J. Robert Beyster Papers: A Legacy of Employee-Owners’ Journey for Innovation

By Mary Ann Beyster

In December, my family finalized a very personal, and we hope impactful, gift titled, J.R. Beyster Papers, to UCSD Library’s Special Collections.  After about one year of pre-processing, the collection includes more than 200 boxes of documents covering more than 50 years of hundreds of advanced scientific innovations, small- to billion-dollar business experiments, and discontinued to transformational government program development.  The earliest items in the collection appear to be my father’s laboratory books from his University of Michigan engineering undergraduate courses and his early scientific papers in the nuclear engineering fields.

Most of the collection consists of the journey of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), as a San Diego-based and privately held, employee-owned company.   So actually this is very much a collection of “papers” by hundreds of thousands of employee owners and those who worked with them.

Our goal with making this collection available to the public, is that this history is preserved for others to learn from, be inspired by, and serve as a global example of a highly distributed, entrepreneurial, shared ownership business model. As a company founded by a scientist with a team of like-minded scientists, SAIC was a laboratory of experiments – both technical and managerial.  As Rutgers University Professor Joseph Blasi stated at my father’s celebration of life: “He took ideas, carried them into the laboratory, set them loose in the world, measured, poked, invented things out of them and delivered them to the world and kept going back to see how they were doing.”

Regarding employee ownership, SAIC made many significant marks.  It still has the record for being the largest research and engineering company in the nation (and we believe, in the world) to have majority employee ownership.  The next closest company is half the size of SAIC.  Some say this achievement is an anomaly, but he’d say this is a high-water mark to be tested.

 “If one looks into his archives one sees that he spent a lot of time figuring out how to share profit and equity with co-workers based on their performance; he spent a lot of time figuring out how to structure employee ownership as the glue of SAIC,” said Blasi.  “He told me that he threw many an investment banker, and lawyer and accountant out of his office to go back and just figure out how to make employee ownership work.  And it did, year after year, for more than 35 years, right into the middle of the Fortune 500® businesses.”

How was this done and why?  At the end of another year of processing, which we are now embarking on, researchers will be able to access a fully cataloged record of more than a dozen incentive methods that made up the stock programs; the evolution of issues identified and resolved by various committees and working groups; critical issues and discussions at board meetings and stockholder meetings; financial analysis and policy development for retirement and benefits from formative years through company maturity; the creation and scaling of a first-of-its-kind internal stock market, Bull Inc.; organizational design, simulations, and system reviews for new business areas, new customer offerings, and recruitment;  detailed quarter-by-quarter stock demographics and pricing; strategy and cultural assimilation for acquisitions, subsidiaries, and hundreds of business units operating around the world in very different markets; Beyster’s speeches during Employee Ownership day, Management Council and dozens of employee venues; educational materials for new hires through to retirees; and thousand of news clippings on this personal and business journey. 

"Rather than assuming the papers of a scientist are merely just about science, the materials in the John Robert Beyster Papers are a testament to the birth of an idea that matures and develops throughout a real-life cycle of innovation.  The collection entirely traces concepts in their infancy through matured realization, with a lot of grit and hard work involved.” 
Kim Schwenk, J.R. Beyster Paper Phase I archivist

If he could do it over again, my father said that he would still have created an employee-owned company.  If he had the opportunity to start a company today, he would have created a company owned and led by those who create the value.  It wasn’t easy when he started that journey in 1969, and many would argue that it would be even harder today. 

There are many hurdles that make broad-based employee ownership challenging, and in fact, some of those hurdles, such as some government policies, actively work against this goal.  He would still have distaste for greed and short-termism that can be found with “Wall Street.” He would actively seek alternative ways to finance and capitalize innovation in the relentless pursuit of solutions to reward those who contribute to the company with ownership that is proportional to that contribution and performance.  

He created the Foundation for Enterprise Development; the Beyster Institute at the Rady School of Management at UCSD; the Beyster Endowed Chair and Fellowship at Rutgers; and funds at the University of Michigan and other universities.  These organizations and endowments were meant to help those companies and individuals who are willing to take on this pursuit, and to help move aside those hurdles that don’t make sense. These were the very things that my father held as basic rights, as translated in the Principles and Practices of SAIC, including providing an opportunity for all those who work hard, and prosperity of a free society. 

These papers help document how empowered employee owners have changed the world as we know it.  This collection provides a glimpse into the hundreds of scientific and technological advancements that have been stewarded through a long innovation cycle to be found serving our society today.

“Why study history? The answer is because we virtually must, to gain access to the laboratory of human experience.”
Peter N. Stearns, statement for American Historical Association, professor and former provost at George Mason University, former dean and department chair at Carnegie Mellon

Foundation for Enterprise Development: www.fed.org

Beyster Institute: rady.ucsd.edu/beyster/

UCSD Library Special Collections: libraries.ucsd.edu/blogs/blog/beyster-family-donates-papers-of-saic-founder-j-r-beyster-to-uc-san-diego-library/#more-4502

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