Moment of Indiana History

Taking Diversification to a New Level: William Mays

Having served the Circle City’s African-American community for 95 years, the Indianapolis Recorder was in financial straits in 1990.

With an appreciation for the historic value of Indiana’s fourth-oldest black publication, and a desire to diversify his business holdings, one of Indiana’s most successful entrepreneurs swooped in to save it.

The winner of Indiana University’s Herman B. Wells Visionaries Award (2000), the Madame C.J. Walker Lifetime Achievement Award (1998) and the United Negro College Fund Distinguished Leadership Award (1997), among many others, William G. Mays is an Evansville native whose chemical distribution company is among the nation’s fifteen largest.

Born in 1945 to two teachers, Mays graduated at the top of his class from Evansville Central High School a year after it was integrated, then matriculated at Indiana University, where he earned a BA in chemistry, and an MBA.

Working his way from lab testing to corporate planning during stints at Procter and Gamble, Eli Lilly and Cummins Engine, Mays became president of Specialty Chemicals in Indianapolis in 1977.

Having increased sales 15-fold in three years, Mays resigned his position there in protest of the racial homogeneity of the company’s Board of Directors (despite its self-proclaimed minority-run status).

Launching Mays Chemical in 1980, Mays has grown the business from a one-person outfit into an entity ranked as one of the nation’s 20 most successful companies owned by an African American.

Supplying chemical components for the food and beverage, automotive and pharmaceutical industries, Mays Chemical serves a clientele whose diversity echoes that of Mays’ other holdings-from electronic and print media to construction and property management, with a special interest in fledgling, black-owned businesses.

Over the years, Mays has demonstrated his civic leadership as well, as the first African-American to serve on, and often, to chair numerous state boards and commissions.

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