A Violet’s Violet
Outgoing Board of Trustees Chair William R. Berkley Is NYU’s Champion
By Dulcy Israel
The most high-profile achievement of William R. Berkley (STERN ’66) is undeniably epic: he founded the W. R. Berkley Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, from his campus housing while at Harvard Business School. But when you go deeper, you discover a man who has devoted enormous time and energy to the people and the institutions that capture his passions.
Berkley’s origins were modest. He lost his father when he was just 11 years old. By 12, he was investing, in the stock market, his earnings from mowing lawns and other odd jobs. Recognizing the potential of such a self-starter, NYU provided funding for Berkley’s studies at the Stern School of Business, where he majored in statistics and finance. His MBA from Harvard followed in 1968.
His eponymous company went public in 1974; it currently operates in 60 countries with assets of over $34 billion and yearly revenues in excess of $11 billion. Berkley never forgot how much he benefited from financial aid. “The fact that someone I never knew at NYU decided that I should receive a scholarship was a real eye-opening experience,” Berkley says. “What an incredible thing to have happen. It’s something I think about all the time.”
For decades, he has poured his heart and business savvy into helping to make the university the top-notch academic institution it is today. He joined Stern’s Board of Overseers in 1987, becoming its chair in 2000. He became a member of the NYU Langone Medical Center Board in 2007 and is now one of its ex officio trustees. He was named an NYU Board of Trustees member in 1995, then vice chair in 2004, and, finally, chair in 2014.
The Berkley Family Foundation donated $50 million in 2021 to Stern, the largest scholarship gift in the school’s history. It funds the Berkley Achievement Scholars Program, which pays the tuition for 60 exceptional undergraduate students with financial need from across the United States and represents the full cross section of the country. The family of that foundation includes Marjorie (his wife of 52 years), their three children, and five grandchildren.
He supports NYU’s efforts to expand access to higher education by opening doors for young people because he has experienced firsthand the power of fostering potential in others. “Empowering people,” Berkley says, “changes the world.”
—Portrait by John Raiola