5 Minutes With … Phillip and Margaret Forsythe

In March 1981, Margaret Long was a senior in mechanical engineering – in fact, the only female in the major to graduate that quarter. Phillip Forsythe was also a senior mechanical student. Their paths crossed in January of that year and have remained that way, ultimately leading to the creation of Forsythe and Long Engineering, a widely diversified firm in Florence, Ala. We caught up with them at a recent meeting
of the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council on which Margaret serves.

BS: Why did you attend Auburn? And why engineering?

Phillip: I grew up on a farm in northwest Alabama, and my dad was a big influence on me going to college. Actually, I am the first person in my family to graduate from college. And the thing is, we were all Alabama fans! I loved to tinker with things as a kid, so engineering was the thing for me, and I wanted to go to the best engineering school in the state, so I came to Auburn. And since then, I have managed to convert the family to Auburn fans.

Margaret: My father was a plant manager for Alabama Power Company and was always gearing me toward engineering. He believed it was a great career for women. I worked for Alabama Power in the summers and people there consistently encouraged me to pursue engineering. I’ll never forget Oliver Kingsley, also an Auburn alum, telling me to make sure I got my degree. He said, “People can take a lot of things away from you, but no one can take away your Auburn engineering degree.”

BS: You met as engineering students here. Tell me how that happened.

Margaret: We met before class one day – we only had two classes together – and we became friends and started studying together. Even though he had a girlfriend at the time, I knew immediately that we would get married one day. Plus, he went to school, co-oped and worked at a grocery store and Burger King – I saw in him a strong work ethic and traits that I admired . . . traits that I could someday use in my business.

BS: Your business?

Margaret: Well, yes. When I was 15, I worked at a pharmacy in Demopolis, west of Montgomery. I got the bug for owning my own business and that was always my plan. I used to read the Wall Street Journal and dream of one day establishing my own business.

BS: Phillip, were you aware of this business dream?

Phillip: Oh yes, she told me about it . . . everyday. She was determined to make it happen.

BS: So, the company was born when?

Margaret: After graduation, we both went to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and then I went on to Reynolds Metal Company. After a number of years and the birth of our second daughter, I didn’t want to be away from the children as much as I was. So, I decided to start a company and work on contract with Reynolds.

Phillip: I was still with TVA and traveling a great deal. I came home one day and saw it on her face – we were about to make a change.

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