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In Memoriam: William S. Beinecke, Leading Yale SOM Supporter and Founding Figure

William S. Beinecke ’36 B.A., ’86 LLDH, a longtime supporter of the Yale School of Management who played a pivotal role in the creation of a management school at Yale, died on Sunday, April 8. Beinecke was a businessman and philanthropist who served as chairman and CEO of Sperry and Hutchinson Company from 1965 to 1980. His deep family ties to Yale include a father, uncles, children, grandchildren, and other relatives who all graduated from various programs at the university. He was 103.

The Beinecke name can be found on numerous buildings, plaques, and signs around the Yale campus and within Yale SOM's Edward P. Evans Hall—indications of the generosity of the family to the university over many decades. However, William S. Beinecke gave more than just financial support to the Yale School of Management—he helped shape the spirit and direction of the school from its first moments.

Beinecke was one of the key figures who lobbied for the creation of a management school at Yale in the 1960s and early 1970s. He related his thinking at the time in a speech at the fifth anniversary of the Charter Class in 1983: 

Following the outbreak of World War II, we had witnessed in the speeding up of U.S. business and industry an often swift evolution from single-product enterprises under the leadership and control of founding entrepreneurs or single families to public ownership, diversified product lines, and institutionalization that created a growing need for the organizational and operating techniques customarily referred to as “modern management.” We believed that this trend would continue to surge for years to come—as indeed it has. We felt that Yale could and should play a direct role in shaping a development of such obvious importance to the capitalistic system and our national life. (Read the full speech.)

Beinecke helped direct a bequest from his father to the creation of a management program and himself provided and helped raise other seed funds for the school. As a member of the Yale Corporation, he was the one who made the successful motion to approve the creation of a management school in 1973.

One of Beinecke's indelible contributions to the school was his belief that a business school at Yale could follow in the tradition of its other professional schools and train leaders with a broadminded intellectual engagement and a deep commitment to service to society.

In a note to the Yale SOM community reflecting on the passing of Mr. Beinecke, Acting Dean Anjani Jain wrote, “His steadfast vision for the school, his knowledge of the rapidly evolving private and public institutions in the country, his unstinting service to Yale, and his deep respect for Yale’s scholarly tradition earned him the powers of persuasion that eventually resolved the debate [over whether to establish a business school] and endowed the school with the mission that remains invariant to this day.”

Mr. Beinecke was born in New York City and graduated from Yale College in 1936 and Columbia Law School in 1940. He then served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was awarded the Bronze Star. He helped found the law firm Casey, Beinecke and Chase, and then joined his family firm, Sperry & Hutchinson, as general counsel. Throughout his years at Sperry & Hutchinson, where he later became president and then CEO and chairman, he was a strong advocate for corporate giving to charities and educational institutions and guided the creation of the foundation that is now the Sperry Fund, which sponsors the Beinecke Scholarship Program. He also established Prospect Hill Foundation, a family foundation, and served as its chairman and director. He chaired the boards of the Central Park Conservancy and the Hudson River Foundation for Science and Environmental Research, and was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

He remained connected with the School of Management throughout its first four decades. In addition to serving on the Yale Corporation from 1971 until 1982, he served on the school’s Board of Advisors for many years and made critical gifts to the school that advanced strategic initiatives. He and his family endowed a number of professorships and made a lead gift toward the construction of Edward P. Evans Hall. The Beinecke Terrace Room at Yale SOM was named in recognition of that gift.

On the threshold of his 100th birthday in 2014, Beinecke ventured to New Haven to participate in the celebration of the opening of Edward P. Evans Hall. In a humorous and understated speech, he said, “SOM holds a special place in my heart... The name of SOM and the reputation of its faculty and graduates will resound not only in this country but in the great world beyond. I will be watching that glorious development from wherever I happen to be.”

Edward A. Snyder, the Indra K. Nooyi Dean and William S. Beinecke Professor of Economics and Management, commented: “The fullness of Mr. Beinecke’s life, including his recent years, was apparent.  This makes his passing, even at such an advanced age, so meaningful to so many. Mr. Beinecke remains our founder, our true north, steadfast in purpose, and a source of profound pride.”

Beinecke received an honorary degree from Yale in 1986, and in 2000, was awarded the Yale Medal, given in recognition of extensive, exemplary voluntary service on behalf of the University. His grandson Benjamin Beinecke graduated from Yale SOM in 2010.