J. Mack Robinson (b. 1923)
A respected member of the Georgia business community, J. Mack Robinson has led several of Atlanta's major corporations. Consistently successful in his business ventures, Robinson is also a notable philanthropist, having donated millions of dollars to his home state.
While working for the newspaper, Robinson opened up two used-car lots in Atlanta, Baker Street Motors and Robinson Motors. Both proved profitable, and within a short time Robinson left the Journal and began working full-time selling cars. Over the next several years he opened up several more car lots in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, and Macon. This enterprise led him to his next business venture in the finance industry.
Finance and Insurance Career
As a used-car salesman, Robinson had been financing the purchase of cars through an automobile finance company in Chicago, Illinois. Seeing the potential for profit, Robinson founded his own company, the Dixie Finance Company, in 1948. He quickly discovered that he enjoyed the finance industry more than the used-car business. Robinson sold his car lots and soon started another finance business, Gulf Finance Company. Over the next twenty years, his companies experienced great success, expanding into more than 100 cities across the South.
During this period Robinson dealt closely with numerous insurance companies and, once again seeing an opportunity, decided to enter the insurance business. He formed Delta Life Insurance and, a
In the mid-1960s Robinson expanded into the banking industry and began buying local banks in small towns around Atlanta. His strategy was to enter small markets in which his business would usually become, immediately upon opening, the largest finance company in the town and encounter minimum competition. Over the next several years he not only purchased twenty-two small banks with branches in more than fifty cities but also acquired a state charter to open his own bank. In 1972 Robinson sold more than 100 of his finance offices to the First National Bank of Atlanta (later Wachovia Bank). With the sale, he became a director at the bank and its largest individual shareholder.
Investments and Philanthropy
Over the years, Robinson's personal endeavors have also met with success. He and his wife, Nita, along with their daughters, Jill and Robin, have donated funds to a number of Georgia entities and become involved in the worlds of high fashion and horse racing.
In the early 1960s, Robinson invested personal funds to help the well-known designer Yves Saint Laurent start his own fashion house. He played an integral role during the first years of Saint Laurent's business, writing checks and traveling to Paris, France, several times a year. In 1966 Robinson sold his share in the fashion house for $1 million. Another interest, horse racing, inspired Robinson to purchase and operate a horse farm in Thomasville, which has about ninety horses and a five-eighths-of-a-mile racetrack. Cherokee Run, a thoroughbred owned by his daughter Jill, won the 1994 Breeder's Cup Sprint Award.
Robinson has been honored for his philanthropic activities. In 1994 he and his wife were honored by the Georgia chapter of the National Society of Fund-Raising Executives as Philanthropists of the Year. In 1998 he gave Georgia State University's college of business a $10 million endowment. To thank him for the gift, the school's name was changed to the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He has also served as director of the Woodruff Arts Center and is a life member of the High Museum of Art's board of directors.
In September 2002 Robinson made a return of sorts to his beginnings in the business world when he became the chief executive officer of Gray Television, a communication company that owns television stations nationwide, in addition to five Georgia newspapers. Georgia continues to benefit from both Robinson's keen business instincts and generosity.
Christopher Allen Huff, University of Georgia
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