A look at William E. Simon’s legacy and how he shaped one of the world’s top business schools.By John Robortella
But a specific date—November 6, 1986—was a turning point in the history of the University of Rochester’s Graduate School of Management. Thirty years ago, the School was renamed the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration, and everything changed.
Established in 1958, the School of Business Administration—renamed the Graduate School of Management in 1970—had been led from its inception by three successive deans who built it from the ground up and attracted a world-class faculty on a founding principle that the local business and industrial community depended on the University for the training of its executive leaders.
But although the School was known in academia, it lacked a national presence among the top-tier business schools of the day.
“At the time, the School was a leader in free-market economics with the Center for Research in Government Policy and Business, and the likes of [Karl] Brunner, [William] Meckling, [Michael] Jensen, and others,” said Charles W. Miersch ’70S (MBA), who retired in 2004 as senior associate dean for corporate relations and institutional advancement, following a career of more than three decades at the University. “The School was well known in academic circles but not the corporate world, except for a few financial economists like Joel Stern. So being named for someone with Simon’s success and reputation would help put the School on the map,” Miersch noted.
|Paul W. MacAvoy in front of the|
construction of Schlegel Hall
MacAvoy and David T. Kearns, then chief executive officer and chairman of Xerox Corporation and the former chair and a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, had a request of William E. Simon—the treasury secretary in the Nixon and Ford administrations—who, as an investor and Wall Street trader, was undoubtedly entrepreneurship personified.
“I’m not in the position of buying B-schools” was Simon’s first reaction when
MacAvoy and Kearns arrived at his office that year. Simon thought that they sought a major financial gift. “When Bill Simon inquired about how much money Paul wanted him to donate, Paul had the brilliant and provocative idea of saying, ‘Nothing; we just want your name,’” Zimmerman recalled.
“Immediately, it was recognized that this place existed and was in the major leagues,” said MacAvoy, when he reflected years later on the impact of that day and Simon’s name.
|William E. Simon|
“The renaming took a school that was probably ranked 50th in the country and, by itself, without any change in student body or faculty, put it in the top 20,” he said. “In polls that rank business schools, Rochester was never mentioned before it became the Simon School. In the first BusinessWeek poll with a ranking after the renaming, it made the top 20.... There was just an immediate and positive impact. Our enrollment of good students more than doubled.”
Simon had accepted the invitation to lend his name. His decision led to a profound and enduring impact upon the Simon School that has continued for 30 years.
“The naming for Dad was unconventional for its time,” said J. Peter Simon, one of Simon’s seven children, who served as one of the original members of the School’s Executive Advisory Committee and was chair of the committee for 15 years. He recently received emeritus status. “Most schools were asking for donations. Dean MacAvoy and David Kearns asked for Dad’s name—not for his money—and for his help to raise the funds required by the University,” Peter said.
Business education at the University of Rochester started long before the School was named for Simon. In 1945, the University announced two new undergraduate degree programs: The Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Business Education and the Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Accounting.
|John M. Brophy (right)|
The School of Business Administration was formed in 1958. Three faculty members were appointed; one student enrolled. The formation of the School was described in the public announcement as “the most significant development at the University since the opening of the Eastman School of Music in 1921 and of the School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1925.”
“The decision to establish a School of Business Administration resulted from the recognition that an active industrial and business community depended upon the University for the training of a large proportion of its executive personnel,” University president Cornelis de Kiewiet said at the time. “Although the School of Business Administration has a more local character than the new colleges of engineering and education, there can be no question about its need.”
Brophy moved quickly to establish the School as a leader in the business education of women when he joined with the Rochester Personnel Women organization in 1959 to sponsor “Women in Management,” a two-day seminar held at Cutler Union with the theme of exploring the “increasingly vital role of women in our industrial society.” He explained that the conference was planned “in the belief that women in management, regardless of position, often discover added areas of service and advancement.” Angela Parisi, then former chair of the New York State Workman’s Compensation Board, gave the keynote address. Betty Brownell served as conference chair.
At the inaugural convocation of the School in 1959, three students became the first to receive honors from the School: David F. Hertle received the $150 prize of the Society for Quality Control, Webster (N.Y.) Branch; Charles Moore received a $50 prize as the Outstanding Student in Industrial Management; and Gareth A. Chasey received the General Business Administration Award. The guest speaker was Joseph C. Wilson, president of Haloid Xerox Inc.
The School was renamed the College of Business Administration in 1962. Brophy was appointed its first dean; 11 men from the Rochester area enrolled in the first class. Since 1993, graduating part-time MBA candidates with the highest record of academic achievement are presented with the John M. Brophy Award, established in Brophy’s honor.
|W. Allen Wallis (left) with economist|
Milton Friedman in the lobby of
Rush Rhees Libarary
A year later, Meckling established an Annual Business Forecasting Day (the precursor to Dean Charles I. Plosser’s annual economic outlook seminars). Held at the Manger Hotel in downtown Rochester, the inaugural speakers were professors James Lorie and Irving Schwieger of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business; and Beryl Sprinkel, vice president and director of research at the Harris Trust and Savings Bank, Chicago. (Sprinkel went on to become undersecretary of the treasury for monetary affairs from 1981 to 1985 and chair of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1985 to 1989 in the Reagan administration.)
By 1966, the foundations established by Brophy and Meckling brought academic attention to the College:
- The MBA program earned accreditation by the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
- The PhD program in Business Administration was established and enrolled its first student.
- The Center for Research in Government Policy and Business was established (later renamed the Bradley Policy Research Center).
- The Executive Development Program was created.
“The introduction of the PhD program in business administration is another major step in placing the College of Business Administration in the ranks of the nation’s leading schools,” said Meckling. “Since 1958, when the College was established, the undergraduate curriculum has undergone a top-to-bottom revision. A Master of Business Administration program has been added and already enrolls 90 full-time students. The faculty has changed from three full-time and 39 part-time members to 21 full-time members. By this September , there will be 29 full-time faculty members, 20 of whom hold the PhD degree. The fact that this year alone we have been able to add eight outstanding men reflects the strength of our present program and our commitment to the future,” Meckling noted.
In 1968, the College joined Indiana University, the University of Southern California, the University of Wisconsin, and Washington University in the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management to enhance educational opportunities for those traditionally underrepresented in higher education and the corporate ranks.
On March 27, 1969, President Nixon announced the creation of the President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force (the Gates Commission, as it was known, named for Thomas Gates, its chair), which included representatives from the University and the College on the commission and its staff.
|Ronald W. Hansen|
Among the commissioners was University president W. Allen Wallis. Meckling served as executive director of the commission staff; College of Business faculty members Walter Y. Oi and Harry Gilman served as staff economists; and Hansen, then a PhD student, prepared a research study entitled “The Conscription Tax.” Each is credited in the report, which led to the end of the military draft and heightened the College’s visibility.
The College phased out undergraduate education in 1970 and was renamed the Graduate School of Management (GSM). Enrollment had increased to more than 150 full- and part-time MBA students.
In the 1970s, three academic journals were founded at the GSM: The Journal of Financial Economics in 1974 with associate professor Michael C. Jensen as founding editor; the Journal of Monetary Economics in 1975 with professor Karl Brunner as founding editor; and the Journal of Accounting and Economics in 1979 with professor Jerold L. Zimmerman and professor Ross L. Watts (today the Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management, Emeritus and professor of accounting emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management) as founding editors. In addition, the Simon School became the new academic sponsor of the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance.
|William H. Meckling|
“My perspective coming from the legal academic world was that the Jensen and Meckling piece, in particular, was a breakout piece for the School,” said Distinguished University Professor and president emeritus Thomas H. Jackson, who today holds faculty positions in the Simon School and in the University’s Department of Political Science. “Prior to that, the School was generally completely off the radar screens of legal academics.”
In 1978, the Managerial Economics Research Center was organized to encourage scholars of diverse interests and backgrounds to focus attention on the problems of management, to develop theories and evidence that enable managers to understand the world around them more thoroughly, and to provide the foundation for improved decision making. A CEO Seminar Series (later renamed the Frederick Kalmbach Executive Seminar Series) was initiated.
Having succeeded William Meckling as dean in 1984, Paul MacAvoy sought to broaden the appeal and reputation of the MBA program at the School and to secure a solid financial footing. Among his first accomplishments toward these goals was receipt of a $2 million grant from IBM to support education and research in the management of information systems. The School was one of only 13 institutions nationwide to share in this newly established IBM support for graduate business programs.
At this point in the GSM’s history, MacAvoy came to the decision that a bold step was needed to reach his goals for the School. He believed that someone’s name was the key.
“The School had been called the Graduate School of Management,” MacAvoy wrote in 2000. “It had an excellent faculty, highly expert in two areas—finance and accounting—and pretty good in marketing and production. The faculty was probably uniformly the most conservative of the business school faculties. Quite a number of them had degrees from Chicago’s business school, and they had remained relatively pure in their dedication to market economics.
“I sat down with the president of the University and some of the trustees and we tried to think of a way to find leadership in the business community that would support us—help us develop a trademark or brand name or to establish a presence,” MacAvoy recalled. “We knew what Bill Simon had done and thought he could be a role model for our students, that a connection with him would identify the School with a business leader—if only we could put his name on the place.
“We had a need for Simon’s name more than we had a need for money. And we approached it that way,” MacAvoy wrote.
“The other rationale, of course, was financial,” Plosser noted. “The GSM was a relatively young program without the benefit of a long history of alumni like that of some other schools. Nor did the University carry the national name recognition that benefited some of the other young business schools such as Duke.
“With fewer and younger alumni, fund raising was always a challenge,” he said. “The School had little endowment of its own and needed funds to move to the next level. The competition among business schools was growing for faculty and students, and better endowed institutions clearly had an advantage.”
When MacAvoy and Kearns met with Simon at his Olin Foundation office in 1986, Simon had earlier that year resigned from the boards of several corporations and had relinquished all his national directorships.
“I began exploring other pastures,” he wrote in A Time for Reflection, his autobiography.
MacAvoy said to him, “Bill, the name of the school is really a problem.”
“Take off ‘management,’” Simon answered, “and put in ‘school of business administration.’ It’s more direct, and it’s what you really do.”
“I said, ‘That’s half of it,’ ” MacAvoy replied. “ ‘The other half is that it needs to be the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration.”
|MacAvoy and Simon|
really consider it.”
Simon remembered the request and moved quickly in his direct and practical way.
They said they wanted to name a business school after me. “That’s very flattering, but I’m really not in the business of buying ‘B’-schools,” I said, assuming that what they were mainly looking for was a sizable donation in exchange for naming a school in my honor.
“No,” Dr. MacAvoy said, “you misunderstand. We want to have the school named for an entrepreneur, a successful business and government leader, who has done all the things you have done. That is an inspiration. We would ask to you do one thing. We need to raise $30 million and the University is willing to pitch in $15 [million], so that leaves $15 million to raise. We’re not asking you to give anything. We’re just asking you to help us raise it. Would you do that?”
“Well, that sounds like a fair deal,” I said, turning to Dave Kearns. “David, why don’t you start us off by pledging $5 million from Xerox?”
“You’re a bastard!” David joked. Xerox came through with the donation.
Within six weeks, we had the $15 million and the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration was born.
The William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration was formally dedicated on November 6, 1986.
|G. Dennis O'Brien|
In a letter signed by Simon and University president G. Dennis O’Brien, they wrote that the School was renamed “with the expectation that its graduates will mirror the image of entrepreneurship and creative leadership in management bestowed by that name.”
“[Bill] goes there to interact with every class,” wrote MacAvoy. “He talks to the students individually. He walks the corridors. He goes to classes and often gives a major talk. He really promoted the Simon School image as entrepreneurial, venturesome, courageous, and free-market oriented.”
The naming, which was covered by the local and national press, highlighted the announcement of the formation of the inaugural 52-member Executive Advisory Committee (EAC) of global business leaders, educators, and entrepreneurs, among them (corporate affiliations at the time of their appointments in 1986) James S. Gleason of Rochester’s Gleason Corporation; J. Peter Grace, W. R. Grace & Co.; General Alexander M. Haig Jr. (who previously served as chief of staff to President Nixon) of Worldwide Associates Inc.; Dr. Henry Kissinger (former secretary of state in the Nixon administration) of Kissinger Associates; Sir Ian MacGregor of Lazard Brothers & Co. Ltd.; T. Boone Pickens of Mesa Limited Partnership; and John M. Templeton of Templeton, Galbraith & Hansberger Ltd.
“Mr. Simon’s leadership and the creation—with Dean MacAvoy—of the School’s Executive Advisory Committee was instrumental in raising the visibility of the School,” said Hollis S. Budd, executive director of the Max and Marion Farash Charitable Foundation and former associate dean for MBA administration and external affairs at the Simon School. “Being present during those meetings was always a great learning experience.”
“Dad ran the meetings,” said Peter Simon. “And he knew how to run a meeting. He was able to bring so many leaders onto the EAC by using the same request that Paul MacAvoy asked of him. He told them the University wanted their advice and expertise, not their money. That wasn’t the way it worked at most other institutions.”
Peter noted that the EAC members discussed the needs and challenges of the Simon School at its meetings, most of which were held in New York City.
The Simon name brought immediate value to the School and to the University.
Reflecting today on the School’s naming, president emeritus Jackson says that although the School was transformed by Meckling with the support of then president Wallis, “it still struggled with being relatively small, attached to a relatively small university, and in a city that is somewhat off the beaten path of recruiters. The School’s economic orientation, I think, helped it stand out among other schools. Branding the School for Mr. Simon was a very good move and the School at that time fit very well with the ‘brand’ of Mr. Simon—reflecting its strong academic and economic focus—a heritage of President Wallis, Dean Meckling, and the enormously talented group of then-young faculty assembled.”
Jackson remembers his first meeting with Simon.
“I first met Mr. Simon at his office in New Jersey when I accompanied Dennis O’Brien, who was still president, to meet Mr. Simon,” Jackson says. “I next spent several hours one evening with Mr. Simon and Dean Plosser in what I would describe as a ‘pleasant and intense’ evening going over the Simon School, its future, and its relationship to the broader University. While Dean Plosser remained his principal contact, I met with Mr. Simon several other times and spoke with him, not frequently, but several times a year. I would describe his interest in the Simon School as intense, but I never got a sense that he was overly intrusive on decision making. Part of that clearly rested with his clear preference for Plosser as dean, which I fulfilled, as well as the involvement of two of Mr. Simon’s sons with the Executive Advisory Committee and the School more generally. So, he felt his School was in good hands.”
“The value in a name is the attention it brings and the endorsement it represents,” notes Charles Miersch, “especially when the namer has no alumni or obvious ties to the School. Reactions were varied. Faculty were, as usual, more concerned with their careers, which were primarily academic, [and] to the extent naming would bring more funding without significant interference in their daily lives, they were for it. Students at the time were very excited and hoped it would help their postgraduate success. The administration—both Simon and the University—was all for it.
“My interactions with Bill were generally positive and mostly revolved around the Executive Advisory Committee and helping to plan his visits,” Miersch says. “I believe he spoke fairly regularly with Dean MacAvoy about daily business, especially if it reflected on the School’s reputation. He was always willing to help make connections for us, and he made several additional gifts after the naming. There is little doubt Simon had deep respect for the School, but it was only one part of a very full life.”
|William E. Simon (center) tours the University's |
iconic painted tunnel with W. Allen Wallis (right)
Budd characterized Simon as a business renaissance man. “His long and illustrious career varied from banker to trader to public servant and nonprofit leader,” she said. “He gave his time, talent, and treasure freely and the Simon School benefited greatly from this generosity. His passion for helping others, though, was most prominent at the Simon School. He always made time to help the students, faculty, and staff. This included bringing the whole family along, too. His beloved wife, Carol, and many of their children were active at the School.”
The Simon name and his family affected Mark Zupan’s decision to seek the position of dean, which he held from 2004 to 2014.
“Peter was instrumental in getting me to join Simon,” Zupan remembers. “His involvement and leadership spoke volumes about his family’s commitment to our School and to making it ever better.”
Zupan said that a name is critical to any leading business school, “and it is not just any name, but what that name represents. Bill was approached not for the philanthropic support but, first and foremost, for what his name represented in terms of entrepreneurial spirit, an enduring commitment to freedom, integrity, and policymaking impact. His name and support put our School on the map.”
“Our goal is to attract students who have Bill Simon’s entrepreneurial spirit,” said Paul MacAvoy at the School’s formal dedication in 1986. “Our approach is not to give our students old solutions to new problems. Rather, we teach them how to problem-solve. Even more important, we show our students how to use these skills throughout their careers to create wealth in an open marketplace that welcomes the power of new ideas.”
MacAvoy then announced six new-venture goals for the School’s first decade with the Simon name:
1. Appoint outstanding senior scholars. “We will increase the number of faculty by 25 percent. The student body will grow by 20 percent. Our goal is to add named professorships across all of our fields as a way to attract preeminent scholars to the Simon School.”
2. Appoint the very best young scholars. “Here, our goal is to make available similar junior faculty chairs as term positions for younger scholars with great promise. These will be transferable as the new faculty members reach maturity. In addition, we will increase the number of fellowships for MBA and PhD students to attract exceptional applicants and increase the number of minority students in the program.”
3. Recruit experienced Management Fellows. “We will appoint experienced senior executives as Management Fellows. As new faculty, they will teach capstone courses in their fields of expertise—from industrial product marketing to investment banking. This capstone curriculum will give our MBA students the advantage of combining classroom studies with intense exposure to the real-world skills of successful business leaders.”
4. Create two journals. “We will create two pioneering journals—one on manufacturing management, the other on the management of information systems—that incorporate both technical and economic perspectives. Our goal is to fill an obvious need to publish applied articles that meet scholarly standards, to disseminate new insights developed by research scholars throughout the United States, and to provide managers with new knowledge to aid them in decision making.”
5. Expand curriculum. “We strive for constant improvement in graduate business education. That means generating new findings and bringing them to the classroom. To this end, we will concentrate on activities that elevate our work in other functional fields—i.e., marketing and computer-based information systems—to match the national prominence of our work in finance and accounting. We will also expand our international presence by staffing new offerings just getting under way at Erasmus University in Holland and Keio University in Japan.”
6. Enhance public policy research at the Simon School. “Our goal is to enhance our role as a leader in public policy research in the business school setting, and to integrate our findings into the curriculum. We believe that maintaining a free marketplace is critical for the most efficient use of resources, including management talent. Further, we believe it is our responsibility to educate managers who understand the impact of government policies that hamper the freedom to take risks in an open marketplace. They must cope with the impact of these policies—and advocate against them.”
On dedication day, Simon chaired the first meeting of the Executive Advisory Committee, which featured a series of presentations by faculty members on their research.
Events also included the unveiling of an eight-foot-long bronze Simon School nameplate; a convocation attended by more than 400 students, faculty, and staff; the introduction of a new Simon School logo (via first-edition T-shirts); and an evening dinner at which president Dennis O’Brien read the trustees’ resolution proclaiming the name change.
At a press conference on dedication day, a reporter asked Simon, “Can you really take ten years and $30 million and make an outstanding school?”
|Henry Kissinger (left) with|
William E. Simon
“Say one, fifteen, twenty years from now, what do you want to see the School become that will make you immensely happy—and not just its ranking?” asked another reporter.
“I really believe that we will be graduating young men and women who are going to go out and teach the world of business what entrepreneurialism is all about, and what this great free enterprise system can produce for the betterment of mankind,” Simon answered. “Education is a very important thing to me and to many people. I believe in this system that we have—a democracy—even with the poor record that democracies have had through history. The most critical ingredient to the maintenance of freedom is education, the kind of education students get at the University of Rochester and will get in the William E. Simon School. I’d like to see it ten and twenty years from now accepted as the best graduate school in the United States, and I think that’s going to happen.”
“Is this a direction you see business going in—to educate entrepreneurs? It seems that you’re looking to bring out instinctive feelings with these students,” the reporter asked.
|William E. Simon (right) with G. Dennis O'Brien at the|
press conference announcing the School's naming
“So perhaps you’re trying to set a tone?” a reporter asked.
“Yes, exactly, set a tone,” Simon answered, “not only philosophically but actually—by having the graduates out there in the business world in key spots in the corporations and in the financial community, who absolutely believe that it is the free markets that provide opportunity. And one must take risks. Risk is inherent in everything we do in life. And intelligent risk has great reward.”