He's not a big man, five-six, maybe five-seven. Watching him amble down an Oakmont Country Club fairway as part of a foursome, you notice that he's in the shade of his companions most of the time. Still, when one of the four is the world's second-ranked golfer, Phil Mickelson, and when you learn that 18 holes later Bill Griffin walks to the clubhouse pocketing a $30 bet he won off the golf legend...well, you suddenly understand the way he plays. Big.
"He gave it up reluctantly," Griffin (BBA '72) says later, with an impish grin. "That made it even better."
This comment is badly out of character. Bill Griffin may be the least likely self-aggrandizer on earth, a man who learned humility at the knees of family and friends back in the country parlors and hard Methodist church pews of Morgan County. He's famously self-effacing. All mention his impeccable southern manners, his friendliness, his willingness to share credit and — always — the double portion of financial smarts.
Clearly, Bill thinks big, too.
His character and chemistry have rewarded him with a successful career in the mortgage and financial services industry. Along the way, he's hacked a path from captain of the Morgan County High School golf team to president of Oakmont, the fabled Pittsburgh club that fans of the sport consider a national treasure.
Oakmont hosted more than 250,000 of those golf worshippers for a week in June, and in doing so established a record by hosting its eighth U.S. Open. The throngs watched Argentina's Angel Cabrera outlast Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk to capture the tournament, and when readers of The New York Times picked up their sports section the next morning, there was Bill Griffin in the front-page photo as Cabrera accepted the U.S. Open trophy.
Mickey Pohl, Oakmont's general chairman for the U.S. Open, is a Pittsburgh attorney. He's been Bill's wingman on the club's board of governors since Griffin took the controls in October 2004. Pohl himself knows something about playing big — he once slipped out of a Griffin meeting to take calls from Prince Charles and Steve Forbes. His opinion of Bill's tenure as president of Oakmont is worth hearing.
"A lot of people have big IQs and can do algebra, but they are disasters in their personal skills," Pohl says. "Oakmont is a big business, and it has to be governed by a man who can run a big business and work with people. Bill has led by example, with southern demeanor and charm."
Pohl goes on, putting his finger on leadership elements that are key to Bill's success..."and not only on the links."
"In the old days," says Pohl, "a country club was best run by a despot. But the post-Vietnam generation doesn't salute The Man anymore. It takes intelligence and good judgment and people skills. And Bill has brought two more things — decency and courage. He leads from the front."
It's a constant refrain in the career of Charles William Griffin: Georgia boy; president of one of the world's great golf clubs; an eminence in the world of mortgage finance — and also a Terry College Distinguished Alumni Award recipient in 2007. Bill may live in Pittsburgh, but he makes a lot of Terry events and his can-do attitude is infectious on the college's Board of Overseers.
"The board is working hard to build a culture of giving back as part of the larger Terry experience," says Bill, who was in Athens in late June when new Terry dean Robert Sumichrast was introduced at a reception at the president's house. "We believe our school is marked for greatness, and we'd like every graduate to share our commitment to realizing that vision for Terry."