Compiled by Jeremy Jarrell, Michael Jenkins, Ben Keenan, Mallory Legg, Jennifer Nugent
“My dad often said he didn’t care what I did. Even if I decided to be a ditch digger, he just wanted me to be the best ditch digger out there.” If businesses are anything like ditches, Bill Bright has made his dad proud.
As an entrepreneur and the founder of Bright of America and Bright Enterprises, an umbrella for a wide array of successful businesses, Bright’s successes are countless. A native of Summersville, he used his gifts of invention and insight to start his first business upon graduating from WVU and has been going full-steam ahead ever since.
With the sale of Bright of America and his coal business in 1990, he established Bright Enterprises, a group of companies that include Winterplace Ski Resort, Glade Springs Resort, Glade Springs Village, the Elk River Railroad and an ethanol company in Michigan, to name a
His success can be attributed to many things-devotion, energy and love for the business, and it’s his philosophy, which accepts mistakes as a natural part of the process and an opportunity to grow and learn, that drives his employees and managers to reach higher. “I think that we all make mistakes and I like to have people that work in my businesses feel comfortable that they can make mistakes,” he says, explaining that he shares his mistakes with them so that they can see that they can be successful without being perfect. “(It) encourages them to take risks, to be assertive, to think for themselves and be bold and independent because it’s okay to make mistakes.”
He recounts one of the mistakes he made with his first business. Bright of America began as a producer of note cards for the West Virginia Federation of Women’s Clubs in the fall of 1962. The note cards showed scenic views of the state and they were meant to inspire
celebration for the following year’s West Virginia Centennial Celebration. The sales by women’s clubs throughout West Virginia were a huge success, so Bright decided to expand in the spring of 1963 to four other states with the same type of product-Tennessee, Texas, Indiana and Kentucky. To his surprise, the project failed. “At first we thought maybe they only sell when you have a centennial celebration, like with West Virginia, and that meant we were going to be out of business waiting for the next celebration. Then we thought maybe it was the West Virginia beauty (that sold) and the other states didn’t have that pride.” It turned out, however, that the women’s clubs simply did their fundraisers in the fall instead of the spring. The note cards were relaunched in those states that fall and Bright of America was off and running.
Being a West Virginia company has played a vital role in his success as an entrepreneur and business owner and he accredits that to the work ethic of the people. “Being in West Virginia gives you a big advantage because of the people. West Virginians have a great work ethic. They pride themselves on working hard. I think there are some areas of the country where people come home at the end of the day and brag about how they didn’t do anything; West Virginians still come home and brag about how hard they worked. You can’t find better people anywhere than you can here.”
Bright sees no retirement in his future. In fact, his game plan for the coming years is sure to be just as aggressive as before, with a continual flow of diverse ideas for new businesses coming to him all the time. His wife, Patty, teases that he is starting a folder of ideas for his infant grandson Amos because he just doesn’t have enough time to pursue all the ideas he has.
He has brought a wealth to Summersville that the town didn’t know before. With new jobs and income that spurred economic growth, he continues to support development and community wellness through charities and other volunteer efforts. Bright Foundation, established in 2005, offers a scholarship to a local high school senior each year to encourage higher education and contributes to medical causes, research and other worthy West Virginia charitable efforts.
If Bill Bright were a ditch digger, he would have dug his way to China by now, smiling despite the blisters on his hands because he knows he did the best he could.
West Virginia Executive Magazine