Warren Hume ’39 ’70H
by Larry R. Humes | photo courtesy of Rollins Archives & Special Collections
Reprinted from the September 1997 issue of the Rollins Alumni Record
By his own admission, Warren Hume is a lucky man. The son of a Chicago plumber, he went on to help run one of America’s largest companies and, along the way, witnessed history in the making. But make no mistake, this is a person who has seldom allowed a good opportunity to pass him by.
Growing up in America’s heartland in the midst of the Depression, Hume and a friend were recruited by legendary football great Red Grange to attend Stetson University on athletic scholarships. After hitchhiking from Chicago to Deland, Florida, they soon learned about a great school “down the road that boasted pretty girls and a great football team.”
“When we got to Rollins, we ran into Dean [Arthur] Enyart and asked him if he might be interested in a couple of football players,” recalled Hume. “He checked with [football] Coach Jack McDowall who said he would try us out the next day. That night, in an effort to escape the mosquitoes, we crawled to the top of the old diving platform on Lake Virginia. The police found us about four o’clock the next morning and took us to the back door of a bakery on Park Avenue where they were just taking rolls out of the oven. That was our introduction to Winter Park and to Rollins.”
Hume went on to play football and crew during his four years at Rollins. He was also active in many extracurricular activities and managed to fall in love with fellow student Augusta Yust, who happened to be the daughter of the College’s librarian. The two were married the day after their graduation in 1939, and today they are proud parents of three children.
There were special moments, Hume recalls, during their days spent at Rollins. A turning point for him occurred during the annual “Animated Magazine” held during their junior year. The featured speaker was Thomas J. Watson Sr., founder and president of the IBM Corporation, then a 25-year-old company already earning more than $30 million in annual sales.
“Mr. Watson’s topic was how education should be a never-ending process,” said Hume. “After he appeared at Rollins, I wrote him a letter informing him that I would graduate the next year, and since I had already taken all of my required courses, I asked him what electives he suggest I take so that I might be able to work for a company as prestigious as IBM. Hamilton Holt, who knew Watson personally, also wrote on my behalf. After graduation, I went to work for IBM in their Chicago sales office earning a princely sum of $75 per month.”
Hume continued to sell data processing systems for IBM until joining the Navy in 1942 to help with the war effort. He was assigned to Navy Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and was put in charge of all machine records for officers and enlisted men. “The records were an absolute mess. My commanding officer asked what I wanted and I said to be transferred anywhere else. He then struck a deal with me: Straighten out the paperwork and I could write my own orders.” After about eight months of restructuring the department and eliminating much of the administrative logjam, Hume got himself reassigned to flight navigation training and then the Pacific Theater for three years, flying as a navigator on PB-4Y aircraft.
After the war, Hume returned stateside and again went to work for IBM. This time, he was put in charge of training sales staff at the company’s school in Endicott, New York. During the next 15 years, Hume was promoted to various positions throughout the Midwest. In May 1961, he got a call from Tom Watson Jr., who had taken over leadership of the company, asking him serve as president of IBM’s Data Processing Division. It turned out to be a fortuitous assignment, for it put the young executive at the forefront of a historic moment: the introduction of the world’s first high-speed computer.
“Looking back, I’d say one of the real highlights of my career was the introduction of the IBM System 360. We held a press conference to introduce the hardware in Poughkeepsie, and a special train carried journalists there from New York City. I remember while I was making the presentation, one of the klieg lights, which were quite heavy, fell from the ceiling at the feet of Mr. Watson. He laughed, so everything turned out all right in the end. And the System 360 got an awful lot of world attention all on its own.”
Hume said the secret to selling IBM was more about solving customer’s technical problems than it was about selling hardware. For example, he put into place a production control system for Oldsmobile, the first of its kind of any General Motors division. “We used to advertise: ‘We don’t sell machines, we sell solutions.’ That’s absolutely true. I constantly reminded our people that we were fulfilling a need more than selling hardware.”
Hume eventually became a senior vice president and director of the company. He retired from IBM in 1976 after 37 years. However, he stayed on as a consultant, lecturing to graduate business schools and traveling extensively throughout South America and Asia in order to advise the company on how best to compete in the volatile overseas computer industry.
The octogenarian has remained busy, serving on the boards of several international and domestic companies as well as taking courses in everything from art to word processing. He and Augusta have also been very generous to their alma mater, with both their time and money. For example, they recently donated much of their furnishings to a family for whom Rollins students had just completed a Habitat for Humanity house. “The lesson I’ve always preached is that you don’t have to give a million bucks to make a difference,” he said. “You can really make an impact on another person’s life with a minimum of financing.”
Hume served as a Rollins alumni trustee from 1964 to 1967, and has served on the College’s Board of Trustees for the past 21 years. He was a recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1987 and was presented an Honorary Degree of Letters in 1970.
“I remember my first gift to Rollins,” said Hume. “When we reached a point where we could afford it, I multiplied by four the cost of my annual room, board, and tuition ($1,365), calculated the interest that amount would have earned, and I mailed off a check for the total amount. I couldn’t have afforded to attend college had it not been for the scholarships. I figured that repaying the scholarships with interest was the least I could do to repay what I’d been given. I’ve preached that message to several of my former classmates.
The thing I remember most about my experience at Rollins is how lucky I was. I was attending the College during the Depression, an experience I never could have enjoyed with a scholarship. I was eating well. I was learning. I remember the trips to the beach where the College owned a house [The Pelican]. To me, the world was my oyster. Fortunately, it still is.”