The Record, April 2006 -- TWO DAYS AFTER the Miami Beach half-marathon, retired executive W. Greyson Quarles, Jr. '63 is recuperating at his home in the Florida Keys. "It will take me about a week to recover," he says, "but by Monday I'll be chomping at the bit to start training again."
Quarles has been competing in road races and triathlons for about 25 years. He says matter-of-factly that he started long-distance running to "sweat out" the beer he had drunk the night before. He was an alcoholic.
For many years he had juggled the drinking, the running, and work. In the early 1980s, he started working for SAS Institute, a fast-growing privately-owned software company in North Carolina. The company's relaxed atmosphere facilitated his drinking; he could come in late and no one really noticed. As the company grew, though, so did his responsibilities and his department. "I enjoyed it until I started hiring bright guys. I knew that I wasn't in any condition to run a finance department."
Quarles would continue to struggle to moderate his drinking, and running to sweat it out for many years until "I learned that I really did have a drinking problem; and I decided the easiest thing was to quit cold turkey." He adds, "It was frustrating. I had to look myself in the face and say it's either the booze or me, and I had too much at stake."
When he cleaned up, Quarles immediately saw a change for the better. Among many other benefits of being sober, his race times improved, and he directed his addictive energy into working out and exercise.
When he talks about running and competing in triathlons, Quarles mentions his younger brother Leo Thompson Quarles '66 and the effect his brother's untimely death has had on him. "Frankly, he was probably a better athlete than I was. He died of cancer at 48. I use him as my motivation; that, and the fact that I had abused alcohol for so long. Then my second wife got into [triathlons] and turned out to be really good at it."
In 1997, Quarles was a member of the USA World Championship Triathlon Team and competed in Perth, Australia; he finished 13th in his age group and was the fifth American. "I came back motivated," he says, "and kept working hard for an upcoming duathlon [run-bike-run]. I ended up second and made the US team for the 1998 World Duathlon Championships in Germany."
His athletic career was put on hold in 1999 while he recuperated from knee surgery, but Quarles made up for lost time by competing in four IronMan Triathlons over the next three years. Together Quarles and his wife Georg have competed in many countries around the world, including three trips to South Africa for IronMan Triathlons. "We're not competitive with one another. I'm faster in the swim and on the bike, but she's a better runner. She'll catch up with me on the run and we'll run in together. It was really special to cross the finish line with her at the Hawaiian IronMan."
Quarles earned his MBA from Rutgers after graduating from Hampden-Sydney and joined the Ernst & Young accounting firm on Wall Street. He worked in "The City" for many years until he transferred to Raleigh and was put in charge of their small business practice. After several years in Raleigh, he started his own accounting practice, which eventually included SAS Institute. SAS took up more and more of his practice. Although he didn't join the company until 1982, Quarles says he was involved with the company since its founding in 1976. "[SAS co-founder] Jim Goodnight and I were beer buddies. I taught his secretary how to turn the checkbook into financial statements," he says with a laugh.
As SAS grew, so did their financial responsibilities, and eventually Quarles was offered a full-time position with the company. He says, "It was a tough decision to go to SAS. I was still drinking a lot and I could make my own hours with my business, but I knew in my head that that was what I needed to do." Quarles took the job, but, despite his best intentions, he kept drinking. It would be some years later before he would quit.
Quarles's career at SAS led to additional responsibilities. "The boss decided he needed to spend more time in Europe, so he brought in an acting COO who didn't care for the physical side of the company like human resources, legal, facilities, and those sorts of things," explains Quarles. "So in 2000, the heads of those departments started reporting to me, in addition to the administration, finance, tax, and audit departments."
SAS is a privately-held company, something that Quarles adored while working there before his retirement last year: "Decisions are made promptly-especially with someone like Goodnight- because you don't have to go through a board of directors. Being a public company involves a morass of governmental compliance and regulations. So much of your time is consumed with reporting to the government . and it's expensive. Being private gave us so much more flexibility. I feel sorry for small public companies."
Recently retired from the rigors of overseeing the day-to-day functions of a major company, Quarles has time to reflect on how he got to where he is, and he asserts that strong writing skills-especially good grammar-had a lot to do with it. "There's no doubt that I had a superior education to everybody in my side of the company. These guys went to UNC, North Carolina State University, and Duke, but I had the strong English structure, and the other liberal-arts sciences, like chemistry and physics. By the time you get to management there is so much need for good grammar; you're writing press releases and memos and communicating with people all the time. My Hampden-Sydney education gave me the confidence to handle all of these disciplines. I thank my dad, who is long gone now, for springing for that top-shelf education."
Do not let Quarles, whose mother was an English teacher, hear you mangle the English language; he will not let you live it down. "To hear intelligent people hack up grammar is like someone scratching his or her fingernails across a chalkboard," he says excitedly. "I consider myself nearly perfect in English and I get very worked up about this; I've sent letters to congressmen when I hear them mess up."
Quarles is a very passionate man, whether about work, athletics, or grammar. The same passionate energy that had once led him down the destructive path of alcoholism now fuels a retirement more active than that of many people half his age. The Miami Half-Marathon and its 13 miles are behind him, but ahead lies the hundreds of miles he will face in the months and years to come.