Former FAMU dean Sybil Mobley dies

By Byron Dobson, Democrat senior writer

Sybil Mobley,left, with former Anheuser Busch chairman August Busch III, center, and Microsoft Chairman John Thompson at her retirement gala in 2003. (Photo: Special to the Democrat)

Tallahassee Democrat, October 1, 2015 — Sybil C. Mobley, whose leadership in creating the School of Business and Industry at Florida A&M University grew it into a magnet for corporate America recruiters and helped propel Mobley to iconic status, died early Tuesday [September 29, 2015].

Mobley, 89, died at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare after a brief illness, her daughter Janet Sermon told the Tallahassee Democrat. Mobley had been in declining health in recent years.

Mobley retired from FAMU in 2003 after 58 years of service.

“On behalf of the entire FAMU community, I’d like to extend my condolences to the family, friends, and former faculty, staff, and students of SBI Dean Emerita Sybil C. Mobley,” FAMU President Elmira Mangum said. “Dean Mobley was indeed a treasure to the university, and her passion, professionalism, and dedication to the success of our students have been felt across not only the campus but also the entire nation.

“Because of her tireless efforts, FAMU business students are highly sought after by the nation’s leading Fortune 500 companies, as well as the state and federal sectors.”

While her death was met with sadness, it also triggered memories of a woman whose career achievements earned her accolades of being a phenomenal woman decades before the term of endearment became popular.

Sybil Mobley (Photo: FAMU)

“Today, we mourn the loss of Dr. Sybil Mobley, while at the same time celebrating her legacy,” Rep. Alan Williams said. “As a graduate of FAMU’s School of Business and one of the legions of Dean Mobley disciples , we have lost a phenomenal teacher, a role model and iconic leader. She helped the university develop a national reputation and build key relationships with Fortune 500 companies across the world .

“She lived the words of the school’s motto, ‘No excuse is acceptable. No amount of effort is adequate until proven effective.’

Janet Sermon, said she is proud of the legacy that her mother established during her more than 50 years at Florida A&M University.

“I call her the phenomenal woman,” said Sermon who retired in 2013 as assistant dean in FAMU’s College of Education. “She is a visionary, a solutions person. She could see far beyond what average people could see and as a solutions person, she would act on it and make it happen.

Sermon said that even though her mother earned national and even international recognition as dean of the School of Business and Industry, she remained committed to helping students at FAMU.

“She would fly to board meetings on corporate jets,” Sermon said. “She did it with the students and the School of Business in mind.”

Mobley’s rise to academic achievement in the business world is the story of a visionary who believed she could make a difference.

She was SBI’s founding dean and held that title until her retirement in 2003. She created a business model that was built on recruiting the brightest students and faculty, providing students with full scholarships and making sure that they had completed three internships before graduation.

Mobley grew up in Shreveport, La., where her father, Melvin Collins was an educator and founder of the Shreveport Sun newspaper, and her mother was a teacher. She graduated from high school and then attended Bishop College in Texas, where she was outstanding student.

But opportunities for employment were slim and she accepted a job as a secretary at FAMU in 1945. Years later, she was recognized for her business skills and encouraged to take the graduate school admissions exam, and excelled. She was accepted into the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, where she made the Dean’s List. She was then entered the University of Illinois, where she completed her classwork towards her doctorate in one and a half years.

She went in this academic direction despite the fact that back in Tallahassee was her husband, James Otis Mobley Sr. who owned a laundry business near campus, and their three children.

She returned to Tallahassee to teach accounting while working on her dissertation and studying for her CPA, which she later earned. She was head of the business department by 1970, and in 1974, the School of Business and Industry was created and Mobley was named dean.

She hired a strong faculty and personally recruited top National Merit Scholars to come to FAMU. She tapped into her network of resources from the Wharton School and talked to corporate executives across the country to find out what they wanted in future employees and set up a curriculum to meet those needs.

A key component was what would later become the professional development program. Mobley hired former corporate executives to teach SBI students about real-life experiences. This involved business writing classes, oratorical skills training, proper dress and style and more. Later she would add a leadership forum where Fortune 500 CEOs would visit FAMU, meeting directly with students and faculty.

This translated into internships, full-time job offers and heavy corporate contributions to the school. Mobley accepted board positions at Anheuser-Busch, Sears, Champion International, Morgan Stanley and others.

“Dr. Mobley was the most energetic woman I have ever known for creating a vision for a program and working relentlessly to harness all of the resources to make that vision a reality,” said Doris Corbett, who worked at SBI from 1987 to 2010 as director of internships and corporate relations.

“Dean Mobley’s greatest gift was her ability to create opportunities for SBI students to develop a bond like a family,” Corbett said. “I’ve lost a part of myself. She was such a blessing to me.”

George W. Clark Jr. was recruited by Mobley in 1974, where he became an associate professor of business and held the 3M Chair, one of the many endowed chairs in the school. He has created a room inside the SBI building full of items, letters from presidents and other gifts received by Mobley from corporations.

Dr. Sybil Collins Mobley – Dean of the School of Business and Industry. (Photo: State Archives of Florida)

He said that one of Mobley’s greatest gifts was to convince to believe in the school and its students. In turn, Mobley expected the best from her faculty and students.

“You are talking about major CEOs of many Fortune 500 firms coming to us at SBI to talk to students and faculty,” he said. “That is revolutionary.

“She just had this charisma about her. You believed in her dreams.”

Mobley is survived by three adult children, James Otis Mobley Jr., Janet Mobley Sermon and the Rev. Melvin Edward Mobley, in addition to 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.