Dr. J. Robert “Bob” Beyster was many things to many people—gifted scientist, successful entrepreneur and business leader, philanthropist, avid yachtsman, friend, loving father and husband—but above all, he was a remarkable man who changed the world for the better.
Born in Detroit on July 26, 1924, and raised in Grosse Ile—an island community on the American side of the Detroit River—Bob gained a lifelong love of the water at a very early age.
Just as Bob finished high school, World War II broke out, and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He attended the University of Michigan, graduating with a B.S.E. in engineering and physics. Bob was assigned by the Navy to a destroyer on the East Coast, and then sent to New York City for career testing. After answering a battery of questions, the results came back: “Whatever you do, don’t become a lawyer.”
Bob earned his master’s and doctorate in physics, and then worked briefly for Westinghouse Atomic Power before he landed a job as a research physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It was at Los Alamos that Bob met the love of his life—Betty Jean Brock—whom he married in 1955. Betty was the anchor that kept Bob well-grounded and happy, and together they raised three children: Jim, Mark, and Mary Ann.
At Betty’s urging, in 1957, Bob accepted a position at La Jolla’s General Atomic, where he was put in charge of starting up an accelerator physics department. Here he stayed until 1969—working on a variety of physics projects. And it was in 1969 that, at the age of 45, Bob used the proceeds from selling some of his General Atomic stock to start up a new company: Science Applications Incorporated (SAI).
The company—later renamed Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)—was an unbridled success, eventually becoming the nation’s largest employee-owned research and engineering company. It was Bob’s deeply held belief that those who contributed to the company should own it that sparked SAIC’s entrepreneurial culture.
After growing SAIC into a $6.7 billion business success—with more than 43,000 employees—Bob retired as Chairman in 2004. But his legacy did not end there. In fact, in many ways he was just getting started.
Not one to stay still for very long, Bob wrote books (The SAIC Solution and Names, Numbers, and Network Solutions), he was a tireless advocate for the virtues of employee ownership (having already founded the Foundation for Enterprise Development and the Beyster Institute), he reached out to the world via his blog, and he—along with his wife Betty—continued to make a tremendous difference in the lives of people in San Diego, and across the nation. Always a scientist at heart, Bob served as a fellow of the American Nuclear Society, chairman of its Reactor Physics Division and Shielding Division, and fellow of the American Physical Society.
The list of universities, community-based organizations, and nonprofits that Bob and Betty have supported over the years is long, and the number of people touched by their philanthropy is far greater.
While Bob garnered many awards and accolades during the course of his life, he was perhaps most proud when the Horatio Alger Association for Distinguished Americans selected him to be a 2008 Horatio Alger Award recipient. He had truly traveled full circle from his humble beginnings in Detroit to industry and community leader.
And he was of course very proud of the role that SAIC played in bringing the America’s Cup back to the United States—using the company’s vast expertise in naval architecture technology to help Dennis Conner defeat the Australians in 1987.
It was on the water that Bob felt most alive, sailing most every week—even in his final months—to destinations near and far, inviting his former SAIC colleagues to join him. As Bob once posted on his blog after one of those trips, “I believe an enjoyable time was had by all.”
Photo Gallery from the Celebration of Life is below (slideshow may take a moment to load):
Photos courtesy of J.Dixx Photography