Dean Ernest Arbuckle

Content originally published in Stanford Business magazine, Spring 1968.

Arbuckle, Bettanini, Brunson, Cafferetta, Cocchi, Guidici, Kearney, Marshall, Munn, Nelson, Olivieri, Ortega. Members of a softball team? Yes, but more than a team, for they illustrate a basic trait running through the life of Ernest C. Arbuckle. He makes friends easily. He enjoys their companionship. He remembers them. At this time, when a new career is opening up for him as board chairman of the nation’s ninth largest bank, the temptation is great to elaborate upon Dean Arbuckle’s accomplishments for Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Elsewhere the elaborations have been made: The excellence of the faculty. The well-qualified candidates for masters’ and doctoral degrees. The new building. The realistic curriculum to prepare MBAs for general management positions and PhDs for the teaching of business management. Programs of continuing education. Ernie has given the business school a new thrust.

Rather, through recital of a few events in the life of this remarkable man, we shall attempt to glimpse reasons for his success. Indeed, to the question “What makes Ernie tick?” his friends have provided anecdotes; and these become their way, and ours in the school, of saying “Thank you, Ernie.”

Our principal span of time will run from the happy days on the O.K. Candy softball team in Tuolumne County during his Stanford undergraduate years to the present care-filled hours, of which a close friend writes: “A man could come to the Dean with sorrow — enough to weep in his presence. And Ernie’s deep emotional warmth allowed him to go away restored, not feeling that he had exposed weakness, but that he had met one who could lighten his grief by sharing it.”

Reunion in Sonora

Upon the news last fall of Ernie’s retirement from Stanford and future association with Wells Fargo, Ernie Olivieri, president of the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce, thought that it would be appropriate for our Ernie to address the annual meeting of this group.

A conflict existed. Ernie would be in Peru. “No problem; we’ll accommodate your schedule,” said Olivieri; and the engagement was set for March 25. The date was Ernie’s first visit to Tuolumne County in some 33 years, although he had kept in close touch by correspondence. Ben Eastman, Stanford track captain who in 1932 cracked the world records for both the quarter-mile and half-mile, tells of the early days:

“For two summers Ernie had a job as a section hand working on the Sierra Railroad, a small line in the Sierras. It was depression time and ‘college boys’ working with older men were not easily accepted and often not too popular. I visited Ernie a few times on the job at Jamestown, and to say that he was accepted would be an understatement. When we visited Ernie’s fellow workingmen at their homes on Sunday, the warmth of their feelings was great to see. He was loved by these people and I know that this was never forgotten by him.”

Ernie was also pitcher on the O.K. Candy softball team. With Olivieri as catcher, the team won two championships; the reunion a few weeks ago, as the Union-Democrat puts it, was “an occasion for a hot stove league session.” But the reunion had its somber note. Ernie addressed the chamber meeting, held in the Mother Lode fairgrounds, to a near-capacity audience and then was excused to leave Sonora by nine o’clock for San Francisco. He was to take a midnight plane for Boston, where be would deliver the memorial at services for the late Chaffee B. Hall, Jr., long-time friend and assistant dean of the Harvard School of Business Administration. He was back at his Stanford desk the following day.

This mental, sympathetic, and loving agility, plus an abiding care for personal fitness (such as swimming in the family pool at 5:30 in the morning), helps him through tight schedules. And if physical mishap occurs, the agile mind carries on-as it did on two important occasions early in life — his wedding date and his final PT boat action off Palermo.

To the Wedding on Time

Ernie met Katherine Norris Hall in Dallas at the wedding of his good friend Joseph P. Chamberlain, who best describes the occasion:

“Maybe it was osmosis that found Ernie standing most of the time pretty close to my wife’s lifelong friend Kitty Hall. Come time to enplane, by coincidence Kitty was on our same flight.

“My wife does not like orchids, so she gave her corsage to Kitty. This action somewhat confused the merry well-wishers at the airport, who by that time weren’t quite sure they approved of a Californian, any Californian, carrying off a native daughter. Anyway, Kitty got most of the rice, my own family joined in the spirit, and I escorted both ladies on to the plane. My last look back was of Ernie’s face — very little amusement there.”

Ernie and Kitty celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary last December 10. The anniversary date might well have been this Spring if the Navy had had its way. Lt. Arbuckle was stationed in Rhode Island. John C. Lyman recalls the story for us:

“About a week or ten days before the scheduled wedding date, Ernie came down with what was popularly known as ‘Cat Fever’ — aches and pains and high temperature, and was put in the Naval hospital at his duty station.

“Ernie tried to convince the doctors, and particularly the commander, who was the senior doctor, that he had to get out and down to Dallas to his one and only wedding date.

“The doctors took Ernie’s temperature; it was high, and the answer was, ‘We cannot let you go; you are a sick man.’

“Now — Ernie’s goal: to get out. His objective: as soon as possible. And now comes the imagination and the success.

“Ernie had observed that the commander, the senior doctor, was wont to take a walk every morning about 6:30, and this walk usually took him past the hospital.

“With the ‘No, you may not be released, Arbuckle’ of the previous day ringing in his ears, 6:30 of this morning found Ernie out in the snow, tennis shoes, shorts and sweat shirt, for a cross-country run which just happened to cross the commanding officer’s path.

“Surprised doctor: ‘Arbuckle! What are you doing here? You are sick!’

“Operator Arbuckle: ‘Doctor, I feel fine. My fever is gone. I just had to get out in this wonderful snow for some exercise.’

“Final speech by doctor: ‘Arbuckle, if you are able to do this, I want you back, on duty immediately.’ Arbuckle leaves that afternoon for Dallas and his appointment with wedding bells.”

Action off Palermo

Ernie’s career in Navy PT boats during World War II was heroic. Paul R. Bissinger recounts the days when they were 90-day wonders at Northwestern; how Ernie wanted action rather than teaching; when Bissinger and Dr. Frank Gerbode, of the Stanford Medical Unit, found Ernie in an emergency field hospital, moments away from an amputation which fortunately did not take place.

“My executive, John Mutty and I were confronted in 1943 with the formidable task of getting 18 PT boats (the Navy’s largest squadron) ready for war, with a large number of extraordinarily willing and able but completely inexperienced officers,’ writes Stanley M. Barnes, Ernie’s commanding officer.

“It was a young man’s game and they were all very young except for two older, more senior reserve officers who volunteered for that kind of duty when they could have honorably stayed in the comfortable shore billets from which they came. And thank heavens they did. They were immediately made ‘division commanders’ and put in charge of various groups of boats for fitting out, training, moving from New Orleans to the Mediterranean, and finally taking boats into combat.” Ernie was the elder and more senior of the two; the only one the same age as ‘the old man.’ He was a tough, enterprising driver, with excellent judgment and absolute integrity. He trained and demanded of himself even more than be did his boats. The PT-boat world was rugged and free wheeling, but he had what it took.”

Let Donald W. Henry pick up a part of the story:

“On the evening of July 28, 1943, I was at the wheel of the PT 218 heading out of a battered Palermo into the Mediterranean darkness. PT’s 203 and 214 were close astern. Lt. Ernest C. Arbuckle, U.S.N.R., in command of our mission, was standing alongside me in the cockpit of the boat. Our mission that night was to harass shipping attempting to evacuate German and Italian troops from Sicily.

“At that time the battle for control of Sicily between the Allied forces and the German and Italian troops was intense. As we ran along the northern coast of Sicily toward the Straits of Messina in the darkness, there were vivid flashes of gunfire ashore. Much later that evening we could see the glow of aircraft flares hanging over the Straits as Allied bombers sought to keep the enemy from crossing.

“The night was wearing on when Lt. Arbuckle brought our PT boats about and started the long patrol back to Palermo harbor. Suddenly the radar screen on PT 218 became alive. Enemy ships showed on the radar toward the Sicilian coastline. (It was later learned that there were three Italian M.A.S. boats.) After a tense and difficult period of maneuvering, a torpedo salvo was fired. Although well aimed, the torpedoes passed under the targets without exploding. Directing PT’s 203 and 214 to maneuver for a further torpedo attack, Ernie then ordered PT 218 under his direct command to make a reconnaissance and gunnery strafing run.

“In the darkness, PT 218 bore down on the last location of the M.A.S. boats until suddenly they loomed directly ahead as large, dark shadows. At the wheel of the fast-moving PT 218 I had the illusion that in a moment we would be able to reach out and touch the nearest ship. Ernie believed in getting us close in. Running parallel to the M.A.S. boats, Ernie ordered us to open fire. For several minutes both sides exchanged heavy, close fire. My last recollection is of pushing up the throttles to full speed and turning away from the M.A.S. boats as ordered, when the world went black. It was hours later that I recovered consciousness on a U.S. destroyer anchored at Palermo — delivered there by courtesy of Lt. Arbuckle. “It was only later that I learned in detail how remarkable a job Ernie Arbuckle had done in bringing the battered PT 218 and inert me back to Palermo that night.” Barnes now resumes the narrative:

“The PT was a shambles and the regular boat officers out of action. [Although badly wounded], Ernie refused morphine to keep his head clear, propped himself up in a corner of the chart house, and pulled the crew together. They were hours from Palermo and badly damaged. Moreover, there was an alert and highly effective screen of U.S. destroyers patrolling off the harbor to protect the shipping anchored there from enemy E-boat raids. Destroyers and shoot first and ask questions later, and PT’s were never exposed to them if it could possibly avoided. But Ernie got through. He avoided the destroyer radar screen by creeping very close to the shore. Much to the discomfiture of the destroyer people, PT 218 suddenly appeared alongside the senior destroyer officer’s flagship as it lay at anchor. Even then Ernie wouldn’t submit to the doctors until his officers and men were under care and I had been notified. When these things were done, he collapsed and spent the next several months in hospitals.” Ernie was awarded the Silver Star. According to Stella Harthorn, the fine human relationships and good sportsmanship received their start in a cow pasture at Fillmore, a community near Santa Paula. “I knew Ernest when he was a little tow-headed youngster on our block. His early-day playmates nicknamed him ‘Bede,’ a name used even now in Fillmore when referring to Ernest.”

After school and on Saturdays, the youngsters on Blaine Avenue would gather in the cow pasture for baseball; into the twilight hours they would also play run-sheep-run and other happy childhood games. I am sure this is where Bede acquired his pitching skill. And it was the Eklin, Reeder, Yurick, and Root children who helped formulate the good sportsmanship that is so much of the Dean’s character.”

It was in Fillmore that Ernie met the great heavyweight boxer James J. Jeffries, who was in a business venture with Miss Harthorn’s father. When the boxer came to town, the boys were summoned to the fistic presence. “Mr. Jeffries dwarfed the boys; he extended his hand and shook hands with the youngsters. I can see them now, looking up at Mr. Jeffries in wonderment,” she says.

In this recital, where we are leaping from crag to crag in anecdote, let us now jump to Ernie’s undergraduate days at Stanford.

“Our close acquaintance goes back to the fall of 1929 as freshmen in Encina,” writes Ray L. Wilbur, Jr. “I will always remember Easter vacation our freshman year spent in his home in Santa Monica with his wonderful mother and his two delightful sisters, Kathryn and Marie. What fun and pleasure we had and what a close relationship existed among the four of them. Marie had and still has a great singing voice. We gathered around the piano often. Ernie would play the violin (quite well, really) and we did enjoy ourselves. What an easy family to live with and to be a part of on short acquaintance.

Many of the strengths seen in Ernie today come from his mother. Her name was Ernestine. Exposure to her for a while was a real treat. He is on his own now, of course, but I see a great deal of her in many of Ernie’s recognized accomplishments.”

Ernie won his Block S on the track team; W. Parmer Fuller, III best tells the story:

“He was one of the managers of the track team at a time when Stanford’s supply of javelin throwers was at a low ebb. One of his managerial duties was to pick up the javelins during a practice session and get them back to the athletes. Ernie soon became a varsity track man when Dink Templeton noticed that the manager in returning the javelins was out-throwing the experts.” Eastman, who was Ernie’s track team captain, adds a postscript: “In that one year he won his letter in the javelin event. I don’t know of anyone else who has earned a letter in such a way, but also knowing Ernie, this is not surprising.” James F. Coonan also observes: “Ernie was not a great natural athlete; tenacity alone pulled him through.”

In 1933 Ernie earned his AB degree with a major in history. He belonged to Phi Phi, national senior honor society; was president of his fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega; and was chairman of the Men’s Council. In 1934 he was senior sponsor at Encina. In 1936 he received his MBA from the Graduate School of Business.

Immediately following MBA graduation, Ernie was to start work at Standard Oil Company of California. But a telephone call from Chamberlain delayed the opening job for a full year.

“How about a trip around the world? I’ll pay for everything,” Chamberlain invited. Ernie needed the job, but the invitation was too tempting. Conferring with the Standard people, he received a “leave of absence.” From the voluminous Chamberlain diary, here are extracts:

“At a baronial ball in England, the baroness offered us snuff such as was taken in Elizabethan times. All refused, but not Ernie, who sniffed a monumental sniff. His face ran the complete spectrum; but he never let on, nor did he get outwardly ill.”

“From Batum to Baku we could get only one set of meal tickets, the only way a foreigner could eat in those days. Ernie partially solved this by putting ‘2’ on the back of each. It finally caught up with us where we were left with no tickets, no money, just our clothes bag. After three days of some bread filched by a friend, we finally got on a Persian boat.

The smells from the galley were too much. While I stood watch, Ernie reached in the porthole and grabbed for anything portable. Hard to believe he came out with four cream puffs. The ensuing chase and escape is a story in itself.”

Ernie and Joe made long detours to visit Standard Oil projects throughout the world “so he would be better at the job he had awaiting him at home.” He brainpicked everyone, said Chamberlain, whether a worker on a third class railroad in India or a Japanese prince.

Back in the United States at Standard’s personnel department in San Francisco, Ernie gave a helping hand to many people beset by depression job-changing. He badgered his friends to help. As H. E. Gessler puts it, “It seemed to me that Ernie was certainly extending himself to help a friend here and there, because I received a call every three months or so ‘Can you do something for old Jack?”’ Following World War II, Ernie returned to Standard Oil, and then on to management positions at Golden State Co., Ltd. and W. R. Grace & Co. And then back to Stanford in 1958.

Edmund W. Littlefield tells it this way:

“After graduation we lived together in our bachelor days, worked at Standard Oil of California together, went into the Navy together, worked at Golden State together, later served as Stanford trustees together, and now serve on two boards of directors together.”

“As Stanford trustees and as graduates of the school, we were invited to a dinner at the Menlo Country Club to visit with a prospective business executive who was being very seriously considered as dean. I sat next to Bud Pederson [Professor of Business Management Carlton W. Pederson and then acting dean] and for the first time learned from Bud what I am sure he thought I knew, namely, that Ernie had been asked to become dean of the school and had refused. This did not surprise me, since he would be required to take a considerable cut in compensation and was not a person of private financial means.”

“By coincidence Ernie and I were having luncheon at the Pacific Union Club a few days later, and he asked me what I thought of the candidate under consideration.”

“I replied: ‘He is an impressive fellow who said the right things and gave all the right answers, but be is the wrong man for the job.’”

“Ernie asked: ‘Why do you say that?’”

“I replied: ‘Because the problems of the business school will be critical in the next five years. It will take a man new to this community five years to gain the confidence and support of business that is necessary to get the job done. Why don’t you take it?’”

“Ernie said: ‘Well, you know they offered me the job, but they wanted me to commit myself to being an academician the rest of my life. I am not sure that I want to do that. I would like to get the job done for them, but later I would want to feel free to return to the business world.’”

“I said: ‘That’s the wrong approach by Stanford’s board and it is the wrong reply on your part. You are determined to continue to reside in the Bay Area and are rather reluctant to move to New York, which is necessary for your program in your present firm. If you take the deanship, and do the kind of job I know you can do, at the end of ten years you can make your decision then. If you want to continue as dean, fine; if you want to return to business, you will have your choice of opportunities.’”

“The rest is history. Ernie took the job and was successful beyond our wildest expectations. He did it more rapidly than any of us would have dreamed was possible.”

“You could become an Ernie worshipper,” warned a long-time Ernie friend when I first approached him for background. In the overflow of understanding and affection expressed by so many friends, inundation is possible. But with this down-to-earth man, imbued with a high sense of integrity and endowed with a delightful sense of humor, we may meet and part, comfortably sharing many of life’s experiences.

“We have four children, and two are over 21,” he told his Tuolumne friends. “Now I can talk to these two.”

“Our first-year class is in the 94th percentile,” he reported to alumni. “In our day the class was in the 64th; but, of course, all you here were in 94.”

“I like Dick Tracy and Joe Palooka, too,” he addressed a Woodside grammar school commencement, “but there’s a lot of news on the front page you need to know if you’re going to be smart defending your way of life.” (This particular 1951 address to nine graduates won a second prize nationally from Freedoms Foundation, Valley Forge. He donated the $300 to the school.)

And so you may wonder about such authorship. Although surrounded by a competent writing staff Ernie prefers to write his own articles and prepare his own addresses. He is equally adept at writing in the vernacular or composing in the academicism of higher education. His turns of phrase have stopping power. “How does a business school provide the professional environment to keep the teacher ahead of the taught?” But then, if you read almost every one of his talks and addresses over a ten-year period at the school, you could conceivably hope for a cessation of quoting, with credit to Coleridge, “the stern lights of a ship which illumine only the track the ship has passed.”

The helpful counsel and management direction he gives and the physical energy he expends to cover the bases, both literally and figuratively, pay a special kind of dividend for his friends and for himself, you might say, the dividend of give and take. Eastman puts it this way: “To me, Ernie is a rare combination of wonderful characteristics; and I can only think of him as the whole harmonious blending of all these qualities … his drive, his great understanding of others, his love and loyalty for those he has known, no matter where.”

“His loyalty, however, does not leave him blind,” writes Malcolm MacNaughton. “He does not hesitate to comment or question any plan or matter that he does not quite understand or perhaps even agree with.” With “integrity” so frequently mentioned by Ernie’s friends, we have selected Edgar F. Kaiser’s particular words as a happy send-off from us in the next career ahead:” One of Ernie’s outstanding characteristics is his sensitivity to people. He is kind, considerate, and thoughtful; and this coupled with his deep sense of integrity has given him the ability to find that rare balance between the academic and business worlds.”

Extracts from Business Essays by Dean Ernest C. Arbuckle

On Personal Integrity

“The ethics and moral values of the business community of tomorrow will be determined by the young men and women graduating from universities today. If the private enterprise system as we know it is to survive, we must instill in our students attitudes that accept integrity, rooted in the bedrock of principle, as more important than operational competence.”

On Advantages of a Business Career

“There is no career that can match business in diversity of intellectual interest, in the urge to achieve, which results from the stimulus of competition, in the opportunity to cause change and the necessity of adapting to it, and in the responsibility for providing the decision making kind of leadership that is indispensable to a vigorous, free society.”

On Future Economic Freedom

“The wisdom with which American business is managed in the years ahead may well determine whether economic freedom, as we know it, will survive.”

On Executive Ambitions

“Future executives want the assurance of important, meaningful work with opportunities for the employment of their special aptitudes and skills. They want responsibility, challenge, adventure, and the ability to maintain their individuality and integrity within the corporate environment. They want the freedom to continue to grow and develop through continuing education. And the assurance can come only from business.”

On Academic Leadership

“Responsibility for leadership in an academic institution is not limited to the dean and the staff. It is also exercised through faculty committees, through informal groups of faculty members, and by individuals whose influence and prestige accord them special opportunities to provide leadership.”

On Continuing Education

“In our world of rapid change, an undeniable obsolescence factor attaches to the education we received when we were young. We can no longer go to college and get an education once-for-life. Administrative knowledge and techniques are undergoing a dynamic change-rate and, amid the demands of day-to-day problem solving, the manager cannot easily keep informed of these changes.”

“Increasingly, repeated periods of a businessman’s life must be devoted to organized educational effort if he is to preserve his original investment.”

On the Faculty and Staff

“The new dean will find he has a remarkably competent, dynamic group of people with whom to work, whose vitality will be responsive to new leadership, to new ideas, to new thrusts, which will propel the school forward.”

On Professional Development of Professors

“An understanding of the institution of business is essential in a professional graduate school of business, and this is advanced by frequent contacts with the business community. Such contacts may take place in the classroom, in the research laboratory, and in the development of teaching material. All contribute to the professional development of the professor by exposing him to the actual problems of application, which in turn adds relevance to his teaching and research. In addition, a rapport with the business community encourages individual consulting relationships between faculty and business executives, from which mutual benefits can be derived.”

Arbuckle and his wife Kitty were killed in a tragic automobile accident in Monterey, California in 1986. At their memorial service, John Gardner said, “I often say that some men and women make the world better just by being the kind of people they are. That was true of Kitty. It was true of Ernie.”