February 25, 2008
Remembering George Benston: Friend and mentor to many
By Victor Rogers
George Benston was a multifaceted individual whose passions ranged from the fine arts to the regulation of banking, his friends and colleagues say. Early in his career he turned down a job offer with one of the ‘big three’ in Detroit to pursue a career in teaching and research, only to find more prestige as a global authority in multiple disciplines.
George was born in New York City in 1932. He graduated from Queens College in 1952 and earned his M.B.A. in accounting and taxation from New York University in 1953. In 1963 he earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago.
He was on the faculty of the University of Rochester for 21 years, and was a chaired professor when John Robson, then dean of Emory’s business school, came to recruit him in 1987. Robson, a businessman who was new to academia, had been advised that in order to build a great business school, he must first build a great faculty. He was advised to “try to get George Benston.” George’s wife, Alice — today a professor in Emory’s Theater Studies Department — had earned a Ph.D. from Emory, and this made the pitch much easier.
“George was the person who helped the business school take off,” said Jim Rosenfeld, associate professor of finance at Goizueta Business School. “We were a sleepy b-school with a fairly strong regional reputation. George helped to quickly change that. He was instrumental in just about every major hire.”
Over the years George became a father figure or mentor to many students and faculty, including Rosenfeld. “George was my mentor for 20 years — not only professionally, but in every way,” Rosenfeld said. “That’s the impact he had on people. Those who knew him didn’t just like him — they loved him.”
In addition to being the John H. Harland Professor of Finance at Goizueta Business School, George also was a professor in the Department of Economics. He was known internationally, as a member of the Business Economists Roundtable and a co-founder of the Shadow Financial Services Committee.
He was an advocate for fairness and quality in the worlds of finance and banking, and was outspoken regarding accounting standards, Enron, and the government’s role and responsibilities. He wrote many papers and books on these topics and testified in Washington, D.C.
Never one to shy away from a hearty discussion, George freely shared his opinions during faculty meetings at Goizueta, some of which are now legendary.
“George had strong convictions, but he was never personal in his disagreement,” said Al Hartgraves, an accounting professor who first read one of George’s books as a graduate student and years later co-authored papers on Enron with him. “He might give a young faculty prospect a pretty hard time when presenting a paper, but at the end he’d give the prospect his copy of the paper with voluminous written comments and say, ‘If you’d like to talk, please give me a call.’ He was always fair, and never personal in his critique.”
Dean Larry Benveniste said, “I knew George personally for nearly 25 years. He was a man with high values, and an advocate for academic integrity.”
Arrangements for a memorial service are under way. Please check future issues of Emory Report for details.