University of Michigan Recognizes Beyster for $15M Gift

2/21/12Follow @bvbigelow

The University of Michigan Board of Regents agreed to name its computer science and engineering building the “Bob and Betty Beyster Building” in recognition of a $15 million gift from J. Robert Beyster, 87, who founded SAIC (NYSE: SAI) in San Diego 43 years ago.

Beyster, who also is a San Diego Xconomist, received his bachelor’s degrees in engineering physics and engineering math at the University of Michigan in 1945, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in physics in 1947 and 1950, respectively.

He spent much of his career studying nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and founded the company also known as Science Applications International Corp. with the idea of tackling difficult problems that were important to national security. He told a San Diego audience in 2007, “I wanted to create a good place to work. I really wasn’t interested in making money.”

Beyster allocated nearly all of his shares in SAIC to recruit prominent scientists and other employees, offering them an ownership stake as an incentive to share in the company’s success. His unusual share-the-wealth philosophy made SAIC the largest employee-owned research and engineering conglomerate in the United States. He designated $1 million of his UM donation to the Center for Entrepreneurship to educate students and the community about the benefits of employee ownership.

Beyster’s gift provides at least $9 million to endow a fellowship program that will fund up to 10 engineering doctoral students each year—the largest sum dedicated to fellowships in the engineering college. The gift also includes up to $5 million toward renovating the Ford Nuclear Reactor Building, pending project approval.

“The fields of energy and defense were greatly advanced under Dr. Beyster’s leadership,” says Ronald Gilgenbach, chair of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences in a statement from the university. “He is also known as a visionary who spearheaded the use of particle accelerators in nuclear measurements and engineering. So it is fitting that his gift will help construct the world’s premier nuclear measurements laboratory.”

The Beyster Fellows Program is intended to support students in fields that link high-performance computing to such real-world problems as network security, renewable energy materials, advanced imaging and stealth technologies, nuclear reactor safety and robotic systems for automotive safety and military vehicles.

SAIC moved its corporate headquarters from San Diego to McLean, VA, in 2009, five years after Beyster had retired as chairman. Today SAIC is a Fortune 500 company with more than 43,000 employees, and generates close to $11 billion in annual revenues.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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