William G. McGowan (December 10, 1927 – June 8, 1992) was an American entrepreneur, and founder and chairman of MCI Communications. He played an important role in the breakup of AT&T while growing MCI into US$9.5 billion in revenue entity that controlled 16% of the American domestic and international long distance market.
McGowan was born in Ashley, Pennsylvania, the third of five children. After graduation from high school he joined the US Army and served as a medic for two and a half years. After an honorary discharge from the military he attended King’s College, Pennsylvania and received a degree in chemical engineering. He then attended Harvard Business School, graduating in 1954. After graduation from Harvard, McGowan began operating a consulting firm that specialized in rescuing troubled companies in the garment district of New York City. After a year of operation, his consulting agency branched out into venture capital. In the role of venture capitalist, McGowan dealt with firms developing ultrasonic cleaning technology and electro-mechanical devices.
In 1968, McGowan was contacted by MCI due to his expertise in raising venture capital. Based on this contact, he made a US$50,000 investment in the fledgling business and was made chairman of Microwave Communications of America, a predecessor to MCI Communications. In his role as chairman, McGowan raised capital for the growing company and set up fifteen of the seventeen regional carriers that would form the basis of MCI’s initial communications network. In 1971, he executed a reorganization of Microwave Communications of America and its seventeen subsidiaries to form MCI Communications.
In his role at MCI, McGowan established a reputation as a hard worker by routinely working fifteen-hour days. He was also a three-pack-a-day smoker and drank over twenty cups of coffee each day until his first heart attack. As leader of MCI, he labored for several years to gain the financing and regulator approvals required to begin full operations. Following the filing of MCI’s 1974 lawsuit against AT&T, McGowan began cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice which eventually led to a 1982 agreement leading to the divestiture of AT&T and the opening of the long distance telephone market within the United States.
McGowan married Sue Ling Gin, a Chicago entrepreneur, in a private ceremony in Virginia Beach on July 5, 1984. They decided to keep their marriage secret for a year as Sue Ling wanted credit for success in her own right and not as the wife of McGowan.
On December 21, 1986 McGowan experienced a heart attack. His medical problems resulted in his receiving a heart transplant on April 25, 1987. McGowan returned to his duties as MCI chairman after a six month recovery, where he remained until his death on June 8, 1992 from another heart attack.
McGowan’s philanthropy continues on in many forms. He established what is now the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center due to his heart condition. Just before his death, he also established the William G. McGowan School of Business at King’s College. Shortly after his death, the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund was founded in his name.
DePaul University in Chicago has two science and research buildings named for the McGowan family including Mr. McGowan and his late brother, a Catholic priest. His charitable fund provides tuition assistance and financial aid grants for selected students. The Rochester Institute of Technology created the Center for Telecommunications and the McGowan Student Commons located in the new College Applied Science and Technology building. The National Archives in Washington D.C. established the William G. McGowan theater in his honor.
Mr. McGowan was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1992.
McGowan has a fellowship foundation for second year MBA students. The foundation will pay for the second year tuition at a top business school.