Saturday, July 25, 2009

J. Fred Weston & the origin of synergy


Professor J. Fred Weston has died at age 93. Fred was a giant in the field of M&A. He arrived at UCLA from Chicago in 1949 and over his career wrote 32 books and 147 journal articles, many of which dealt with M&A. He mentored many outstanding graduate students, including Nobel laureate Bill Sharpe.

I worked with Fred and had the privilege of taking over as Faculty Director for UCLA Anderson's Executive Program on Mergers & Acquisitions from him in 2005. Fred continued to speak in the program. When I introduced him as the "John Wooden of M&A" (referring to UCLA's legendary basketball coach), it was not an overstatement.

I recall Fred telling the story about how the word synergy came to be used in corporate deal making. The year was 1950, and Fred was at lunch in Westwood with executives from a nascent industry that would later become aerospace. Fred saw a drink menu on the table that promoted Irish Coffee, The Perfect Synergy. (Irish Coffee blends coffee and irish whiskey.)

Not knowing what synergy meant, Fred looked up the term after he returned to his office at UCLA and saw synergy = the interaction of two or more agents so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. "Now that's what an M&A is supposed to do," thought Fred. He started using synergy in his writings to characterize successful deals, and the term became a cornerstone of academic and professional thinking.

Fred, I miss the synergy we shared, and I know many others do also.

3 comments:

Alexandra Lajoux said...

J. Fred Weston was a scholar and a saint.

The Scholar

His works were required reading when I was an MBA student and they were my favorites. When I was editor of Mergers & Acquisitions magazine in the 1980s, I made sure to recruit him as an author and he kindly obliged. In the 1990s, Fred and I collaborated on a book and an article. He never ceased to amaze me with the breadth and dept of his research.

The Saint

Words would fail me utterly if I tried to convey how humble, kind-hearted, and inspiring Fred Weston was in every conversation, but anyone who knew him will nod in recognition.

The man was good to the core and I will miss him very much.

TATO said...

I studied under Professor Weston at UCLA during my MBA program. He was a great man, who enjoyed teaching and interacting with different people, from different cultures.

I am extremely sad to know he is gone. He will be missed

Anonymous said...

I spoke to Professor Weston about a complicated M&A transaction to help me solve the problem.

What a gentle and humble intellectual he was.

Christo Roets