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George Kozmetsky, 85; Teledyne's Co-Founder

May 06, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

George Kozmetsky, a businessman, educator and philanthropist who co-founded Teledyne Inc. and devoted more than five decades of 18-hour workdays to adapting technology for commercial use and global economic development, has died. He was 85.

Kozmetsky, who also headed the business school at the University of Texas at Austin from 1966 to 1982, died Wednesday in Austin. He had amyliotropic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

The management expert based his early career in Los Angeles because that was where technology was booming. "Where else could you go where there were digital computers and radar in the 1950s?" he told an interviewer for the Austin Business Journal in December. "They collected scientists from all over the world. That's where I learned about digital computers."

He was speaking of Hughes Aircraft Co., which a Harvard University classmate urged him to join as the company's controller in 1951. Three years later, Kozmetsky went to fledgling Litton Industries to work on shrinking computers "so we could put them in satellites."

In 1960, Kozmetsky and Litton colleague Henry Singleton formed Teledyne Inc., with Kozmetsky serving as executive vice president. During his six years at Teledyne, he helped build it into a conglomerate of about 130 companies that made everything from sophisticated electronics products, engine tools and seismic monitoring systems for earthquakes to stereo speakers, and also sold insurance.

Kozmetsky also built a personal fortune that would fund RGK Foundation, which he started with his wife, Ronya, in 1966. The foundation provides several million dollars annually for various education programs, Austin art and cultural institutions, and special projects such as building housing for hurricane victims in Honduras.

He also became a major benefactor of the University of Texas at Austin, where he was given a free hand in 1966 to do what he had always dreamed of doing -- teach business executives how to commercialize technology for productive, nondefense uses. Last month, the Kozmetskys gave $6 million to fund joint research by the University of Texas and Stanford University into technology and its uses for global prosperity, in a project he dubbed the Kozmetsky Global Collaboratory.

In addition to his 16-year tenure as dean of the College and Graduate School of Business at the University of Texas, Kozmetsky became a major force in turning his adopted hometown of Austin into a technopolis. In 1988, he co-edited a book about the project, "Creating the Technopolis."

In 1977, Kozmetsky founded the think tank dubbed the Institute for Creative Capitalism, popularly known as IC2 and now formally the Institute for Innovation and Creativity. The institute operates sub-think tanks or "incubators" on technology projects in Austin and on clean energy and sponsors research around the world on economic and technology issues.

Despite his wasting disease, Kozmetsky, who received the National Medal of Technology Award from President Clinton in 1993, worked in the think tank office regularly until his death.

Born in Seattle to Russian immigrant parents, as a boy Kozmetsky helped unload fishing boats on the Seattle docks, earning fish to help feed his family. Only 5 when his father died, he more than followed his father's deathbed admonition: "You must go to college."

He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Washington, where he was in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, and became a medical corps officer in the Army during World War II. He earned a bronze star, a silver star and a purple heart for wounds suffered while assisting soldiers on the front line.

After the war, he earned a master's in business administration and later a doctorate in commercial science from Harvard. Before working in the aerospace and defense industries in Los Angeles, Kozmetsky taught at Harvard and Carnegie-Mellon universities.

Among the books Kozmetsky co-wrote or co-edited were "Making It Together" with his wife, "Electronic Computers and Management Control," "Transformational Management," "Modern American Capitalism," "Global Economic Competition" and, in 2000, "Zero Time."

Kozmetsky is survived by his wife of 59 years; a son, Gregory of Austin; a daughter, Nadya Scott of Santa Monica; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Another son, George, died before him.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be sent to the University of Texas at Austin, P.O. Box 7458, Austin, Texas 78713, and designated either for the George M. Kozmetsky Endowed Presidential Scholarship or the IC2 Institute.

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