University of Southern California

Call Me Mr. Bill
February 22, 2013 • by Bill Blethen

Although they never went to college, my parents always stressed the importance of education. I grew up in Southern California, dreaming of going to USC, and ultimately got my MBA from Marshall. My experiences both inside and outside the classroom exposed me to a world I didn't even know existed. It changed my life. It led me to a successful career as Executive Vice President and Chief Credit Officer for the 5th largest bank in the United States.

I was fortunate to be able to retire at 53, but the hardest part of retirement is deciding how to spend your time. From helping my grandchildren I learned how much homework is now required at young ages. Kids with working parents or single parents have a big disadvantage. I wanted a new project, so I walked unannounced into the Principal's office at Alta Vista School in Redondo Beach and offered to help. They looked at me like I was crazy. But after a background check, they let me tutor kids after school. For the past 6 years, I have offered free tutoring and homework help for grades 1 to 5. We average 30 kids a day of all ages, races, and backgrounds.

At first, only 4 or 5 kids a day would ask for help. I thought, "How do we get to the others?" In business I had seen the power of incentive systems, so I offered a piece of gum for completed homework. Suddenly, more kids started raising their hands. I also knew it was important to monitor progress. Every day, when homework is finished and checked, they put a star on a chart next to their name. They stand in line to get stars and endlessly stare at the chart. I now give out 20 to 25 stars a day.

I'm pretty casual and told the kids to call me Bill. The administrators felt that was not respectful and told the kids to call me "Mister." So now I'm known as "Mr. Bill." But I truly knew I had arrived when one day a little boy handed me a drawing. It showed a big person and a little person. And below it he wrote, "I trust you."

I trust you. What better prize can life offer than that? I give back to Marshall because I trust it to give others the same opportunities that it gave me. That's why my family has sponsored the Blethen Family Scholarships. They aren't big, but I know that little things can make a big difference.

I hope you will join me in supporting Marshall.

Fight On!
Bill Blethen, BA Economics '68, MBA '69