West Virginia University Hall of Fame
Thursday, October 13, 2005
West Virginia University Business Hall of Fame
"Brights Don't Give Up" has been William Bright's motto for years, and his entrepreneurial success proves the value of his plucky perseverance and acumen. The Summersville, WV, native answered the call of entrepreneurial adventure as a teen, when he launched a fishing bait business. It never took off, but undaunted, Bright went on to earn a degree in business management from West Virginia University in 1960, where he gained leadership experience as president of his class, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council and president of his fraternity.
While still in college, he started a small business photographing churches for Christmas cards. When he graduated, he and his brother John expanded this home business into what became Bright of America, an international fundraising graphics, paper converting and marketing firm with 500 employees and over $20 million in sales. In 1990 he sold the company to Russ Berrie and Company, which continues operations in Summersville.
Even before that sale, Bright took on and succeeded at other ventures. In 1976 he founded the Land Use Corporation, a coal mining and land development company that received public recognition for its environmentally responsible development of Bright Mountain Estates. The company grew to become one of the state's largest independent coal companies which Bright was able to sell to two large New York Stock Exchange-listed companies. Bright invested the resulting profits into a number of investment opportunities in West Virginia. He excelled at transforming bankrupt ski resorts into profitable and thriving businesses, including Winterplace Ski Resort and Glade Springs Resort near Beckley. The retirement community he developed there in partnership with Cooper Land Development is now attracting retirees to West Virginia in what is one of the largest economic development projects in the state. Other successful ventures include the Elk River Railroad, Bright Timberlands Group, Almost Heaven Mountain Resort, and a host of other businesses with activities ranging from coal-bed methane and ethanol projects, indoor storage, and a gated housing and ski complex near Canaan Valley. Thus far, Bright has started, acquired and/or turned around over 30 different business ventures in his career, and he continues to work at expanding opportunities for more jobs in West Virginia in many industry areas.
Bright's history of service to his home state includes serving on the advisory board of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, the West Virginia Friends-R-Fun Foundation, and the Children's Home Society; serving as chairman of the West Virginia Tourism Commission; past membership on the boards of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Manufacturer's Association, the West Virginia Roundtable, and the West Virginia University Foundation. In 1986 he founded the P.W. and Jennie Bright Fund for medical care of local children, and in 2005 he formed the Bright Foundation for improving the quality of life for those less fortunate. Bright's service on the national level includes being a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Committee's National Coal Council and his active leadership and support of pediatric cancer research at the City of Hope National Medical Center. This service earned him the City of Hope's prestigious "Spirit of Life" award in 1999.
Other recognitions of Bright's achievements include being named 1989 West Virginia Entrepreneur of the Year by the WVU College of Business and Economics and being elected to the State Journal's Who's Who in West Virginia Business in 2002.