Professor’s phone call provided pivotal moment for KU student

As a junior at the University of Kansas, an unexpected phone call from a professor put Bill Plybon back on track to major in accounting. More than three decades later, Plybon and his wife, Suzanne, have made a $100,000 gift to create the Allen Ford Tax Fellow fund at KU in honor of Allen Ford, the Larry D. Horner/KPMG Peat Marwick Teaching Professor of Professional Accounting.

The Plybons live in Atlanta, Ga., where Bill is vice president, secretary and deputy general counsel for Coca-Cola Enterprises. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from KU in 1982, and a law degree from Emory University School of Law in 1986.

Plybon changed his major from accounting to general business after working through Ford’s difficult intermediate accounting course. He planned to apply to law school and knew he needed a high undergraduate GPA. When Ford learned of Plybon’s change in majors, he tracked him down at his fraternity house. “He said, ‘I heard you dropped out of accounting, and I wanted to tell you that’s a mistake. I think you should stay in accounting, you can do it, and it will be good for your career,’” said Plybon.

At Ford’s urging, Plybon returned to his original major and to his longtime plan of following not only in his father’s footsteps, but also his grandfather’s — his father was an accountant; his grandfather an attorney. Plybon believed the combination of both degrees would provide unique career opportunities.

Since 2004, Plybon has worked for Coca-Cola Enterprises, where in 2010, he was part of the team that negotiated the $14 billion sale of its North American bottling territories to the Coca-Cola Company. Before joining Coca-Cola Enterprises, he was a partner in the Trial and Appellate Practice Group at the law firm of Alston & Bird in Atlanta, where he helped lead the investigation of Enron Corporation.

“So much of what I’ve done in my career, I can trace back to that moment when Allen Ford called me, and I decided to go back to accounting,” said Plybon. “It was completely pivotal.”

Allen Ford said, “I am overwhelmed by Bill and Suzanne’s generosity and flattered that Bill gives credit to me for contributing to his success. A phone call to a good student seems like a rather insignificant event, although there is a message for all professors that we have the opportunity to make significant contributions — in and out of the classroom. The intangible income generated for the professor is both awesome and non-taxable.”

Plybon credits his KU professors for the knowledge they instilled in him. “That’s how knowledge comes to you, through the professors,” said Plybon. “They teach the literal accounting — the debits and credits — but they also teach about becoming a professional — and that makes all the difference.”

Bill Plybon with Allen Ford