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UC Mourns the Passing of President Emeritus Warren G. Bennis

The UC community was saddened to learn of the death of President Emeritus Warren G. Bennis, a noted scholar and author on leadership. Bennis led the university at a pivotal juncture in its history, when it prepared for and ultimately became a state institution in 1977.

Date: 8/3/2014 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824

UC ingot   University of Cincinnati President Emeritus Warren Bennis, a national authority on organizational development, leadership and change, and president of the university from 1971 to 1977, has died at the age of 89.
headshot of Warren Bennis
Warren Bennis

Bennis, UC’s 22nd president, is credited with leading the university’s transformation into a major research-oriented comprehensive university and a member of the University System of Ohio in 1977. Prior to that transition, UC was a municipal institution. A history of the university written in the 1990s equated UC's transition to state status on July 1, 1977, as equal in importance to the university's founding in 1819.

UC President Santa J. Ono paid tribute to Bennis’ historic legacy at the university, stating, “Warren Bennis played a chief role in the University of Cincinnati becoming a part of the state of Ohio's university system and creating the platform for UC's strength and standing today. He has also made a tremendous impact in the field of leadership and influenced countless executives across the nation. On behalf of the UC community, I want to offer our condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones.”

In recognition of his service and of his stature as a worldwide authority on leadership and transformation, the University of Cincinnati awarded an honorary doctorate to President Emeritus Bennis in 2007.

At that time, he was recognized for his energy and leadership by which the university “made the difficult but necessary transition from municipal university to state university,” the recommendation letter for his honor stated. “Dr. Bennis went to great lengths to reach out to all sectors of the community, to build understanding and tolerance among many diverse points of view” and to focus on open communication, the recommendation continued. This was at a challenging time of transition and significant turmoil for the country and for the nation's colleges and universities. Bennis was credited with understanding the mood of the times and students' concerns.
As president of UC, Warren Bennis is pictured here campaigning on Fountain Square in 1976 as part of the municipal vote that 'took UC state.'
As president of UC, Warren Bennis is pictured here, at left, campaigning on Fountain Square as part of the municipal vote that 'took UC state.'

After his tenure at UC, Bennis later went on to serve as a distinguished professor of business administration at the University of Southern California for more than three decades. He became known as the preeminent scholarly authority on leadership, and his obituary in The New York Times noted that he advised both United States presidents and business executives.

According to the USC memoriam to Bennis, he wrote nearly 30 books on business administration, management theory and organizational leadership. One of Bennis’ bestselling works, “On Becoming a Leader,” is considered a classic in the field, and his work, “An Invented Life,” earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination. The foundation of his work was the importance he placed on valuing people, and the cornerstone of his legacy was his focus on creating a more human and humane business world.

One of those who benefited personally from Bennis’ expertise on the essence of successful leadership was UC alumnus Tom Humes, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees. In the 1970s, Bennis was a mentor to Humes, who served as assistant to the president during the leadership tenures of both Bennis and President Emeritus Henry Winkler.

Upon learning of Bennis’ passing, Humes stated, “He was a very special person to all of us who knew him from the University of Cincinnati and to so many more. Warren played a pivotal role in the growth and development of the university that we are all so proud of today. His drive to lead UC to become a 'full state' university changed the face and funding of UC forever. That decision has resulted in over $3 billion in additional funding for operations and major new capital projects coming to UC  from the State of Ohio in the last 38 years. In so many ways, were it not for Warren's leadership at a very critical  time in our history, we would not be the dynamic institution we are today."

Humes went on to add that he considers Bennis’ books to be the best he’s ever read: “His lessons on leadership combined with my personal interactions with Warren have always stayed with me even though it’s been decades since we worked together day to day. His generosity in mentoring me profoundly shaped my own life and my own role as a leader. We who count him as a friend and the wider university and world will miss him very much.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Jay Chatterjee, who served as dean of UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, from 1982-2001. Chatterjee recalled, “He had a great influence on my career. I always read his books and blogs, and they were truly inspirational over the years. These, apart from occasional meetings or calls to him, sustained and nurtured me.”

According to USC, Bennis is survived by his wife, Grace Gabe; his first wife, Clurie Williams Bennis; his adult children Katherine, John and Will; and grandchildren Luke and Anya Movius, Devin Bennis, Daniel, Adam and Hanna Bennis; and stepdaughters Nina Freedman and Eden Steinberg; and step-grandchildren Nathan and Oliver Muz and Eliana and Abraham Freedman.

The University of Cincinnati will hold a memorial service for President Emeritus Bennis at a later date.