Alumni Medal: William J. White (McC61)
If you’re looking for one word to sum up Bill White, it’s hard to go wrong with “tireless.” His list of affiliations runs longer than the Sheridan Road homecoming parade. In fact, his 12 years as a popular professor at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science barely scratches the surface of what he has meant to Northwestern University, its students, and its alumni. Here are just a few examples:
- White has offered his time to further Northwestern’s high standard of educational excellence. A life trustee who has been a member the University board of trustees since 1991, he served on advisory boards for McCormick and the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation among other roles.
- White has offered his generous support to help the University further its initiatives and overall mission. He has been a member of the prestigious John Evans Club since 1983 and the Northwestern University Leadership Circle since 2005, and he served on three reunion gift committees (twice as co chair). He and his wife established the Jane S. and William J. White Chair in Behavioral Science in the industrial engineering and management sciences department.
- White has offered his talents to help his fellow alumni. The former treasurer of the Northwestern Alumni Association continues to dispense career advice as one of the most sought-after speakers for NAA alumni clubs. He also reaches alumni with his regular column “Your Extraordinary Career,” which has more than 200 subscribers, and through NAA’s group on LinkedIn, a popular business social networking site. A recent online collaboration that linked alumni and students to his organizational behavior class engaged more than 500 participants.
“Professor White is passionate about teaching the newest generation of leaders,” says Aspasia Apostolakis Miller, the NAA’s Director for Students, Young Alumni, and Career Services.
He has certainly done just that since joining McCormick’s faculty in 1998 (he also teaches in the Kellogg School of Management), imparting his insights on behavior-based leadership, industrial psychology and organizational behavior, and engineering entrepreneurship to a generation of students. White counts both helping to launch Northwestern’s undergraduate entrepreneurship program and the continuing success of his many students among his proudest achievements.
His many contributions to the University have earned him multiple honors, including an Alumni Merit Award in 1990. White also received the McCormick School Teacher of the Year award in 2001 and an NAA Excellence in Teaching award in 2004. Northwestern’s Associated Student Government recognized him as an outstanding professor in 2000, 2005, and 2008.
With 35 years of business experience to draw on, White is clearly an authority on what he teaches.
After graduating from Northwestern, he worked as a mechanical planning engineer for Proctor & Gamble and earned an MBA from Harvard. He then embarked on a successful career as a corporate executive, helping companies reach new levels of performance. White served as chairman and CEO of both White Star Enterprises and Bell & Howell Company, taking Bell & Howell public in 1995 and growing its market capitalization more than $1 billion.
White also held executive positions for Hartmarx, Mead, Masonite, and USG; has worked as a consultant for Motorola and Nationwide Insurance; and served in a director role at USG, Ivex Packaging, Harris Bank, and Reader’s Digest Association. As president of the Fortune 500 company Masonite, White received the Silver Award from the Wall Street Transcript for best manager in the building materials industry.
A Northwestern education helped prepare White to meet these, and other challenges.
“Northwestern provided me with great training — not only in how to think and analyze problems, but also in a wide variety of social situations,” he says. “The resulting long-term friendships with an incredible variety of people have been wonderful.”
An industrial engineering major at McCormick, White particularly enjoyed the classes of Professors Clarence Versteeg, Corbin LaPell, and Gil Crulee and relished the chance to learn about early computers. He maintained a busy social calendar as well, filling the roles of treasurer, scholarship chairman, and house manager for the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and co production manager and co chair of the Waa-Mu Show.
In addition to teaching classes at Northwestern, White has shared his business expertise as a published author, releasing the book From Day One: CEO Advice to Launch an Extraordinary Career in 2005. He has also taught and lectured at the University of Chicago and the University of Virginia.
White’s penchant for volunteerism does not stop with his alma mater, either. He currently serves as a director for Evanston Northwestern Healthcare and the Field Museum. The American Cancer Society has also been a beneficiary of White’s talents. As a past board member, he assisted in the organization’s strategic planning. In 1995, he was awarded the St. George Medal — the highest recognition of achievement the society bestows on volunteers — by the Illinois division. For White, the battle against cancer is more than a little personal, having been diagnosed with the prostate cancer himself.
“I have been successfully treated and am a happy cancer survivor,” he notes. “My family was my primary support, and I was helped by my Northwestern friends.”
Bill and Jane White live in Winnetka, Illinois. They have four adult children — including a son, James White (McC84), who attended