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When Haas School Professor Emeritus Oliver Williamson won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics, he wanted to show his gratitude and strong affection for the business school where he spent most of his career. By pledging the bulk of his Nobel Prize money to the Haas School, Williamson and his wife, Dolores, created a new endowed faculty chair in economics of organization.
"The field of 'economics and organization'
is still young and needs support," says Williamson. "I have been a chaired professor much of my academic life and know that such chairs are important for recruiting and retaining faculty."
The Oliver E. Williamson Chair at the Haas
School is being established with Williamson's Nobel gift as well as contributions from Prof. David Teece, who helped recruit Williamson to Berkeley in 1988, and alumnus Rene Kern, BS 86, managing director at private equity firm General Atlantic. The gift will be matched by $1 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which gave a landmark $110 million challenge grant to endow 100 new faculty chairs at UC Berkeley. The Haas School has created five chairs funded through the Hewlett
"My appointment on the Berkeley faculty has been endlessly satisfying. Being at Berkeley has been a joy for my wife as well," says Williamson. "The Haas School has flourished in the years that we have been here—good colleagues, good students, good ambience. The chair is our way of saying 'thanks' and 'keep up the good work.'"
Though winning the Nobel Prize was a huge honor for Oliver Williamson, it did not come as a complete surprise. A more unexpected tribute came from Williamson's former PhD students, who have collaborated to fund a student fellowship in his name.
"This honor is so unanticipated and so moves the spirit that I can only shake my head with wonder," Williamson says.
Inspired by his lasting legacy and dedication to teaching, a group of his former students created the Oliver E. Williamson PhD Fellowship Fund to support outstanding PhD students in the Business and Public Policy Group.
Brian Silverman, PhD 96, a professor at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, is one of seven alumni who spearheaded the fundraising effort. "I think most of us feel that he's almost like a parent in some ways, an intellectual father," Silverman says of Williamson's influence. "He certainly has inspired a lot of loyalty."
The $50,000 initial endowment will be supplemented with funds from the UC Berkeley Graduate Fellowships Matching Program.
Williamson's award-winning research explored the concept of transaction cost economies through an interdisciplinary lens—and had subsequent impact on such diverse fields as public policy, law, strategy, and sociology. Though his influence has been great, Williamson describes himself simply as "a conscientious teacher who had a lot of students who were tolerant and went on to do good work."
"Teaching for me was also learning," Williamson says. "It gives me great pride to see how well my students have all turned out."