘It’s fine, it will wash off eventually.’… [Chandler] got up Saturday morning and power-washed all day long because he wanted it to be perfect. He just wanted to be sure that he was going to make his grandad proud.”

Billy began to see that Chandler had the work ethic and the discipline in his life to be successful. As that relationship evolved, and Chandler began to prove himself, Billy started bringing him into the office on Fridays, setting him on the path to take over Powers Construction in the future.

After Chandler’s passing, Billy and Ann were heartbroken. “It was one of the hardest things Billy and Ann ever went through,” says Pat Wiggins, a close friend and colleague of Billy and Ann.

After Chandler’s death, Marc was cleaning out his car and found a worn index card in the glove box. Marc read the four words that he had written years ago. He also noticed a smudge of red clay.

“I was so proud of him as a father because Chandler had kept those four C’s in front of him all the time,” Marc says. “And that clay that was on the card had to have come from one of the projects he was working on with [his grandfather]. At some time, he must have just picked it up and looked at it. … He kept his faith, he kept his character, and he was determined to do well in life.”

Become more acquainted with Wendy York, the dean of Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business, and her vision to pave the way for the next 100 years.

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