Arjay Miller, a former dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business who was committed to encouraging business and public sector partnerships to improve society, died Nov. 3 in Woodside, California. He was 101.

Arjay Miller in 2017

Arjay Miller enjoyed participating in graduation ceremonies and was on hand in June 2017 to shake the hand of graduates designated Arjay Miller Scholars, who represented the top 10 percent of the class based on academics. (Image credit: Saul Bromberger)

As the school’s fourth dean, Miller quadrupled the endowment, increased the number of endowed chairs, hired outstanding new faculty leaders and significantly increased the numbers of minorities and women who attended the school. During his 10 years as dean from 1969 to 1979, Miller championed the idea of a “balanced excellence” that included excellence in academics, research and teaching as well as a foundation in business skills to benefit the public good.

“He was genuinely interested in providing GSB students with rich experiences and involvement in the public sector,” said James VanHorne, the A. P. Giannini Professor of Banking and Finance, Emeritus, who was a close friend of Miller’s. “He had a strong belief that those issues were very important and he felt that if you could work with individuals and organizations and help them be good managers things could be better.”

Miller was born in Shelby, Nebraska, on March 4, 1916. He grew up on his family’s farm and attended UCLA, where he graduated with highest honors in 1937. While there he met his wife, Frances, to whom he was married for 70 years. Miller then enrolled as a doctoral student in economics at the University of California, Berkeley, although his studies were interrupted when he left to serve as an Air Force officer in World War II.

After the war, Miller was one of 10 young officers dubbed the Whiz Kids hired into the Ford Motor Co. to help turn the company around. He rose to become president of Ford from 1963 until 1968. He was then recruited to become dean of Stanford GSB.

Social responsibility

Arjay Miller and Henry Ford II

Arjay Miller, left, speaks with Henry Ford II. Miller worked for the Ford Motor Co. after his WWII service. (Image credit: Dave Bockian)

While at Ford and living in Detroit, Miller experienced the social unrest of the time and felt that business could play a role in the solution. One condition for joining Stanford was the creation of the Public Management Program – the first such program in the country – which created courses and opportunities focused on government and public policy. The center was a critical part of Miller’s belief that business schools should train leaders who are well versed in policy and in social issues, and firmly grounded in ethics.

“More than 40 years later, our community continues to build on Arjay’s original vision. Today we increasingly see that businesses and business leaders routinely create corporate foundations, for-profit social enterprise has become a powerful way to scale impact, and the number of capital investors seeking impact investments continues to grow,” said Jonathan Levin, the Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business, in a tribute to Miller upon his 100th birthday.

The Public Management Program evolved over the years, integrating government-, nonprofit-, and public management, corporate social responsibility, social enterprises, and philanthropy. In 1999 it was integrated into the new Center for Social Innovation, the hub for students, alumni, and field practitioners to develop innovative solutions to social problems.

“Arjay Miller lived a life of incredible impact,” said Bernadette Clavier, director of the Center for Social Innovation. “He inspired many generations of Stanford GSB students to think bigger than themselves and to take a big-picture, societal-level perspective of the world. His legacy is profound and only partially reflected through the social good members of our community of social innovators are delivering for humanity today and will continue to deliver for the many years to come.”

Miller, who thought the business and public sectors should work together to achieve social good, encouraged MBA graduates to take civil service positions.

“He had the vision of an economy where business and government work together as opposed to against each other,” said Neil Malhotra, the Edith M. Cornell Professor of Political Economy faculty director at the Center for Social Innovation. “He knew that this could only happen if business people took interest in public matters and if government had insights into how business works.”

Miller’s interest in encouraging students to tackle issues of public good continued into his retirement. In 2014 Miller endowed the Frances and Arjay Miller Fellowship in Social Innovation to recognize two students each year who have made outstanding contributions to the social innovation community.

Academic excellence

In addition to fostering a sense of social responsibility among students and faculty, Miller sought to amplify the school’s reputation with outstanding teaching and research. During his tenure as dean, he greatly expanded the school’s fundraising efforts and amplified the endowment, efforts that helped recruit top faculty members to build the GSB’s reputation.

Miller is serenaded by a student band during his 1979 retirement party at GSB.

Miller is serenaded by a student band during his 1979 retirement party at the GSB. (Image credit: Dave Bockian)

At Miller’s retirement in 1979, Stanford President Richard Lyman said, “The entire university is indebted to Arjay Miller for his leadership in that rise to greatness that can so easily be made to appear an inexorable part of some natural process but which, of course, could have only happened with inspired direction from the top.”

Miller also led efforts to expand the role of minorities and women in business, hiring the first female faculty member. During his tenure, he oversaw an increase in minority students from nine to 76. The enrollment of women increased from 10 to 146.

Despite his administrative workload, Miller liked to spend time with young MBA students, sometimes showing up at casual spaghetti dinners at student houses. Even after his retirement, Miller came to campus for social events, lunches with former colleagues and opportunities to meet young people. He was remembered as a storyteller who liked to talk about his childhood working on the family farm or the shock of transitioning from the relatively pampered business world to academia.

“He was a warm individual,” VanHorne said. “He was just constantly poking fun and a genuine human being.”

Miller is survived by his son, Ken, and daughter, Ann, three granddaughters, and six great grandchildren. In keeping with his wishes, there is no public memorial service planned.