Release Date: Feb 15, 2008
John (“Jack”) Reinecke Thorne, the David T. and Lindsay J. Morgenthaler Emeritus Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon, passed away Wednesday, February 13, 2008, while vacationing in the Cayman Islands with his wife, Helen. He was 81.
Born March 25, 1926, in Pittsburgh, Thorne was an internationally known entrepreneur and renowned fundraiser who helped create companies, academic programs, non-profit organizations and a church. He began one of the world’s first university-level courses in entrepreneurship in 1972 at Carnegie Mellon, where he later was the founding director of the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at the Tepper School in 1990. He taught at the school through 2005.
“Jack was that rare person who combined great technical skill, broad experience and the ability to inspire others through his teaching and leadership to achieve more than they ever thought possible,” said Kenneth B. Dunn, dean of the Tepper School of Business. “While saddened at his passing, we are encouraged by his legacy. Through his work here at the Tepper School, at Carnegie Mellon, and in the broader entrepreneurial community, his passion for nurturing an idea and the person who conceived it into a viable enterprise will continue to inspire us.”
Among numerous awards, Thorne received the Special Award for Sustained Teaching Excellence at the Graduate School for Industrial Administration (later the Tepper School) in 2003; the George Leland Bach Teaching Award, GSIA, 1991; Entrepreneur of the Year from Arthur Young and Inc. magazine, 1989; and Financial Services of the Year Advocate, Small Business Administration, 1988.
“Jack initiated and led the Carnegie Mellon program in entrepreneurship and was a pioneer in developing entrepreneurial programs in the U.S.,” said Arthur A. Boni, director of the Jones Center and holder of the John R. Thorne Chair of Entrepreneurship at the Tepper School. The chair was established in 1997 by a group of Thorne’s friends and former students. “He was well-recognized across the country for his many contributions. His legacy will continue to serve as a role model and inspiration to me and to many others. His contributions made a difference.”
Thorne joined the Carnegie Mellon community as a member of the first class of graduate business students at GSIA, graduating in 1952. He was a development engineer for Westinghouse then headed to California to join the emerging computer industry, working as a financial analyst at Hughes Aircraft and later as a director of computer systems at Litton Corporation. He co-founded and was chief executive officer of Scionics Corporation.
After selling Scionics, Thorne returned to western Pennsylvania, settling in Ligonier where GSIA Dean Richard Cyert asked him to return to the business school as an adjunct professor to teach a course in entrepreneurship, beginning a new career that would touch thousands and inspire the creation of countless new enterprises.
“Jack Thorne was a pioneer in the teaching of entrepreneurship at the university level, and helped to define the standard curriculum for that discipline, which includes idea generation, opportunity recognition, identifying market entry points, developing strategies, team formation, generating sustainable competitive advantage, capital raising, the management of early-stage ventures, and cashing out,” said S. Thomas Emerson, who succeeded Thorne as director of the Don Jones Center for Entrepreneurship and as the David T. and Lindsay J. Morgenthaler Professor of Entrepreneurship.
“Dozens, probably hundreds of enterprises were started by Jack's students as a result of business plans created in his classes. They are too numerous to list. His influence spread far beyond Carnegie Mellon and is now global in scope,” Emerson said.
Entrepreneur Don Jones, now a managing director of Draper Triangle Ventures, met Thorne in the mid-1980s, after selling one of the several technology companies Jones founded. He had begun to help young companies obtain financing and was intrigued by Thorne, who was helping young students create new companies. “Thorne was a genuinely nice person who worked extremely hard and easily attracted other people to his vision”, said Jones.
“I was so incredibly motivated by Jack, as were all those around him. He had an infectious personality that … touched so many people,” said Jones. “He certainly left his mark on Carnegie Mellon, but more than that, he left his mark on the whole community of entrepreneurs.”
Thorne’s conception of entrepreneurial behavior as a tool for economic development evolved even as the Pittsburgh region suffered tremendous economic damage with the collapse of the steel industry in the early 1980s. In 1983, he helped create and was chairman of the Enterprise Corp., an economic development organization affiliated with Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh aimed at helping budding entrepreneurs develop fundable business plans, and also the Pittsburgh Seed Fund, a venture capital firm to fund emerging enterprises.
One of the fund’s major successes was seeding Automated Healthcare, which grew to be acquired by McKesson Corp. and continues to have major operations in Pittsburgh. The Enterprise Corp. later merged with the Ben Franklin Technology Partnership, a state-funded organization, to create Innovation Works, which continues to help people organize and fund new companies.
“As I reflect on the Pittsburgh of today, with its robust and dynamic entrepreneurial environment, it wouldn’t exist without Jack Thorne,” said Frank Demmler, director, Entrepreneurial Executives Team at Innovation Works and a colleague of Thorne’s both at the Enterprise Corp. and on the faculty at Carnegie Mellon. “If you look at the individual players, there were fewer than 20 who were instrumental in getting this done. Jack was more equal than the others. He was at the grassroots, helping to build entrepreneurs brick by brick, person by person, and teaching us how to do it.”
Thorne was also knew well how to raise capital, said one of Thorne’s partners in teaching entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon, Jack Roseman. The two met when Thorne served as a director of Roseman’s company, On-Line Systems, and Thorne invited him in 1988 to help teach in the fast-growing entrepreneurship program. Growth requires money, and Roseman, as many of Thorne’s associates also noted, said Thorne was one of the best fundraisers he had ever met. He secured millions to help fund the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship, the Morgenthaler Chair in Entrepreneurship at GSIA, the McGinnis Venture Competition, and the Enterprise Corp., among many other gifts and enterprises for which he obtained support.
“Some people hate to ask for money. He did not have any problem asking for money because he was so committed to the entrepreneurship center and committed to it being a mega-force in the region,” said Roseman. “It takes focus, determination and perseverance. He had all that and he had the major drive to do something, and he had the connections … he knew the right people.”
For all his activities outside of the university, Thorne remained devoted to his students, said Roseman. “With Jack, students always came first. I don’t care how busy he was, if a student wanted to see him, he made time.”
In the lobby of the Tepper School of Business is a sculpture dedicated to Thorne. Titled, “Self-Made Man,” it shows a muscular male figure, raising a hammer to strike a chisel as it sculpts its own form from a block of rock. It was donated in 2006 by Sarosh Kumana, (TPR ’77), a student of Thorne’s.
“Jack inspired generations of budding entrepreneurs to follow their dream. He helped make entrepreneurship a career, recognizing that the qualities that characterize an entrepreneur are different from those needed for other business-oriented careers,” said Kumana. “The "Self-Made Man" sculpture is a perfect representation for that, since his students were able to sculpt themselves into entrepreneurs because Jack gave us the tools to do so.”
In addition to his Master of Science in Industrial Administration from Carnegie Mellon, Thorne received a Bachelor of Science from Brown University (1947) and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh (1949). In 1986, he was awarded the David T. and Lindsay J. Morgenthaler Professor of Entrepreneurship chair at Carnegie Mellon. He was a member of Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies.
He served on numerous boards throughout his life, including Orion Capital Corp., Medrad Inc., Bactex Inc. and Precision Therapeutics. He was a member of the editorial review board for the Journal of Business Venturing, and author of, “Alternative Financing for Entrepreneurial Ventures: Entrepreneurship, Theory and Practice,” (1989); and “Entrepreneurs and Their Companies: Smaller Industrial Firms in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area,” with J. Ball.
Thorne was also active in the Ligonier area, serving on the boards of both the Ligonier Fellowship and Powdermill Nature Reserve Committee. In the 1990’s, Thorne and his first wife Barbara helped to form the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ligonier, PA. Thorne remained an active member until his death. Outside of work, he enjoyed fishing and traveling.
Barbara died in 1995. In 1999 Jack married Helen (Leerberg) Totzke.
Thorne is survived by his wife Helen; sons John Thorne and Rick Thorne, a daughter, Barbara Thorne; grandchildren Alison Sebens, Charles Sebens, Ellen Thorne, and Heidi Thorne; and sisters Carol (Thorne) King, Mannie (Thorne) Wright, and Phoebe (Thorne) Birmingham.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to be sent to the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship, attention Steve Sharratt, Associate Dean of Advancement, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA, 15213 (412-268-4923); or to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ligonier Valley, 1724 Route 30, Ligonier, PA 15658.
Funeral arrangements will be announced at a future date.