John McNabb talks life, business and Trump Leadership Council at Duke University

The successful businessman, a Duke alumnus, faced a millennial crowd still searching for answers of Trumps win and what it means

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
John McNabb

DURHAM —— Since 1984, the dean’s office of The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University has hosted the Distinguished Speaker Series, bringing a variety of corporate leaders to Duke’s campus. The speakers share their insights on current business issues and corporate strategies while also drawing Duke’s business students closer with leading corporations.

Dean of Fuqua School of Business Bill Boulding on Tuesday hosted business leader John McNabb, who attended Duke University, was an All-America football player for the Blue Devils, and eventually received his MBA there before embarking on an impressive business career running and building companies ranging from banking to energy. Despite his global business successes, McNabb had another role that dominated the discussion: politics.”

I told you that the day after the election that people were surprised here, just as they were surprised in many places, and I promised students that we’d bring someone in to help explain why [Donald] Trump won the election and what we can expect from Trump,” said Boulding to lead off the discussion.McNabb served as chairman of the Trump Leadership Council, formed to bring the best and brightest leaders of nearly a dozen different disciplines together to assess and offer solutions for the myriad policy areas that then-candidate Trump hoped to tackle.”We put together a group of about 50 men and women filled with 10 different disciplines including agriculture, defense, trade, banking and finance, transportation, manufacturing, health care, etc., etc.,” said McNabb of the council. “These are CEOs, world class people. It was a very big-time group of people.”

McNabb grew up poor in West Virginia and attended Duke University on a football scholarship and became an all-star while there, but upon graduation he was drafted, not to the NFL, but to Vietnam. The fighter pilot had come from a long line of military service and earned multiple medals during his tour.He worked for N.C. Gov. Terry Sanford for a while, got into regional banking and eventually found great success in the energy services industry.”I was in Libya, the Middle East, West Africa as well as North Africa — pretty much everywhere except for Antarctica,” said McNabb. “Willbros was one of the largest energy contractors in the world at that time; we were a $2 billion company with maybe about 13,000 employees.”

It was billionaire and founder Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, where McNabb served as a board member, that asked him to form the leadership council. After some initial resistance, McNabb agreed to spearhead the effort and is proud of the foundation they laid.”

They had worked together for about a month to put together their view of what’s going on in their discipline in America,” said McNabb. “And it was posed as this isn’t about politics; it was posed as this is what’s going on in the U.S. and it was incredible.”

McNabb went on to describe why he thought Trump won the election and batted away criticisms from Duke students during the Q&A session insisting that Trump connected better with the people of the country.”I got to know him a little bit,” said McNabb. “He was not like I thought he was advertised. He was quiet, charming, funny, a great listener, thoughtful — all these things you don’t believe about Donald Trump. He’s an amazing guy.”