Kozmetsky, George

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Kozmetsky, George

(b. 5 October 1917 in Seattle, Washington; d. 30 April 2003 in Austin, Texas), businessman, scholar, and philanthropist who sought to link universities, government agencies, and technology-based corporations in a system that would spur innovation in all three.

Kozmetsky’s parents, George and Nadya Kozmetsky, were Russian immigrants. His father died when Kozmetsky was five years old, but his mother and the memory of his father instilled in Kozmetsky a powerful drive to succeed and taught him that the way to succeed was through education. Kozmetsky pursued a career tightly connected to higher education, first earning his BA from the University of Washington in 1937. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War II and won a Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Purple Heart. He married Ronya Keosiff on 5 November 1943, and the couple had three children.

After the war Kozmetsky studied at the Harvard Business School, receiving an MBA in 1947. After beginning work on his PhD at Harvard University, Kozmetsky joined Herbert Simon in 1950 as a faculty member of the Graduate School of Industrial Administration, the pioneering new business school at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (later Carnegie Mellon University). Kozmetsky received his DCS from Harvard in 1957.

Kozmetsky did not stay at Carnegie Tech for long, moving west in 1951 to join the Hughes Aircraft Company as its controller. He had been a major contributor to a study project at Carnegie Tech, led by Simon, on the role of the controller in the modern business organization. Hughes Aircraft was a pioneer not only in aerospace technology but also in the closely related fields of electronics and systems engineering. The company was an innovator in developing the role of high-technology defense contractor—a private corporation so intimately entangled in federally funded defense research that it often was difficult to tell where the government ended and the private enterprise began. Kozmetsky left Hughes in 1954 to join a similar firm, Litton Industries, a supplier of advanced electronics equipment for the U.S. Air Force. Kozmetsky flourished at Litton as he had at Hughes, working on a variety of projects related to miniaturizing electronic circuitry for use in missiles and satellites.

In 1960 Kozmetsky and Henry Singleton founded Teledyne Incorporated. Initially an electronics corporation with many product lines for the military, Teledyne grew rapidly into a major supplier of consumer electronics, a new, booming market in the 1960s. By the time Kozmetsky left in 1966, Teledyne had mushroomed into a highly profitable conglomerate of more than 120 companies, and Kozmetsky had earned an enormous personal fortune. He applied this fortune to a variety of new ventures, including the RGK Foundation, an Austin-based philanthropy that Kozmetsky and his wife created in 1966; the University of Texas at Austin, to which Kozmetsky gave many millions; and a series of more than 100 high-technology startup companies for which Kozmetsky served as both a key adviser and a vital provider of venture capital.

Kozmetsky left Teledyne in 1966 to become the dean of the College and Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Texas at Austin. He transformed the school into a leading center for interdisciplinary research on business and the management of technological innovation. He served as dean for sixteen years, using his position, wealth, political skill, and business acumen to help transform Austin into what he called a “technopolis”—a region that sought to compete globally on the basis of a partnership among higher education; technology-based corporations both large and small; and federal, state, and local government agencies. Kozmetsky’s vision of the technopolis was new in the 1960s and 1970s, rarely seen outside the technological regions of California and Massachusetts, but he promoted it with great vigor. Kozmetsky’s ideas helped to diversify the Texas economy and build Austin into a technology-driven boomtown.

In 1977 Kozmetsky created IC2, which stood for the Institute for Creative Capitalism and later changed its name to the Innovation, Creativity, and Capital Institute. The IC2 was affiliated with the University of Texas Business School, and its mission was to “subject capitalism to the objective scrutiny of academic research and provide ideas about the ways in which the private sector may respond more effectively to help solve society’s problems.” This charge was a product of Kozmetsky’s deep concern that global competition was fraying the American social compact by undermining its economic foundation. To Kozmetsky private enterprise needed to become more creative to be more competitive, and both government and the public needed to transform themselves to enable American businesses to create and therefore compete. A novel notion in the 1970s, this technopolitan vision became a cornerstone of regional development policies across the United States.

Kozmetsky wrote numerous books, including Transformational Management (1985) and, with Piyu Yue, The Economic Transformation of the United States, 1950–2000 (2005). He received the National Medal of Technology in 1993 and was one of the 400 richest Americans in the late 1980s. His own career was proof of the power of his vision of the technopolis. Kozmetsky’s individual, entrepreneurial success was a function of his ability to unite commercial and governmental interests in support of advanced technology. Kozmetsky died of a heart attack on 30 April 2003 in Austin.

Kozmetsky’s contribution to hearings before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the U.S. Senate is in Competitive Challenge Facing U.S. Industry (1987). His views are described briefly in Debra M. Amidon, The Innovation Superhighway: Harnessing Intellectual Capital for Sustainable Collaborative Advantage (2003). Reminiscences of Kozmetsky are Amy Schatz, “Professor Remembered for Belief in Others,” Austin American-Statesman (5 May 2003); and Ray Perryman, “George Kozmetsky Passes,” Odessa American (12 May 2003). Obituaries are in the Houston Chronicle (5 May 2003), Los Angeles Times (6 May 2003), and New York Times (7 May 2003).

Hunter Crowther-Heyck