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William Donaldson

Remembering Founding Dean William H. Donaldson, 1931-2024

As founding dean, Donaldson laid the groundwork for the school’s distinctive mission and strategy and recruited the first class of students to an untried program. His career also included decades of leadership in business and government.

William H. Donaldson, the founding dean of the Yale School of Management and a leader of several major institutions of American business, died on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. His decades at the heights of business, government, and academia included tenures as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, chairman, president and CEO of Aetna, Inc., and chairman and chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange. He also co-founded the influential investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.

“As the founding dean of the Yale School of Management, Bill was a model for the school’s early aspirations, and his legacy will serve as an inspiration for generations of students and scholars to come,” said Yale University President Peter Salovey. “He was a man of great integrity, and he contributed his energy and skills to so many sectors, spanning government, profit, and nonprofit organizations. His view of what management professionals should be has left a permanent mark on SOM, Yale, and the world.”

William Donaldson at a podium

As founding dean of the Yale School of Organization and Management, as the school was then known, Donaldson laid the groundwork for the school’s distinctive mission and strategy and recruited the first class of students to an untried program. He presided when the school opened its doors on September 13, 1976, offering a master’s degree in public and private management.

A self-described “academic entrepreneur,” Donaldson had previously worked in both the public and private sectors, including as undersecretary of state for Henry Kissinger, an advisor to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, and a founding partner of the investment banking firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. He was named “Business Man of the Year” by the Associated Press in 1970. Donaldson had also served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a first lieutenant, a rifle platoon commander, and an aide-de-camp to the Commanding General of the 1st Provisional Marine Air Ground Task Force. He received his BA from Yale College in 1953 and an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1958.

With such an eclectic background, Donaldson was a perfect fit for a school whose mission it was “to train leaders for both business and government service.” In an oral history interview in 2017, he said that it was the entrepreneurial aspect of the position that drew him to SOM—he relished creating “something new in an old, ancient university such as Yale.”

Donaldson stayed on as dean at SOM until 1980. Announcing Donaldson’s departure, then Yale president A. Bartlett Giamatti praised Donaldson for creating a curriculum, building a campus, and recruiting students and faculty that, together, became “the embodiment of the school’s mission.” His continuing impact on the school was honored with the creation of the Donaldson Fellows Program in 2008, which recognizes SOM alumni whose lives embody the founding mission.

Kerwin K. Charles, Yale SOM’s current dean, emphasized Donaldson’s impact on the school almost 50 years after its founding. “Bill Donaldson was in uncountable ways the founding spirit of Yale SOM. The entrepreneurial energy he brought to the task of starting a new and unprecedented professional school and his insistence that effective leaders must understand the workings of both the private and public sectors remained animating forces at the school long after he had moved on to other roles. I, like my predecessors as dean, benefited greatly from his wisdom and generosity. He will be missed by the whole SOM family.”

William Donaldson
Donaldson at a meeting
Donaldson with alumni

Following his tenure at Yale, Donaldson went on to his roles at the New York Stock Exchange, Aetna, and the SEC. He served Yale in many capacities throughout his life and was a member of the Yale Corporation. He also served on the boards of numerous publicly held corporations and privately owned businesses, as well as philanthropic, cultural, and educational institutions. He was appointed to his role at the SEC by President George W. Bush and was a member of President Barack Obama’s original Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Donaldson was a resident of New York City and Waccabuc, New York. Survivors include his wife, Jane Phillips Donaldson, and his children Kim, Matt, and Adam Donaldson. He is also survived by his three grandsons—Lars Kikoski, Will Donaldson, and Henrik Mark.

A memorial and celebration of his life will be held in the fall.

At a groundbreaking
At the groundbreaking for Edward P. Evans Hall in 2011, with William Beinecke, Dean Sharon Oster, and Dean-elect Ted Snyder

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