MY WASHINGTON — Spring 2007
   

 
Robert W. Frick, B.S.C.E. '60, M.B.A. '62
A ‘Series of Semesters’ Equals a Successful Life

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.” He obviously never met Bob Frick.

In a 23-year career with BankAmerica Corporation, Frick rose to become vice chairman of the board of directors and head of the world banking division. In 1988, at age 51, he resigned to pursue other interests.

“I always planned to retire at 50,” Frick says. “I love new challenges, and I never wanted to spend my entire career in one place. The first part of your life is spent growing up, the second part raising your family and building your career. After that, if you’re lucky, you get to try some new things you’ve always wanted to do. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to enjoy my retirement and explore new areas.”

“Retirement” scarcely applies. Today Frick is a business consultant and serves as a director of six corporations, ranging from a biotechnology firm to software startups to Hollywood companies, where he is on the board of Lucasfilm, Ltd. He enjoys the wide variety.

Frick also is a lecturer in business strategy in the executive MBA program at St. Mary’s College of California, a liberal arts institution near San Francisco. He finds the interaction with students stimulating and says: “It forces you to stay on your toes. I enjoy the opportunity to give back by sharing some of my business experience with young people.”

In 2004 Frick and his wife established the Robert and Barbara Frick Professorship in Business Strategy at the Olin School of Business. Todd Zenger, holder of the chair, says: “Bob has a deep understanding of the role and significance of business education. As a teacher, I am certain his students greatly benefit from his vast expertise in international banking, finance, general management, and strategic thinking.”

Frick and his wife, Barbara, also own and operate K.E.S. Management Company, a successful real estate development and property management firm specializing in quality housing for low- to moderate-income residents in ethnically diverse neighborhoods. The enterprise began when they purchased a single run-down house, planning to renovate it as a family project. “Unfortunately, I had to travel for business, and our two sons decided it wasn’t much fun,” he recalls. “Barbara stepped up and handled the entire project. We expanded from there to more than a thousand living units.”

With its straightforward mission statement—“Do good and make money”—the company grew. Frick credits his wife, who serves as president of K.E.S. Management, with establishing the priorities. “We provide a safe, affordable environment that offers social services our clients need, including pre-school care, classes in English as a second language, free lunch programs, and more. It has been a successful strategy because it puts the emphasis where it belongs—on people.”

Charting the course

Frick grew up in St. Louis and attended Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School, where a teacher encouraged him to pursue an engineering degree. “Dartmouth and University of Cincinnati offered scholarships, but they were too far away, and, frankly, I wasn’t that venturesome at the time,” he says. “Washington University gave me a full-tuition scholarship, and I could live at home.” Joining ROTC and a fraternity expanded his horizons at the University, and he was elected president of Beta Theta Pi in his senior year.

Frick wasn’t sure where he was headed. “I wasn’t enjoying my engineering classes, and my grades began to slip,” he says. “The assistant dean called me in, and he suggested that I take some business and liberal arts courses in addition to engineering. That was fine with me—there were girls in those classes! But it also opened my eyes to new possibilities and gave me the flexibility to figure out what I wanted to do. He made a significant contribution to my going forward in life.”

Frick completed his undergraduate degree in engineering and was offered a scholarship to attend business school at Stanford, but he chose to do his graduate work at the Olin School of Business. “They gave me a full scholarship and the option to start in January after completing my military service,” Frick says. He caught up and graduated in two years.

After a year as an economic analyst with Standard Oil Company of California, Frick was still uncertain what career path to follow. For advice, he returned to Washington University and Carl A. Dauten, a professor of finance who later became executive vice chancellor.

“We spent half a day discussing my goals and interests, and finally Carl suggested that I go into banking,” Frick recalls. “His guidance was invaluable, and I’ll always be grateful for his generosity.”

Embracing change

Frick joined Bank of America in 1963, and soon was given the opportunity to develop new business in California’s booming technology industry. He became president of Bank of America’s venture capital subsidiary, and in 1968 he was named the bank’s youngest vice president.

In 1974 Frick left Bank of America to serve as vice president of finance and as a director of Measurex Corporation, a technology company in the San Francisco Bay area, but his heart remained in banking. He rejoined Bank of America in 1976 as managing director of its international merchant-banking subsidiary, based in London, and became a senior vice president two years later. He was named vice chairman in 1984.

“I have always needed change,” Frick says. “Thanks to the wonderful encouragement from my wife and parents and the support of great teachers and mentors, I’ve had some terrific opportunities.” Recognizing his accomplishments, the Olin School honored Frick with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988.

“When I moved to California, no one had heard of Washington University,” he says. “Today I’m proud that everyone recognizes it as one of the best schools in the country.”

He is a member of the National Council of the Olin School of Business and the Eliot Society membership committee, and has served on the San Francisco Regional Cabinet and the Regional Campaign Committee. He and his wife are Life Fellows of the Eliot Society.

Bob and Barbara are committed to being active. Since they took up hiking and biking in 2000, they have trekked Machu Picchu, Kilimanjaro, the Tahoe Rim Trail, Mt. Whitney, Mt. Shasta, Yosemite’s Half Dome, and other hikes in California. In 2005, they biked the Katy Trail across Missouri with friends from Washington University. They are looking forward to the challenge of a 500-mile bike ride this summer to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.

Mahendra Gupta, the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professor of Accounting and Management and dean of the Olin School of Business, says: “We are extraordinarily fortunate that Bob and Barbara Frick are part of the Olin family. Their energy, generosity, and commitment to Olin, its faculty, and its students help ensure our success as we build for the future.”

Bob Frick likes to say, “Life is a series of semesters.” Clearly he can’t wait to see what comes next.

—Susan Wooleyhan Caine