For Tommy Boyer, It All Started At The Free Throw Line

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 848 views 

Editor’s Note: This is Part Four of a four-part series on the four inductees in next week’s Arkansas Business Hall of Fame. To access our latest magazine with all four inductee articles, click here.

Tommy Boyer, a longtime Kodak executive, entrepreneur and chairman of the University of Arkansas’ Campaign for the 21st Century, shot 89.2 percent from the line during his career as a Razorback – the 13th best career percentage in NCAA Division I history.

Blind in his right eye since birth, he twice led the nation in free throw shooting percentage, making 93.3 percent as a junior in 1962 and 91.3 percent the next year. He once sank 44 free throws in a row – a record for major college players at the time. An honorable mention All-American and two-time All-Southwest Conference selection, he finished his career averaging 21.9 points per game. He is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

The Fort Smith native and Amarillo resident made the parallel between free throw shooting and business/life success his theme during a commencement address he gave at the Sam M. Walton College of Business in 2008. He spoke in Barnhill Arena, the same place where he had played his college ball.

“Free throws remind us that it is important to do small things well, because small things add up,” he told the graduates. “And when those small things add up, they have a major impact, both in the short term – say on an individual game, and in the long term – on the season as a whole, and on your life.”

For Boyer, the free throw line wasn’t a “charity stripe.” Getting there was his goal. He imagined himself shooting and making free throws to win games in pressure situations.

“All good free throw shooters have one common element,” he said from his second home in Fayetteville, where he spends extra time when he wants to catch some Razorback games. “That one common element is, when they’re out there in that 40 minutes of basketball, their top priority is to get to the free throw line as much as they can. The good free throw shooters will do anything to get to the free throw line, because they know that’s where they’re going to be the most successful.”

Boyer knows a little about being successful. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, he married his college sweetheart, Sylvia, turned down an opportunity to play in the National Basketball Association, and took a job as an Eastman Kodak sales representative in Amarillo. He there sold microfilm systems and later digital scanner products to the financial, commercial, industrial, and government markets in the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma. He was the only sales manager in the company’s history to exceed corporate sales goals for 26 straight years, his entire career with the company, and he led the company in sales in 1985.

When Kodak announced in 1983 that it was closing more than 30 film processing labs throughout the country, Boyer formed a partnership with a longtime friend, Pat Thurman, became an authorized Kodiak distributor of microfilm and scanner products, and opened a film processing lab for corporate clients in Lubbock that quickly gained a 90 percent market share in west Texas and eastern New Mexico. They later opened a second lab in Fort Worth. Boyer bought Thurman’s share in 1989, the same year he retired from Kodak, and founded Micro Images. Within two years, the Amarillo-based company had become the country’s largest broker and reseller of Kodak scanning hardware and software. It eventually opened offices in 14 cities.

Boyer said his work ethic was one of the keys to his success. At one point, he realized that shaving 30 minutes off his lunchtime would net him the equivalent of three workweeks a year.

“If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to really like what you do,” he said. “And if you’re going to be extremely successful, you’ve got to absolutely love what you do. I think that’s been one of my strengths. … I never hated to go to work. There wasn’t a single day I believe that I ever went to work thinking, ‘I just hate to go do this again.’”

Focused on his business, Boyer did not return to Fayetteville for 20 years after graduating but reconnected with the university after his daughter, Melissa, enrolled as a student. He and Sylvia established endowed fellowships and scholarships that have benefited more than 200 students in the Walton College, the College of Education and Health Professions, and the law school.  They established the College of Education’s Sylvia Hack Boyer Center for Student Services in 1993. They were honored as the university’s Parents of the Year in 1990 and Volunteers of the Year in 1992. He is a founding member of the Towers of Old Main and has reached Gold Tower status, an honor given to those who have given or committed $1 million. He was a member of the University of Arkansas Foundation Board of Directors and was a member of the University of Arkansas Board of Advisors.

In 2000, he took over as presiding co-chair of the Campaign for the 21st Century, a fundraising effort whose goal was to raise $1 billion for the university. Originally slated to co-chair the committee for two years, he ended up leading it for four, and the effort exceeded its goal.

Boyer was a good but not great free throw shooter his sophomore year before he and his teammate, Jerry Carlton, began pushing each other to excel in that skill. In 1962, when Boyer led the nation in free throw shooting as a junior, Carlton was second as a senior, and the Razorbacks led all Division I schools with a 77.6 percent average.

Carlton recently recalled Boyer’s dedication to the routine of shooting a free throw. When they practiced, they made sure to do it the right way.

“He’d walk to the free throw line the same way each time,” Carlton said. “He’d bounce the ball the same each time, and the rotation of the ball, the placement of the ball when he shot it, it was pretty much the same thing. … It was serious business when you got to the free throw line. You went through that routine, and I think that was what made him successful.”

Boyer added, “You have to have a routine as a free throw shooter, and you have to have a routine as a businessman. Figure out all the things that you do right, and take that and build on it.”

He said he visualized success in all of his projects the way he visualized success at the free throw line. Failure wasn’t even a possibility for the nation’s best Division I free throw shooter, Eastman Kodak’s best sales manager, and the presiding co-chair of a campaign that raised $1 billion for the university he loves.

“We are what we think we are, and we will become what we think we’ll become. … I not only visualized the shot going in, but I visualized the ball hitting the net only, not hitting the rim,” he said. “And some people will say, ‘Okay, make 10 free throws in a row, and you can go in for the day. My position was, I wanted to hit 10 free throws in a row, nothing but the net.”