30 Jul 2018

Harvard Business School Alumnus and Great Benefactor C. D. Spangler, Jr., Dies at 86

C. D. (“Dick”) Spangler, Jr.

BOSTON—C. D. (“Dick”) Spangler, Jr., a Harvard Business School alumnus (MBA 1956) well known and admired for his many notable achievements in both the public and private sectors, his visionary leadership and generous philanthropy, and his constant kindness and concern for the welfare and betterment of others, died on Sunday, July 22, in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was 86 years old.

After graduating from HBS and serving for two years in the US Army, Spangler gained great success in several industries, including the family construction business, C.D. Spangler Construction Company, and Golden Eagle Industries, a real estate investment firm he started in 1968. C.D. Spangler Construction company was founded by Spangler's father, C.D. Spangler, Sr. – a self-made man who had not been able to afford college and who, at the age of 50, was a participant in Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program for senior executives when his son was a second-year MBA student. Spangler also chaired the Bank of North Carolina during the 1980s, playing a key role in its merger with the North Carolina National Bank Corporation (now Bank of America), and became the owner and longtime board chair of National Gypsum, founded in Buffalo in 1925 and now one of the largest gypsum board producers in the world.

With a lifelong interest in education, Spangler also oversaw the schooling of more than a million students as head of North Carolina’s Board of Education from 1982 to 1986. As president of the University of North Carolina (based at its Chapel Hill campus) from 1986 to 1997, he increased enrollment and faculty funding while prioritizing educational quality and affordability.

His devotion, generosity, and service to Harvard University and Harvard Business School were extraordinary. With his wife, Meredith Riggs Spangler, and two daughters, Anna Spangler Nelson (MBA 1988) and Abigail Riggs Spangler, he gave a major gift to the School that made the Spangler Center, a focal point of campus life for the entire HBS community, possible. An HBS professorship (held by China expert William Kirby) also bears the family’s name.

Always willing to offer his advice and counsel, Spangler was on the HBS Board of Dean’s Advisors from 1991 to 2011 and more recently as an emeritus member. He served as a member of the HBS Visiting Committee and as its chair from 2001 to 2003. He was co-chair of his 30th HBS Reunion gift committee and chaired the Capital Campaign the School held from 2002 to 2005, an effort that raised some $600 million. From 1998 to 2004, he was a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers and served as the Board’s president from 2003 to 2004. He also worked for many years as a member of the Executive Committee of Harvard’s Committee on University Resources.

In 1988, Spangler received Harvard Business School’s highest accolade, the Alumni Achievement Award. In 2005, the University honored him with the Harvard Medal, a special honor for alumni in appreciation of their many contributions to Harvard. He was the recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University in 2013.

“Throughout his life and career, Dick Spangler epitomized the mission of Harvard Business School, making a difference in the world and in the lives of so many others – a kind and true gentleman whom we will always remember and admire and greatly miss,” said Dean Nitin Nohria. “We were blessed to have him as our dear friend and benefactor for so many years and must continue to live up to the high standards he always expected of us. He will always hold a place of honor in the history of Harvard Business School and in the hearts of all of us who were fortunate enough to know him.”

“Dick Spangler was an extraordinary leader who made a difference in multiple worlds,” added Kirby, Spangler Family Professor at Harvard Business School and T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies at Harvard University. “Successful in business, he became a major figure in American higher education. A proud Tar Heel devoted to his undergraduate alma mater, he was an exceptional president of the University of North Carolina. A loyal and generous alumnus of Harvard Business School, he had a transformative impact on our School and campus.

“Dick was a man full of energy, optimism, and imagination. I came to know and admire him when I was Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and he was president of our Board of Overseers at a time that demanded real leadership in Harvard's governing boards. We shared a common passion for China, among other things, and I had the great pleasure of traveling with him and Meredith on two memorable trips across China and Tibet. A more intrepid explorer I have never met, and we exchanged books and essays on China from that time on. After I joined the HBS faculty in 2008, I have been privileged to be the Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration. I can think of no greater honor.”

According to Angela Crispi (MBA 1990), the School’s Executive Dean for Administration, “Dick Spangler was a true gem of a human being—warm, engaged, brilliant, and incredibly thoughtful. It’s a reflection of his character that so many people on this campus alone felt deeply connected to him and were inspired by his example. His impact on my own life and that of so many others was profound. Like them, I will be forever grateful to him.”

Clemmie Dixon Spangler was born in April 5, 1932. His boyhood presents a tableau worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting: He attended the Charlotte public schools through junior high school, participated in scouting (rising to the rank of Eagle Scout), played a variety of sports, and began working summer jobs for his father, when he drove a tractor for 40 cents an hour.

When it came time for him to enter the tenth grade in 1947, his father sent him to the Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. Three years later, he entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in business. Having accumulated enough credits by the end of his junior year to make him eligible to graduate, he decided to apply to Harvard Business School. “Gaining admission after only three years of college was unheard of at that time,” he said in a 1988 interview for an HBS publication. “I duly received a letter from the admissions office informing me that I had been rejected, but that I could apply again after I graduated.”

Returning to Chapel Hill for his senior year, Spangler decided to immerse himself in history, archaeology, music, and literature—an experience that permanently impressed upon him the importance of a liberal arts education. His second application to HBS was favorably received, and he arrived at the School’s campus on a cold September day in 1954 and “scared to death.”

C. D. (“Dick”) Spangler as a student in 1956.

An experience during the first week of classes did nothing to change that. “Professor Tom Raymond called on someone to begin the case study discussion and explain what he would do to solve the problem,” Spangler explained. “When my section mate responded by saying he needed more information before making a recommendation, Raymond immediately turned to someone else. About 10 minutes before the class was over, Raymond came back to the first student he had called on, looked him straight in the eye, and told him sternly, ‘Don’t you ever come to my class again without having made a decision. As a businessman, you will often be in a situation where you would like to have more information. That doesn’t make any difference. You have to be able to act upon what’s available at the time.’ The lesson in decision making provided by that incident was one of the most important we would ever learn.”

Named president of C.D. Spangler Construction Company shortly after his return from military service, he turned the company away from the cyclical home construction market as well as ventures commissioned by others. “Instead, we started building apartments and commercial projects for ourselves by borrowing the money to do it. That way, even if we ran into higher interest rates or construction costs, at least we ended up owning what we had made.”

In the early 1970s, Spangler was also deeply involved in rescuing the Bank of North Carolina from insolvency. That bank had been founded in 1950 in a small North Carolina town by his father and a number of other local businesspeople to serve the needs of some thousand Spangler Construction Company employees working on a large project nearby. The First National Bank of Jacksonville (NC) grew quickly. Gross assets jumped from $150,000 at the start to $400 million two decades later. Seventy branches spread across the state, and the old name gave way to a new one reflecting the bank’s role as a statewide institution.

There was trouble brewing by 1972, however. “The bank’s president was competing with more established and well-heeled banks in the state for the money that municipalities were depositing in certificates of deposit (CDs),” Spangler said. “So he went toe-to-toe with them by offering half a percent more of interest. As a result, he raised $100 million in certificates of deposit.

“Since there was a law that money received from municipalities had to be secured by federal or municipal bonds, dollar for dollar, he looked at the bond yields and saw that if he invested five years out, he could get a full percent spread, and he went for it with the $100 million. The problem was, the interest rates on the CDs started rising. Before long, he was borrowing money to make his interest payments and losing four cents on every dollar.”

Spangler was called in to help in the latter part of 1972 by his father, who was still a director of the bank and who knew that people were looking to him to protect their savings and investments. The younger Spangler was named the bank’s chair in 1973 and for the next two years directed a massive and successful restructuring that included a $65 million loan from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. That scenario became the subject of an HBS case written by Spangler’s former teacher and lifelong friend and mentor, the late Professor Charles Williams.

Spangler’s involvement in public education began during the early 1970s, when his daughters were in elementary school, and he and his wife used to take a regular turn supervising the school playground while the teacher took a lunch break. His commitment became more intense in 1972, when he agreed to run for the county board of education. “The public school system in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County was in turmoil at that time,” he remembered, “following a court order to desegregate. The schools were clearly in a position where they needed assistance in making the transition from segregation to integration. I had gone to those schools myself, I felt they were a great asset to our community, and so I needed to do whatever I could to help.”

After four years on the county board, in 1982 Spangler received a call from then-Governor Jim Hunt, who convinced him to become chairman of the state board of education, a body of 13 citizens responsible for overseeing and setting policy for the 2,000 schools in North Carolina’s public school system. During his four years as state chairman, Spangler made his mark by improving relations with the state legislature, forging closer ties with the business community, and advocating higher levels of educational excellence.

Spangler reached the final rung in his climb up North Carolina’s educational ladder on January 31, 1986, when he was unanimously named the fourteenth president of the University of North Carolina after a year-long search by its Board of Governors that involved more than 100 applicants.

In that role, Spangler ran an organization with sixteen campuses across the state, 28,000 employees, and an annual operating budget of more than $1 billion. Throughout his tenure at UNC, he remained true to the state’s longstanding commitment to higher education for all and the “firm belief that all the citizens of North Carolina can benefit in some way from the opportunities and experiences of a college education.”

After stepping down as UNC’s president in 1997, he not only chaired the board of National Gypsum but took on the role of director of the C.D. Spangler Foundation, a family philanthropic organization that focuses on higher education, human services, museums, and the arts. He also continued to turn a lot of his attention and resources to Harvard Business School and Harvard University. In 1998, that involved a major family gift to HBS to build the Spangler Center, a multipurpose structure that opened in 2001. In announcing the gift in the spring of 1998, then-Dean Kim B. Clark said, “Dick and Meredith have been wonderfully generous in their support of HBS over the years. They live the values and principles the School holds dear. It is an honor to have their names linked to the Harvard Business School in perpetuity through the building that will bear their name.”

A frequent and elegantly attired visitor to the Harvard Business School campus until nearly the very end of his life, Spangler could remember the names of people he had met only briefly years before, and he greeted everyone with a genuineness and charm that left a lasting impression. “Dick Spangler enjoyed nothing more than helping others and solving problems to make their lives more fulfilling and enjoyable,” said John McArthur, Dean of Harvard Business School from 1980 to 1995. “From North Carolina to Boston and beyond, he was a man of both eloquence and action who has left behind a legacy of accomplishment and good will that will last for all time.

Spangler is survived by his wife of 58 years, Meredith; two daughters, Abigail and Anna; Anna’s husband, Thomas C. Nelson (MBA 1988); and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, July 31, at 11 a.m. at the Myers Park Baptist Church, 1900 Queens Road, in Charlotte.


Jim Aisner

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.