FROM THE DUGOUT TO THE BOARD ROOM

An Asheville native dropped baseball but touched all the bases on his way to a successful career in corporate finance

By RANDALL HOLCOMBE

Wesley R. “Wes” Elingburg ’78 arrived on Western Carolina’s campus as a freshman in the fall of 1974 with no particular plans for a career – just knowing that he wanted to go to college in Cullowhee and play baseball for the Catamounts. Elingburg, a standout baseball player at Asheville’s T.C. Roberson High School, enrolled at WCU with “undecided” as his major. “I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he said. “The one thing I knew I wanted to do was play baseball at Western.”

The spring semester came and Elingburg found himself at baseball practice in the shortstop position. “I thought I was a pretty good baseball player,” he said. But then another young Catamount player showed up to get in some work at shortstop. It was a freshman from Spartanburg, S.C., named Wayne Tolleson ’78, an athlete who would eventually play Major League Baseball for 10 years and get inducted in the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame. After watching Tolleson on the field for several weeks, Elingburg knew baseball wasn’t going to be his career. “I was average,” he said. “Wayne Tolleson was great. I quickly decided I needed to move on and find something else to do.”

During the summer before his sophomore year, Elingburg was at home in Asheville and a friend’s father suggested he try taking an accounting course at WCU. Elingburg followed that advice and loved the course. That set him on a path to an accounting career and he finished his student days in Cullowhee with only two B’s marring his otherwise perfect academic record of A’s. One of the B’s was received in a course in “Old Testament” – “a grade I still dispute to this day,” he says humorously. In the fall of his senior year, Elingburg visited the bottom floor of Scott Residence Hall for a job interview with the national auditing firm KPMG. After graduating with highest honors with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting, he went to work for KPMG in Greensboro. Two years later, he moved to a position at Laboratory Corporation of America in Burlington, the second-largest clinical laboratory in the world.

Over the years, Elingburg rose through the ranks to become LabCorp’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, and the company flourished with him overseeing its finances. When he started with the company, LabCorp’s annual revenues were $25 million and there were fewer than 1,000 employees. When he retired in 2005, after 25 years with the company, it had grown to $3 billion in annual revenues and employed more than 23,000 people.

Elingburg relayed his story of switching from fielding grounders to calculating corporate finances  last fall as he accepted the WCU Alumni Association’s Professional Achievement Award during WCU’s Homecoming activities. Jack Hudson ’82, president of the Alumni Association, told the audience attending the awards ceremony that Elingburg stays active, despite that fact that he retired at “the tender age of 48.” Elingburg’s love of baseball lives on, as he is an owner and managing partner of one of the most successful minor league franchises in the nation, the Greensboro Grasshoppers. He also has been involved with Hospice in Alamance County. Elingburg and his wife, Cathy, have one son, Nolan (named after baseball player Nolan Ryan) who earned two degrees at Elon University, and Elingburg serves as chairman of Elon’s board of trustees.

“I’m glad to report that Wes has been a dedicated supporter of WCU since he got his diploma, contributing to both the Loyalty Fund and the Catamount Club,” Hudson said. Elingburg’s gift to the university also provided funding for the establishment of the Wesley R. Elingburg Distinguished Professorship in Business Innovation, and three years after providing support for that professorship, Elingburg took the lead in a program for the Loyalty Fund by offering to match donations over a one-year period, Hudson said.

As he accepted the Professional Achievement Award, an emotional Elingburg told the audience that it is the most prestigious honor he has ever received. “This school was transformative for me,” he said. “It provided a foundation for my life and took me down a career path that puts me here in front of you today. For that, I will always be appreciative.”