Business Experience Gives a Different Perspective for Incoming Senate President

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When William Paul Cole III became the 49th president of the West Virginia state Senate, he brought with him a different view and wisdom from his father.

“One thing I have that’s a little bit unique is that business background,” the deep-voiced Cole, R-Mercer, told the Daily Mail last week while sitting inside his Nissan dealership in Bluefield. “I tend to look at things through a business prism.”

His perspective, in large part, has been influenced, not by a career in politics but as a professional businessman.

Cole, 58, currently oversees about 500 employees between five automobile dealerships located in West Virginia and Kentucky, a manufacturing plant in Tennessee and a variety of other business interests.

But he knows that having a business perspective is not simply enough to fix the woes that ail the state.

“It’s so easy, especially for a businessman, to point a finger at all the things that are wrong in West Virginia and things that need to be fixed,” he said.

Cole credits a lesson learned while working for his father, William Paul Cole II, as a big reason he finds himself in the position he’s in today.

After graduating from Northwood Institute, Cole returned to the southern coalfields and had a frank conversation with his father.

“I pretty quickly asked for a meeting with my father and sat down and proceeded to tell him basically everything that was wrong with his business,” Cole said.

Cole said his father, a patient man who listened to everything the college graduate had to say, told him that any idiot could point a finger and say what’s wrong with something but it takes a real person to stand up and be a part of the solution.

“Don’t come to point out the problems without at least having thought it through to a proper solution,” Cole recalls his father saying. “More importantly, make yourself a part of that solution.”

It was that decades-old message from his father, who once served as mayor of Bluefield, that will be in the back of Cole’s mind as he leads the Senate.

When he arrived in 2012, Cole said his fellow Republicans were more interested in getting a majority in the House of Delegates than the Senate.

“They said ‘we’ve got a long way to go in the Senate. We’ll pick up a couple in 2014 and we’ll finish it up in 2016,’” Cole said.

Since Election Day, Cole has spent less than a dozen days — excluding weekends — in Bluefield. He admits it will be an adjustment to spend so much time away from his hometown but he’s clearly looking forward to it.

“I think the position I’m about to have is certainly a position that we can make a huge difference,” Cole said.

In his spare time — although he admits there’s no more of that — Cole enjoys flying. He has flown for the past 38 years, amassing over 4,000 hours of total flying time and has an airline transport pilot rating, as well as helicopter and seaplane ratings.

“I’m a little bit passionate about my flying,” Cole says with grin.

He also enjoys playing golf, especially at The Greenbrier, where Cole says he can hold his own. He’s played in several pro-am tournaments, including one last year where he was paired with professional golfer Stuart Appleby, who won the 2010 Greenbrier Classic.

But even as he’s involved in politics, flying or golf, Cole knows he will forever remain the businessman who once learned valuable lessons from his father.

“I’m an entrepreneur at heart and always will be,” he said.

Cole said he will use his perspective to constantly ask questions and re-evaluate whether or not something is working in state government.

“You ask why we do something a certain way and if the answer comes back ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it,’ that’s a wrong answer,” Cole said. “In government, too often the answer is ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ We need to think a little differently about how we do things.”

The fact the state’s population is shrinking and the wider use of technology should allow for government to become more efficient, he says.

“Yet the size of state government continues to grow. There’s a disconnect there,” said Cole.

Cole said just like a business, it would take more than the next two years to address some of the issues the state is facing.

“As a businessman, I have to bet on if I build it, they’ll come,” he said. “If we set the stage in West Virginia, if we make the investment, if we build it, those job creating businesses will come.”

I’m flattered that people are holding my name up. There’s other good names that are being mentioned as well,” he said. “But I want to get through this session and make sure we’ve done a good job.”

- Charleston Daily Mail • Jan 12, 2015