Business Leader and Stanford Benefactor Edmund Littlefield Dies
STANFORD BUSINESS SCHOOL—Edmund Wattis Littlefield, a leading San Francisco business executive, and a major benefactor of Stanford University and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, died of lung cancer Saturday in Burlingame. He was 87.
Active in civic, philanthropic, and educational affairs, “he was one of the outstanding business leaders in the country without question,” said Robert Joss, Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “He had a first rate mind; he was incisive at getting to the heart of business issues.” Littlefield, who graduated from Stanford University with honors in 1936, received his MBA from the Business School in 1938.
He joined Utah Construction Co. in 1951 and began his 21-year career as the firm’s principal officer in 1958. Under his leadership, the company was transformed into a worldwide natural resources and shipping company, which was renamed Utah International Inc. In 1976 the company merged with General Electric in what was then the largest merger in history. Littlefield continued as a member of the GE board of directors. “I once told a Business School leadership class that I thought Ed Littlefield was the most outstanding corporate executive I knew,” said Arjay Miller, who was Dean of the Graduate School of Business from 1969 to 1979 and a director of Utah International. “He had a vision to change the very nature of the corporation from one field—construction, which was low profitability—to mining uranium and coal, which was more profitable.
“He was also a great philanthropist,” said Miller. Littlefield was a generous supporter of Stanford University and its Graduate School of Business. He endowed a Business School professorship in 1973. And in 1988, he contributed the name gift to construct The Edmund W. Littlefield Center, the building that houses the Business School faculty and classrooms today. At its dedication, former Business School faculty member John Gardner, who founded the public affairs lobby Common Cause and is now a Stanford University Consulting Professor, praised Littlefield: “I am proud of Ed for being the kind of man he is, for leading the kind of life he has led, and for nurturing the institution that nurtured him.” In addition to his generosity to the Business School, Littlefield was a benefactor of the Hoover Institution, Stanford Medical Center, and the School of Earth Sciences as well as other areas of the University.
“He was very keen on corporate governance and he was recognized as a corporate leader in that regard,” said Robert Jaedicke, who was dean of the Graduate School of Business when the Littlefield Center was constructed. “He wanted to be sure the corporation was run for the benefit of the shareholders, not just the managers. It was in the days when boards of directors were being looked to more and more for leadership. That idea might be old hat today but it wasn’t in the 1970s and 80s.” Littlefield served on numerous corporate boards throughout his career including Bechtel Investment Co., Chrysler Corp., Del Monte Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Wells Fargo & Co.
Blessed with a wonderful sense of humor, Littlefield is also remembered as an excellent communicator. “He had a way of talking about very serious and important things with a keen wit,” said Jaedicke. “Everybody got the point.”
He was also generous with his time, serving on the Stanford University Board of Trustees from 1956 until 1969 and on the Graduate School of Business Advisory Council from 1959 until 1984. He served on the Hoover Institution Board from 1990 to 1994. In 1970, Littlefield was the recipient of the Ernest C. Arbuckle Award, given annually by the Graduate School of Business to an outstanding alumnus. In 1983, he received the Stanford Athletic Board Achievement Award.
He also served at different times as a director of both the San Francisco and the California chambers of commerce, as chairman of SRI International, and as a trustee of the Bay Area Council and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Jeannik; three children, Edmund Jr. of Arlington, Wash., Jacques of Portola Valley, and Denise Sobel of New York City; and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. November 9 in the Stanford University Memorial Church with a reception following at the Arrillaga Alumni Center on campus.
The family has requested gifts go to Stanford University, Office of Development-Memorial Gifts, 326 Galvez St., Stanford, CA 94305-6105; Ducks Unlimited, 3074 Gold Canal Drive, Rancho Cordova, CA, 95670-6116; or a charity of choice.