It might seem strange to select a university president to a list of business leaders, but West Liberty University's president, Robin Capehart, has influenced business in West Virginia in many different ways for 30 years.
Capehart has a background in education, but also in law and taxes — by the way, he says taxes have more to do with law than with accounting.
"Tax is driven by statute, regulations and rulings, not by how much things add up," Capehart said recently.
Capehart has given more than 600 speeches and presentations to local, state, national and international organizations that include the Federation of Tax Administrators and the National Press Club. He has written articles that have appeared in publications such as the National Tax Journal and the Journal of State Taxation.
If that isn't enough to have an effect on the business community at large, Capehart also has taught several business and tax classes throughout the past 30 years.
Capehart, whose family moved from Mason County to Marshall County when he was a 4-year-old because Capehart's father worked for the power plant, is a product of the Marshall County school system.
He graduated from John Marshall High School in 1971 and knew he wanted to be a lawyer. He graduated from West Virginia University in 1975 magna cum laude with a political science degree and a member of Phi Beta Kappa and then graduated from WVU College of Law in 1978.
From there, Capehart returned to his hometown to practice law on his own in a sole proprietorship.
"I had clerked for the judges there for two summers and they knew me, so they gave me a lot of criminal appointments," Capehart said. "I did a murder trial nine months out of college — 25 years old, doing a murder trial."
Capehart then became the assistant prosecutor to Mark Karl, who now is a judge in Marshall County.
"I liked practicing law in Moundsville," Capehart said. "There was a camaraderie about it, and it was helpful for a young attorney."
Capehart's introduction to property tax issues came in the early 1980s when he began to work with a group called the Marshall County Taxpayers Association.
"I started to develop an interest in taxes then, and I realized there weren't a lot of people doing tax work," he said. "I gravitated to it, and no one else was doing it."
All this time, Capehart made time to teach. He taught a class at Wheeling College — what is now Wheeling Jesuit University — in 1979 and he taught in the '80s at West Virginia Northern Community College.
Capehart was appointed chief administrative law judge for the state tax department in 1985. He said he had four tax classes in law school and he enjoyed it even then, but he realized he needed a more intensive background if that's where his work was to lie.
Capehart left the Mountain State in 1989 to work with Tax Analysts, a nonprofit corporation that publishes a variety of tax products, information and resources for tax professionals. He was accepted to the masters of law in tax program at Georgetown University and finished that degree in about a year and a half.
He said he had the opportunity to stay in the Washington, D.C. area, but the traffic and the lifestyle weren't for him, so he found his way back home.
He started working with Phillips, Gardill, Kaiser and Altmeyer in Wheeling. He did a lot of pension and business reorganization work there from 1991-1997.
Capehart enjoyed a long relationship with former Gov. Cecil Underwood, and in 1997 he was interviewed and hired for the position of Secretary of Tax and Revenue in Underwood's administration.
"The governor had several things he wanted done, and one was to have a comprehensive review of the state tax system," Capehart said. "We started bringing a lot more technological advancements into the tax department at that time, and a great deal of my time was taken up with the Commission on Fair Taxation."
The first online filing happened under Capehart's watch, along with a tax reform proposal in 1997 that launched him to consulting gigs for the states of Tennessee, Virginia and Colorado. Capehart said his report continued to be sourced when Gov. Joe Manchin took office in 2005 and looked to further overhaul the state's tax systems.
"The real goals of it, about two-and-a-half were accomplished, but one that wasn't, and it's still lingering," Capehart said. "The state's business tax structure, obviously there needs to be some tremendous overhaul in that.
"One thing about tax law that people have got to understand is for every law, there's a group that likes it and a group that doesn't, and it's making the case for change that will make the tax system better overall."
One of the co-chairmen of that committee was Marshall University's business school dean Cal Kent. Capehart asked Kent in 2000 if there were any openings at the school, because the teaching bug was gnawing at him again.
Capehart began teaching taxes and general business at the graduate level while his wife, Saun, and their youngest daughter, Emily, still lived in Wheeling.
The summer of 2006 took the Capeharts to the Republic of Moldova on a Fulbright Scholarship. Capehart developed property tax systems there and wrote extensive papers for them. He called the experience "fascinating," and in the final weeks of his scholarship, he got a call for an interview at West Liberty University. He was appointed the 33rd president of the school in February 2007.