Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

George Haley - Proof that Simple is Best

George Haley

George Haley is a rascal in executive’s clothing. It took just a few seconds for him to settle on a description of himself. “Humble,” he said. Moments later, with great comic timing, he corrected himself. “Wait… make that very humble.” Finally, he backtracked. “No, no… don’t say that. I’m kidding. I’m just a simple guy.”

It fell to his wife, Theresa, to add a few insights. “George? He’s a very complex person, yet simple, as he said. He has a childlike quality – it’s really endearing – and he’s able to draw from that to simplify things in life. I have to add that everything he does comes from the inside, from his heart. To know him is to love him.”

“That’s pretty generous of her,” Haley said. “But she still doesn’t get to cook.”

Haley (BSE EE ’70) was referring to Theresa’s culinary deficiency. “It’s true,” she said. “I’m a lousy cook. For the first two years of marriage, we alternated cleaning and cooking. When he finally told me that I’m a terrible cook, I said, ‘What took you so long to figure that out? I thought you were smarter than that.’ So he cooks, I clean… division of labor. It works for us.”

To say that Haley has a talent for cooking doesn’t do him justice. He’s a kitchen magician and a true gourmet – fast food for him would be a duck crepinette from his local charcuterie, a slice of homemade spinach frittata, and a glass of 20-year-old red Burgundy from the more than 7,000 bottles of vintage wines quietly aging in his basement. He might break off a piece of one of his ten-pound bars of Guitard dark chocolate for dessert.

Haley’s professional skills are even more sophisticated than his palate. He’s a partner with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, where he focuses on the development and financing for high-profile multimillion-dollar projects. Over the years, he’s carved out a special niche. “I’ve helped develop more than 150 electric-generation projects around the world,” he said. He humbly ignored mention of a solar facility in the Mojave desert – to date it’s the biggest solar project anyone has tackled in the U.S. That kind of work has earned a fistful of honors – including a nod as one of 2012’s Best Lawyers in America.

Both of Haley’s parents were lawyers. So law was a natural road to travel. But first he needed an undergrad degree. “My father always wanted me to go to Michigan. When I was eight years old, he started taking me to games at the Big House. It gave me the Michigan bug. So choosing a school was a no-brainer. And I was good in math and science; engineering was the way to go.”

He cheered on U-M football, discovered a passion for concerts at Hill Auditorium, International Night at the Michigan League, the Mendelssohn Theater and theater in general. But his most vivid memory is the 1969 Michigan-Ohio State game and its aftermath. “Everyone said Ohio was the best in the country – some said the best college football team ever. We were huge underdogs but we took them down, and the entire city went crazy – I saw students with convertibles driving through a carwash with their tops down. People just went out of their minds that day.”

It wasn’t all fun and games. Haley, a James B. Angell Scholar at Michigan Engineering, pounded the books – during one stretch he turned in seven straight all-A semesters. “When I graduated in 1970, I thought I was headed for an all-expense-paid vacation to Viet Nam. But I didn’t pass the Army physical. So, off I went to California for a master’s in engineering, then east to Harvard Law, then back to California. A lot has happened to me out here. I’ve made it my home and have a successful career. But most importantly, this is where I met Theresa – she’s the most important part of my life.”

Michigan Engineering still gets his attention. He supports students with the George P. Haley Fund. He makes sure the library in Bad Axe, Michigan, is healthy (“my mother loved it, so I support it in her memory”) and he’s a driving force behind the National Writing Project. “Its purpose is to help students develop their writing skills. I’m not exaggerating when I say good writing is important not only to personal and professional success but to the future of the country. So far we have 200 programs in all 50 states. I’ve been talking with Michigan Engineering about how to get students to write better.”

Haley has honed his own writing skills, authoring articles and co-authoring a book about law – and he has more in the works (“maybe a cookbook, someday”). He’s also an avid reader. “I missed out on the classics in school, so I’m getting into them now, starting with Jane Austen. And with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War coming up, I’ve put Grant’s memoirs on my ‘to read’ list. I have an iPad, so they’re easy to take on trips – we do a good bit of traveling. France is a favorite, and Nova Scotia’s one of the most beautiful places in world.”

Haley’s used to the finer things in life. “Theresa, food, wine, work – you name it, I’ve been lucky. You can put Michigan Engineering on that list; I wouldn’t be here without it.”

Story by Bill Clayton, College of Engineering (published in the Michigan Engineer, Spring 2012)