David M. Cromwell, a private equity investor who became a beloved teacher of entrepreneurship and private equity and venture capital investing at Yale SOM, died on April 26, his family said. He was 73.
A graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and NYU’s Graduate School of Business, Cromwell spent 30 years at Morgan Guaranty Trust Company (now JPMorgan Chase). Among other roles, he served as president and CEO of JPMorgan Capital Corporation, supervising a $3 billion private equity and venture capital portfolio.
Cromwell began teaching at Yale in 1996, serving as an adjunct professor, a senior lecturer, a Becton Fellow, and the Eugene F. Williams, Jr. Lecturer in the Practice of Management over the next two decades. At Yale SOM, he taught popular courses on private equity and venture capital investing and entrepreneurial business planning; the latter, often taught in collaboration with Maureen Burke ’97, helped incubate many student ventures. Students voted him the winner of the SOM Alumni Association Teaching Award multiple times.
Robert Davis ’97, now managing partner of Nebrodi Partners, remembered taking Cromwell’s course on private equity and venture capital investing in a recent letter to Cromwell’s son Russ Cromwell:
“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… 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.”
Davis’s classmate Zen Chu ’97, now the managing director of Accelerated Medical Ventures, added, in his own letter to the younger Cromwell, “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.”
Cromwell’s impact on students extended beyond the classroom. He advised the Yale Entrepreneurial Society from its founding in 1999. In 2001, he helped create Sachem Ventures, a student-run venture capital fund that invested in local startups. He served on the board of directors of Fluid-Screen, Inc., and Higher One Holdings, Inc., both founded by Yale students.
In 2010, Cromwell’s former students organized a celebration of him at Mory’s, the iconic Yale club in New Haven. At the event, Cromwell’s students presented him with a cup, inscribed with a tribute:
To David Cromwell
Genius, Gremlin, Raconteur,
and Teacher of the Highest Order
with Deep Gratitude and Appreciation
from your Students at Yale.
A memorial service celebrating David Cromwell’s life will be held on Saturday, May 12, 2018, from 12:00-3:00 p.m. at Raven and the Peach, at 740 River Road, Fair Haven, New Jersey. Please RSVP by email to Jennifer Cromwell or on Facebook. Children are welcome. Valet parking is available. The location is accessible to the disabled.
Former students of David Cromwell are invited to send tributes or memories to Ben Mattison for inclusion in a future memorial posting. Contributions may be edited for length or clarity.