He graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where he was initiated into the Sigma Chi Fraternity. He graduated in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science degree. His wife, Janice, attended nearby Columbia College.
The McNairs have been residents of Houston, Texas since 1960. He founded the cogeneration company Cogen Technologies, which was sold in 1999 to Enron and CalPERS. Today, McNair retains ownership of power plants in New York and West Virginia. McNair now serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The McNair Group, a financial and real estate firm that is headquartered in Houston, Texas.
He is also the owner of Palmetto Partners, Limited., a private investment company that manages the McNairs" public and private equity investments, and is Chairman of The McNair Foundation.
In June 2000, McNair formed a biotechnology investment firm, Cogene Biotech Ventures, where he serves as company chairman. Bob has been rumoured to be interested in buying a soccer club in the United Kingdom, and has twice been to visit Street Andrews, home of Championship team, the Birmingham City who have been up for sale for the past two years.
On January 3, 2014 a consortium headed by McNair made a bid to purchase Reading F.C. of the Championship. Committed to bringing a National Football League team to the city of Houston, McNair formed Houston NFL Holdings in 1998.
On October 6, 1999, the NFL announced that the 32nd NFL franchise had been awarded to McNair.
On September 12, 2007, McNair gave $100 million to Baylor College of Medicine to recruit top scientists and physicians. He is a recipient of the Anti-Defamation League"s Torch of Liberty Award. McNair is a primary backer of Sigma Chi"s Horizons leadership institute.
McNair donated over $1 million towards the completion of McNair Field, which hosts his hometown Forest City Owls, a collegiate summer wooden bat team in the Coastal Plain League.
McNair threw out the first pitch in the stadium"s opening night (May 29, 2008), and the Owls beat the Gastonia Grizzlies, 4–2, even turning a triple play in the 6th inning. In 1998, the McNairs established the McNair Scholar Program at the University of South Carolina.
In 1999 Robert McNair received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the university. The goal of the foundation was to remove some of the financial barriers that were preventing Rutherford County High school graduates from attending college.
The first beneficiaries were the class of 1990.
To date, the McNair foundation has awarded approximately $2.6 million in financial aid. McNair in 2015 has donated $10,000 to the effort to repeal Houston"s LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance. McNair has also donated to several Republican Party candidates.
According to one tally, McNair was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell"s largest donor from the period from January
1, 2009 to September 30, 2015, contributing $1,502,500.
Robert McNair is a member of the Texas Business Hall of Fame and is a current or past member of the Boards of Trustees of a number of institutions including Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Grand Opera, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Center for the American Idea, and other Houston area organizations.