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Charlie Way named T&D Person of the Year

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Charlie Way named T&D Person of the Year

By any measure, Charles S. Way Jr. is a success. He’s a man with many facets — as well known for his contributions in the areas of art, civic affairs and philanthropy as he is in business and finance.

Way has received a double honor from the Orangeburg community. He is The Times and Democrat’s 2016 Person of the Year and has been inducted into the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame.

“The Times and Democrat is proud to name Charlie Way as the newspaper’s 2016 Person of the Year,” T&D Publisher Cathy Hughes said.

“The year 2016 stands out among this Orangeburg native’s body of work over a lifetime of achievements as a successful businessman, family man and community servant that would certainly qualify him for this award,” Hughes said. “But the outstanding contribution he has made to the Orangeburg community as a whole and to South Carolina State University in particular over the past 12 months is remarkable.”

In May 2015, the university was struggling under a huge burden of debt and had been placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges because of governance and financial issues. At one point, members of the legislature threatened to close the school, but instead decided to remove the trustees and appoint a new interim board.

Way was named one of seven new trustees in May 2015. At the first board meeting, he was elected chairman.

More than a year later, Way says “getting this ox out the ditch” has been one of his greatest challenges. Most people didn’t realize how bad the situation was at the university, he said.

“It was not a very pretty sight. They were on probation with SACS. They didn’t have any real budgets to speak of. There was no accountability.”

And there were so many years of mismanagement that parts of the university need to be rebuilt, Way said.

“There’s millions of dollars worth of deferred maintenance,” he said. “Now, we have to do so much to bring our campus — not even up to standard — but to average.”

However, Way was determined to put through positive changes at the institution.

“S.C. State will probably be my last hurrah because of my age,” he said. “I just want to do as much for S.C. State as humanly possible before I go on.”

While much still needs to be done, much has already been accomplished, Way said.

At a recent board meeting, President James Clark reported that the university is operating within a balanced budget and vendor debt has been paid down significantly. On June 30, 2015, the institution had $6.7 million past due for 120 days or more. As of this November, the aging debt was down to $282,864.

The state forgave a $12 million loan and set up a repayment schedule on a separate, $6 million loan. In addition, $35 million owed on the Hugine Suites has been refinanced for a savings of more than $500,000 annually, or a total of $11 million over the lifetime of the loan that runs until 2035.

Way noted that solving S.C. State’s woes is beneficial to the Orangeburg community. The loss of jobs alone would be very harmful to the city if the university should close, he said.

“As The T&D has written many times, the success of S.C. State is important to the success of Orangeburg County, and the current board and new president have been and continue to be instrumental in bringing about that success,” Hughes said. “But no one person has done more than Charlie Way as chairman of the board. In his own words at the recent Hall of Fame dinner where he was honored, it is Way’s hope that his leadership not only enables S.C. State to ‘survive but to thrive.’”

The S.C. State board and administration are continuing to work on the school’s major problems, especially updating its information technology, Way said.

“We’re still in the 17th century. There’s been no funding or money spent by previous administrations to speak of,” he said. “Without a good IT system today, you’re just about dead in the water.”

But in spite of problems, Way said, “We’re getting the ox out of the ditch. It’s been a big job, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Sometimes it’s very, very rewarding, but sometimes you see the mess, and that’s disheartening.”

He says he’s enjoyed the different paths on which his life has led him. He believes in working hard and having fun with his work, he said.

Way is known across the state for his success in building up his family-owned business, The Beach Company. Under his leadership, it became the area’s largest development company with holdings across the Southeast such as apartment complexes, shopping centers, land holdings, resort properties and office complexes, including the Majestic Square on King Street in Charleston.

In 1988, Way led the group that purchased the Kiawah Island development from the Kuwaiti royal family for $105 million and transformed it into one of the most desirable resorts in the state.

But Way’s successes stretch far beyond finance and business to civic, art and philanthropic contributions. He’s served on numerous boards, including the Spoleto Festival USA Board of Directors from 1984 until 1990. He was Spoleto board chairman from 1985 until 1990, and today is still a member of the board and the executive committee.

In 1998, he took on the responsibility of building relationships between the state and foreign powers when Gov. Jim Hodges appointed him S.C. Secretary of Commerce.

Way has received recognition and awards from numerous organizations for his service. He was awarded South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto, twice, by Gov. Carroll Campbell in 1994 and by Gov. Jim Hodges in 2002.

Way says his philosophy of life, his desire to serve, is based on his own success and a quote by Sir Winston Churchill.

“The Lord has looked out for me pretty well,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate in my business endeavors. My favorite saying — and I quote it from Winston Churchill — ‘You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.’”

Acting as Secretary of Commerce was a fantastic experience, Way said. For four years, he traveled around the world, trying to build relationships and bring businesses into the state. He was able to open an office for the state in Hong Kong, but it was closed after he left office, he said.

Way said he has always had an interest in education. At one point, he said South Carolina’s education system was sadly lacking. It hasn’t improved a lot today, he notes. And, a good education is sorely needed if individuals and the state are to succeed, Way said.

He takes pride in the fact that he was personally involved and financially supported the I-95 Corridor of Shame documentary. The documentary focused on the failure of poor, rural public school districts located along the interstate to get the funds they needed to thrive.

Way attributes his successes to hard work and surrounding himself with people who are “a lot smarter than me.”

Also, “I could not do what I do without the full support of my wife, Mary Ellen, and all my family,” he said.

Way says he’s also been very lucky.

“But you get lucky with hard work, and I’ve worked very hard,” he said.

He’s also a good salesman. Way said you’ve got to be able to sell your product, whether it’s real estate, education or S.C. State University.

Way has had many successes, but one is greater than all the others, he says.

“The proudest thing for me is my family,” he said. He and his wife have five children, 15 grandchildren and three — soon to be four — great-grandchildren, Way said.

Three of his children live at Seaside, the family farm in Mt. Pleasant. “My family is very, very close,” Way said.

Way was born in Orangeburg on Dec. 18, 1937 to the late Charles S. Way Sr. and the late Sally Wise Way. He left Orangeburg when he was a junior in high school to attend military school in Georgia and never returned to live here. However, he still has happy memories of his childhood.

Orangeburg was a wonderful town to grow up in, he said. “I could literally ride my bicycle from my house on North Broughton Street to the Ellis Avenue School.”

His family owned several motels, a Gulf station, a liquor store and his mom ran a soda shop across the street from the old hospital, Way said. One of the pleasures of his childhood was going swimming in the Edisto River, he said.

Way graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. In 1962, he earned an LLB from the USC Law School.

He married Mary Ellen Long of Charleston and went to work for The Beach Company, which had been founded by her father in 1945. In 1975, he took over as president of the company and became chairman of the board in 1998.

Way served on the Charleston Regional Development Alliance Board from 1993-98 and as chairman from 1995 to 1998.

He was named chairman of the Palmetto Business Forum in 1997 and in 1998, he was elected to the board of directors and executive committee of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce. The PBF was one of the first organizations to support removal of the Confederate flag from the S.C. State House.

That same year, Way was named the first chairman of the S.C. State Retirement Systems Investment Panel by Gov. David Beasley and was appointed chairman of the USC Bicentennial Committee. He led it in a successful campaign to raise $500 million for USC.

Way is also noted for his work with the South Carolina Aquarium, where he’s served on its board of trustees and executive board.

In addition, he’s served as a member of the executive committee and board of trustees of the Darla Moore School of Business and is a member of the Brookgreen Garden executive committee. He’s also served as president of the Brookgreen Gardens Huntington Society.

In 1990, Way was presented the individual Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award by the S.C. Arts Commission in honor of this contributions to the arts in South Carolina.

In 2005, he was inducted into the S.C. Business Hall of Fame.

He received the Mary Ramsey Civic Award in 2013 for demonstrating Ramsay’s spirit of generosity and commitment to developing and enriching the Charleston community.

When asked how he finds time to do all the things he does, Way said, “I get up early. I like being busy and I am busy.”

But he takes time to relax, he says. “I do a lot of reading. I like to travel and go bird hunting.”

In the long term, Way says he’d like to be remembered “as being a good person, an honest person and a generous person.”