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Poole College Advisory Board Spotlight: Sam Straight

By Caroline Barnhill

Few folks around Nelson Hall can say they’ve been there since the Poole College of Management was still in its infancy – but Sam Straight can. And while he doesn’t display an NC State diploma on his wall, he has earned himself a proud spot as one of the most dedicated members of the Pack –  serving as a member of the college’s advisory board for more than 16 years. 

“I’ve seen the college under five deans and witnessed huge amounts of growth,” Straight says.

I’ve seen the college under five deans and witnessed huge amounts of growth.

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Straight studied organic chemistry as an undergrad at Syracuse University, and later, earned his MBA from New York University. He launched his career at a Swiss drug firm, Sandoz, and in the mid-1980s he received a call from a recruiter about joining another growing company. 

“He asked me about taking a position with a company called Glaxo. They didn’t have much of a presence in the U.S. at the time, so I actually had to go to the library to look the company up,” Straight laughs. “I saw, at the time, they were based in New Zealand and their big product was baby formula. I politely told the recruiter ‘thanks – but no thanks,’ but he was persistent. At the time my wife, Arlene, and I were living in Charlotte and the job at Glaxo would require us to move to Raleigh. She said as long as she didn’t have to move above the Mason-Dixon line, she’d agree.”

That little company Glaxo? Straight was there when they launched Zantac – one of the first multi-billion dollar drugs. And while working long hours with the company, he received a phone call from [then NC State College of Management dean] Jon Bartley about starting a supply chain program.

“He told me he’d seen write-ups about the work I’d been doing in procurement as part of Glaxo, and wanted my help in starting a new program,” Straight recalls. “I told him I was booked, but that I’d help him find someone to launch it. We settled on six candidates before ultimately selecting Rob Handfield. And the program took off from there.”

However, Straight’s partnership with NC State – though he didn’t know it at the time – was just starting too.

“Well, the dean just kept calling. First, he asked if I’d help the college form a board of advisors. So I did. Then he asked if I could help develop some courses. So I did. Then, he asked if I’d be willing to teach a few classes,” Straight said. “I told him that I had a demanding, full-time job as the chief procurement officer for Glaxo.”

Bartley’s response? “Well, you could always teach evening courses,” Straight recalls.

Soon after, he had the opportunity to retire early from Glaxo, which freed up even more time for him to pour into NC State. 

“I called former NC State chancellor Marye Anne Fox and told her that we had a great opportunity to build an MBA program that was designed for people, like me, who had science backgrounds,” Straight said. “She told me to write up a plan that ultimately turned into the bioscience MBA program. We had 26 students enroll in the first semester.”

Later on, Bartley formalized Straight’s role with the college by naming him executive in residence – which offered a stipend for his teaching contributions. “I didn’t need the money, so my wife and I decided to take that stipend to fund an endowment that would support the biosciences program.” Today,  the Samuel L. and Arlene J. Straight Biosciences Scholarship Fund continues to support dual-MBA/MMB (master of microbial biotechnology and management) students who have declared a concentration in biosciences management.

So what started as a phone call about a potential supply chain program in the college,  turned into a nearly two-decade commitment to the college as a faculty member, advisory board member and financial supporter. 

I give back to Poole because I’m in love with education.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I give back to Poole because I’m in love with education. It’s the thing that separates people from poverty. Once you have an education, no one can take that away from you,” Straight says. “I appreciate the mission of NC State – it’s a land grant university that is set up to serve the people of the state and contribute to the economy of the state.”