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Alumni Pay Tribute to Prof. David Cromwell

Alumni remember David M. Cromwell, a longtime teacher of entrepreneurship and private equity and venture capital investing at Yale SOM, who died on April 26 at age 73. 

Robert W. Davis ’97

The following is adapted from a letter to David Cromwell’s family. 

I met David about a week before my second year of business school. I was walking into the old campus and saw him standing by himself out in a courtyard smoking a cigarette. As I approached he cheerfully introduced himself. I liked him the moment I met him. I had a sense he would lead me on an adventure.

Your father was an incredible teacher…the best I ever had. While he was a highly entertaining lecturer in the classroom, his secret was in understanding how to lead us to self-discovery. Through his cases he would set a stage, then scatter clues that needed to be discovered, deciphered, and then connected. It was through this process of discovery that you would make your way to a critical insight or understanding. And because he had forced us to find the pieces and assemble the puzzle ourselves, we all came to own the method of discovery. Your mind was expanded; you were changed. 

David expected a great deal from us. He was demanding and the work was challenging, but it was also wildly fun. And we never pushed back on the expectations he placed on us because he held himself to an equally high, if not higher, standard. His commitment to us was complete. He was all in. It seemed like he was always awake, always scheming. As soon as you thought you had something figured out you could be sure that he’d taunt you with a new twist, often delivered in the middle of the night. He never stopped thinking about us. He was always teaching, always provoking.

Because he was all in for us, we had to be all in for him. There was no other way. Looking back I realize that the greatest lesson he taught us did not lie in the subject matter or the method, but in the example of excellence and commitment he displayed. He taught us that you had to really care, that you had to find your best and bring it forward. 

Over the course of the semester an interesting phenomenon developed. Slowly the rest of SOM, its people, buildings, and other classes faded from sight. The Class became all that mattered. We were like a band of merry warriors on a ship bound for great adventure. And David was the Captain. Because of this, my best friends from SOM turned out to be my shipmates from that journey. David led us on a wild adventure of discovery that made us all much more than we were when we started. 

I was very lucky to know David after SOM, as a friend and mentor. He was always cheerful and interested in my progress. We would discuss deals and I would always come away from dinner with a new perspective. His encouragement was very important and helpful when I was thinking through the creation of my firm, Nebrodi Partners. And I know for sure that many other private equity firms and entrepreneurial ventures were hatched by those of us who were lucky enough to spend time with him. The fruits of his work will echo for a long time to come.

Zen Chu ’97

The following is adapted from a letter to David Cromwell’s family.

I was lucky to be in the first Yale class your dad taught along with my future wife, Katie Rae, who took the class without credit for five weeks before enough classmates dropped it that she could be officially in the course. That reflected the interest but also the incredible workload and bonding that happened in the class, with David giddily playing the roles of investor board, management team advisor, and overall Gremlin while we dived into each of his cases. By the third case, many of us realized these were based on real JPMorgan investments and companies, so part of the game was to uncover what really happened. 

David’s joy in the game of competing to fund and grow companies was infectious. Such joy and fun that for most of us who lasted the entire class, it became the de-facto capstone course of our MBA and sent us into very different career trajectories than we would have chosen before your dad appeared in our lives. Just from that first class, it takes both hands to count the new venture investors and funds that now exist, much less the rest of the 20 years’ worth of alumni. 

Please know that as the sad news makes it around the world, your father is celebrated and remembered. 

Matt and Sabrina LeBlanc ’98

It was so sad to hear of David Cromwell’s passing a week before our 20th reunion. He had such a gigantic influence on all that learned from him and it was noted at reunion by so many that they would not only not be where they are today but also who they are without his guidance and tutelage. I hope that his children understand how he trained a couple of generations of business professionals in a way that no others can or likely will again.

Ramón Olivas ’09

I sadly read this morning that Professor Cromwell recently passed away. I did a joint degree at Yale with FES and out of those three years of grad school, his PE & VC class was certainly the one that prepared me the most for my first job after SOM at a boutique fund in renewable energy. He was not only a great teacher, but a gentleman who taught us the importance of content and delivery. His human quality was just as impressive and inspiring as his analytical skills. He will certainly be missed.

Sam Teicher 

Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Science Class of 2015

My co-founder Gator Halpern and I had a back porch idea in grad school to create a coral reef restoration company. It certainly wasn’t the typical venture capital play. We’re now rolling out a global network of coral farms to preserve dying reefs for future generations. The first business plan we ever produced was in David and Maureen’s course. Thanks for all the clip art, Professor Cromwell. You helped put us on the path, with plenty of smiles along the way. 

Mikko Ollila ’06

Professor Cromwell helped me as his student see beyond principles and broad strokes. His ability to dive deep into the details of what actually matters has stayed with me through my career as an entrepreneur. long after my days at Yale. 

Christian Moran ’12

David Cromwell always stood for what Yale SOM was all about: doing things diligently well, but not taking oneself too seriously in the process. His class and teaching credo mimicked this too. His class had depth. It had substance, but there was never dull moment. He laughed a lot and made us all laugh too. He made everyone believe that levity and finance were not mutually exclusive terms. I hope David knows, wherever he is, that he never truly left us. He lives on in the lives of each of the students he touched and the lives he helped shape into the professionals they are right now. Thank you, David.

Related: David Cromwell, Longtime Teacher of Entrepreneurship and Private Equity and Venture Capital Investing, Dies at 73