Saul Steinberg, whose name is most recognizably attached to Steinberg-Dietrich Hall and the Steinberg Conference Center, died Friday in his sleep at his Manhattan home.
According to The New York Times, his son Jonathan — a 1988 Wharton graduate — confirmed the death but gave no specific cause.
A 1959 Wharton graduate, Steinberg maintained close ties with the University, especially the Wharton School. He served as the chair for Wharton’s Board of Overseers from 1987, the year the Steinberg Conference Center opened, to 1999. The position is currently held by Jon Huntsman Sr. Steinberg was also an Emeritus Trustee at the University until his passing.
In addition, the 1983 expansion of the existing Dietrich Hall honored him, renaming the building Steinberg-Dietrich Hall.
“Saul Steinberg was so deeply committed to this University and its mission. He will always be remembered for his intellectual curiosity, his broad and visionary thinking, and his generous philanthropy,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said in an email. “We are truly saddened by his passing, and our thoughts go out to his wife Gayfryd and family at this difficult time. Saul will be greatly missed, but his legacy at Penn will endure.”
Alvin Shoemaker, a 1960 Wharton graduate and Emeritus Trustee, was chair when Steinberg served on the Board of Trustees in the mid-1980s. Shoemaker fondly remembered Steinberg as an involved board member and said Steinberg “went out of his way” to participate in board meetings and to give his time to the University.
During his time as chair, Shoemaker led a historic fundraising campaign that raised over $1 billion in capital funds for the University. However, according to Shoemaker, Steinberg was responsible for setting the goal of $1 billion. Though expert consultants had suggested a goal of $800 million, Steinberg proposed the $1 billion number to put Penn on par with Stanford University, the only school who had run a campaign of the size at the time.
“At the time, he was a bit controversial because of some of the things he did in the financial realm but as far as Penn goes, there was no more loyal trustee … and he deserves a lot of credit,” he said.
Steinberg still made an effort to make it back to campus after his debilitating stroke, but Shoemaker said he hadn’t met with Steinberg in a couple of years and that they had planned to meet over lunch sometime.
Steinberg also endowed a chair in his name in the management department at Wharton, which is currently held by management professor Jitendra Singh.
Singh, who has held the endowed professorship since 1999, said he had met Saul several times when he served as Wharton’s vice dean of International Academic Affairs from 1998 to 2003. Though Steinberg gradually made less frequent visits due to his declining health, Singh used to send him yearly updates on his activities.
“I am deeply saddened by Saul Steinberg’s passing. We at Wharton have been grateful beneficiaries of Saul’s generosity, and for the continuing support of his family for the school. He was a greatly accomplished Penn and Wharton alum,” he said. “Our thoughts are with his family in this hour of their bereavement.”
At 22, Steinberg founded a company that leased IBM computers after a professor suggested “The Rise and Fall of IBM” as his senior thesis topic. After the success of this company, he made a successful bid for a takeover bid of the Reliance Insurance Company in Philadelphia in 1968.
With this initial takeover under his belt, Steinberg eventually became one of the most notable corporate raiders of the 1980s with a mixed bag of successful and failed takeover bids, including the Walt Disney Company, who bought back his shares at a premium of almost $60 million after the bid failed.
In the 1990s, Reliance Insurance Company faced financial troubles and Steinberg suffered a stroke. In 2001, Reliance filed for bankruptcy.
Steinberg is survived by his wife, Gayfryd; a brother, Robert; two sisters, Roni Sokoloff and Lynda Jurist; and a number of children and grandchildren.
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