Bob Thompson was born in 1932 on a small farm in Jonesville, Michigan (Hillsdale County). He graduated from Jonesville High School in 1950. His mother, a teacher, insisted that he go to college, so Bob attended Ohio's Bowling Green State University on a football scholarship and earned his teaching degree in 1955. He married his college sweetheart, Ellen, shortly after graduation and they returned to Michigan to take teaching positions in Detroit. However, after six weeks as a junior high industrial arts teacher, Bob quit teaching to pilot F-86 jet fighters in the U.S. Air Force from 1956 to1959.
With $3,500 in savings, Bob and Ellen - along with Thompson's uncle, Wilford McCully-started the Thompson-McCully Co. - a contract road paving company - in 1959. McCully left the company in 1960 but Thompson stayed on, developing the company until it became Michigan's largest asphalt paving company. During that time, Bob and Ellen bought a home in Plymouth, Michigan, and started a family. Forty years later, the Thompsons have three children - David (wife Kim), John (wife Mary), and Anne (husband, Steve) - five grandchildren, and still reside in the same ranch-style home they bought in 1962.
Bob helped lead the paving industry during his 40 years in business, serving as chairman of the National Asphalt Paving Foundation (NAPA), and president of the Michigan Road Builders Association, the Michigan Asphalt Pavement Association and the National Center for Asphalt Technology. He holds some of the industry's highest honors, including Asphalt Institute Roll of Honor, NAPA Man of the Year, Michigan Road Builders Lifetime Achievement Award, and Engineering News-Record's Award of Excellence.
When Bob developed heart problems, he decided to sell the business to Oldcastle Materials in 1999. Thompson shared nearly one-third of the $461 million sale with his employees. He gave bonuses up to $1 million to those loyal employees who had been with the company for years, and set up annuity accounts for others who are still years away from retirement. Bob stayed on at the office to help the transition go smoothly and to continue to counsel and train existing team members to take his place. That same year, Bob and Ellen Thompson founded the Thompson Foundation with $100 million from the sale of the Thompson-McCully Company.
The Thompson Foundation's mission is to help low-income people rise out of poverty and become self-sufficient. The Thompson Foundation has already:
- Established 1,000 Detroit private school scholarships for Detroit inner city kids, 500 scholarships at Schoolcraft Junior College in Livonia, 100 Michigan Tech University undergraduate engineering scholarships, and 20 Michigan State University graduate scholarships;
- Granted funds to dozens of other programs like food banks, guidance centers, and job placement and training facilities.
Although the Foundation serves a seven-county region (Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, St. Clair, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Monroe), the vast majority of its funds are used to serve those who live in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck. The Thompsons intend to distribute ALL of the Foundation's funds in the next 10-15 years.
"We want to make sure this money is used for what we intended. There is no better way to make sure that happens than to spend it all while we're still around to see the results." - Bob Thompson