George Shultz, former Secretary of State and Chicago Booth dean, 1920-2021

Economist served under three U.S. presidents, left mark on business school

George Pratt Shultz, a former University of Chicago Booth School of Business professor and dean who led a distinguished career in government, business and academia, died Feb. 6 at age 100.

Shultz was one of only two Americans to have held four different federal cabinet posts. He helped President Ronald Reagan resolve the Cold War as U.S. Secretary of State—a role he filled after stints in the Nixon administration as labor secretary, treasury secretary and director of the Office of Management and Budget. He also served as a senior staff economist on President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisers.

“As dean, George left a lasting impact on Chicago Booth. As a statesman, he brought Chicago thinking and the school’s distinctive values into policymaking,” said Madhav Rajan, dean of Chicago Booth and the George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting. “His illustrious career in government, academia and business was an inspiration. We are grateful for George’s service and deeply saddened by his loss.”

Born Dec. 13, 1920, and raised in Englewood, New Jersey, Shultz joined the UChicago faculty in 1957 after beginning his career as a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At Chicago Booth, he made significant contributions as a professor of industrial relations and later as dean. During his time at UChicago, he also befriended Nobel Prize-winning economists Milton Friedman and George Stigler.

“It’s the most intense intellectual turmoil anywhere,” Shultz said of UChicago in a 2015 interview. “It’s high-power discussion everywhere, and people challenge you on everything. It’s really exciting.”

One of his most significant accomplishments at Chicago Booth was establishing the first scholarship for Black students at a major business school. His legacy also includes the creation of the International Business Exchange Program; the launch of several research centers, including the Center for Mathematical Studies in Business and Economics; and building the Selected Papers Series, which advanced the school’s reputation by making faculty research readily accessible to the business world.

In 2018, the Polsky Center renamed its Innovation Fund after Shultz. The fund invests in promising scientific and technology startups from an ecosystem that includes the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, Fermilab and the Marine Biological Laboratory.

“As one of the most influential policymakers, serving three U.S. presidents, George continually devised creative and thoughtful solutions to challenges big and small,” said Starr Marcello, deputy dean of MBA programs and former director of the Polsky Center. “This spirit of ingenuity is precisely why the Innovation Fund at the University bears his name.”

The decision to rename the fund was the result of a $10 million gift from University Trustee Mary A. Tolan, MBA’92, who wanted to honor her longtime friend. Shultz served as an advisor or board member for each of Tolan’s companies in addition to mentoring her, creating many learning opportunities over the years.

To date, the George Shultz Innovation Fund has invested $7.8 million in 61 companies that have gone on to raise $210 million in follow-on funding. Companies launched with the fund’s support include ExplORer Surgical, Corvidia, ClostraBio and Super.Tech.

“George Pratt Shultz meant so much to the Chicago Booth community,” added Christine Karslake, managing director of science ventures at the Polsky Center who also oversees the team that manages the George Shultz Innovation Fund. “He was a beloved mentor and advisor for many students and faculty alike. The George Shultz Innovation Fund was created to pay tribute to him and his desire to see innovation and entrepreneurial startups from the University of Chicago grow and thrive. His legacy will live on in the startups that have been supported by the George Shultz Innovation Fund.”

Shultz earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Princeton University in 1942 and a Ph.D. in industrial economics from MIT in 1949. During this time, he also served in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years, first as an artillery officer and later as a captain.

He began his distinguished political career in 1955, when he took a leave of absence from the MIT faculty to join Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisers. In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed him Secretary of Labor. In this position, he applied academic theory to successfully resolve the Longshoremen’s Union strike and helped combat discriminatory hiring practices in construction unions. He became the first director of the newly formed Office of Management and Budget in 1970 and was later named Secretary of the Treasury. He was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in January 1989.

In 1974, Shultz took a break from government to work in business, serving as executive vice president and later president of the engineering and services company Bechtel Group. Most recently, Shultz served as the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

He is survived by his wife, Charlotte Mailliard Shultz; his children, Margaret Ann Tilsworth, Kathleen Pratt Shultz Jorgensen, Peter Milton Shultz, Barbara Lennox Shultz White, and Alexander George Shultz; 11 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

—This story was first published by Chicago Booth.