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McNair in 2012
McNair in 2012

Robert C. McNair (January 1, 1937 – November 23, 2018) was an American businessman, philanthropist, and the owner of the National Football League (NFL)'s Houston Texans.

Early life and education

McNair grew up in Forest City, North Carolina,[4] a town of about 7,500 in the foothills of western North Carolina, where he attended East Rutherford High School in Forest City.[5] He graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where he was initiated into the Sigma Chi Fraternity.[6] He graduated in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science degree.[4] His wife, Janice, attended nearby Columbia College.[7]

Professional career

The McNairs were residents of Houston, Texas beginning in 1960. He spent most of his 20s and 30s as a struggling salesman and unsuccessful entrepreneur whose businesses all failed. He eventually broke through to success when he founded the cogeneration company Cogen Technologies, which he sold in 1999 to Enron and CalPERS. At the time of his death, McNair retained ownership of power plants in New York and West Virginia. McNair served as chairman and chief executive officer of The McNair Group, a financial and real estate firm that is headquartered in Houston, Texas. He was also the owner of Palmetto Partners, Ltd., a private investment company that manages the McNairs' public and private equity investments, and was Chairman of The McNair Foundation. In June 2000, McNair formed a biotechnology investment firm, Cogene Biotech Ventures, where he served as company chairman.

He was rumored to be interested in buying a soccer club in the United Kingdom, and twice went to visit St Andrews, home of Championship team, Birmingham City F.C., who have been up for sale for the past two years. On January 3, 2014, a consortium headed by McNair made a bid to purchase Reading F.C. of the Championship, but were unsuccessful.

Houston Texans owner

Committed to bringing the NFL back to the city of Houston after the Oilers left the city to become the Tennessee Titans in 1996, McNair formed Houston NFL Holdings in 1998. On October 6, 1999, the NFL announced that the 32nd NFL franchise had been awarded to McNair. This team would become the Houston Texans, who began play in 2002.[8] They won their first AFC South title in 2011,[8] repeating in 2012 en route to four titles in six seasons.[9] He was influential in bringing two Super Bowls to Houston's NRG Stadium in 2004 and 2017.[8][9]

On October 29, 2017, in a game against the Seattle Seahawks, the majority of the Texans' players kneeled during the national anthem after McNair had commented about having the "inmates running the prison" during a league owner meeting regarding the ongoing protests by NFL players during the anthem. McNair had apologized, stating that he was not referring to the players, but rather to the "relationship between the league office and team owners."[10][11] It was the first time a Texans player had knelt during the anthem.[12]

Public service and recognitions

Robert McNair was a member of the Texas Business Hall of Fame and was a current or past member of the Boards of Trustees of a number of institutions including Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Grand Opera, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Center for the American Idea,[13] and other Houston area organizations. On September 12, 2007, McNair gave $100 million to Baylor College of Medicine to recruit top scientists and physicians.[14] He was a recipient of the Anti-Defamation League's Torch of Liberty Award. McNair is a primary backer of Sigma Chi's Horizons leadership institute. McNair donated over $1 million towards the completion of McNair Field, which hosts his hometown Forest City Owls, a collegiate summer wooden bat team in the Coastal Plain League. McNair threw out the first pitch in the stadium's opening night (May 29, 2008), and the Owls beat the Gastonia Grizzlies, 4–2, even turning a triple play in the 6th inning. In 1998, the McNairs established the McNair Scholar Program at the University of South Carolina.[15] In 1999 Robert McNair received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the university.

Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation

In 1989, he and his wife established the Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation. The goal of the foundation was to remove some of the financial barriers that were preventing Rutherford County High school graduates from attending college. The first beneficiaries were the class of 1990. To date, the McNair foundation has awarded approximately $2.6 million in financial aid.

Robert and Janice McNair Foundation

The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation, established in 2015, provides gifts to create centers for entrepreneurship at universities throughout the United States. In September 2016 the foundation had established entrepreneurship teaching centers at Columbia College, Northwood University, Houston Baptist University, the University of St. Thomas, and the University of South Carolina, as we well as a research center at Rice University's Baker Institute.

Political contributions

According to one tally, McNair was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's largest donor from the period from January 1, 2009 to September 30, 2015, contributing $1,502,500.[16][17] He also donated to several Republican Party candidates.[18]


McNair died on November 23, 2018.[19] He had been diagnosed with skin cancer in 1994 and had been in treatment for various cancers throughout that span. He had largely withdrawn from the team's operations in the last months of his life.[20] McNair's wife, Janice, became principal owner of the Texans, and represents the team in owners meetings. His son, Cal, who had been chief operating officer, became operating head of the franchise as chairman and CEO.[21]

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