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Respected entrepreneur and philanthropist Eugene Lang, MS ’40, who was a member of the School’s Board of Overseers and established the School’s Eugene M. Lang Entrepreneurial Initiative Fund with a generous gift in 1996, passed away on April 8 at the age of 98.
A self-made businessman and longtime proponent of innovation, Lang got his start during World War II at Heli-Coil, an aircraft parts manufacturer, in Queens, New York. He quickly rose through the ranks to become part-owner of the company, expanding it in 1949 to make precision wire inserts, industrial fastenings, and tools; the business later became a division of Stanley Black & Decker. Several years later he founded Refac Technology Development Corporation, a public company that specialized in licensing patents and financing high-tech ventures.
Over the next six decades, Lang created numerous manufacturing ventures in the United States and abroad based on new industrial products and innovative technologies. Reflecting on his accomplishments, Forbes magazine characterized him as “the quintessential entrepreneur,” and Nation’s Business dubbed him “a father of innovation.”
In 1995, Lang approached Columbia Business School’s Dean Meyer Feldberg ’65 with an idea for how to promote entrepreneurship and innovation among the next generation of business leaders. The following year, with a $1 million gift, he created the Eugene M. Lang Entrepreneurial Initiative Fund, which provides early-stage funding — typically between $25,000 and $50,000 — to qualifying student business initiatives.
Twenty years later, the Lang Fund has made 46 investments and holds 21 active portfolio companies. It is now housed within the broader Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center, which was named in 2000 in recognition of Lang’s steadfast support.
“Gene was an outstanding member of the Columbia Business School community. He encouraged students not only with financial support, but also with the tools and education needed to start a business, grow a business, or simply to think like an entrepreneur,” said Dean Glenn Hubbard. “He will be sorely missed.”
During the course of his career, Lang served as an advisor to the US Departments of Commerce and State; a member of the New York Stock Exchange’s individual investors advisory committee; a managing board member of the Metropolitan Opera Association, chairing its investment committee; and a chairman emeritus of the board of managers of Swarthmore College, his undergraduate alma mater. He held 39 honorary degrees, including an LLD from Columbia University, and was a recipient of the Business School’s Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics.
In addition to his myriad professional successes, Lang is also widely remembered for his far-reaching philanthropy: he gave more than $150 million to charities and foundations during his lifetime. In 1963, he created the Eugene M. Lang Foundation, which focused on social concerns such as education, healthcare, and helping underprivileged children. In 1986 he also founded the I Have a Dream Foundation, following the success of a legendary promise he made to a sixth-grade class in East Harlem, New York, that he would pay for their college education. In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the nation’s highest civilian honors, and in 2008, the National Conference on Citizenship designated him “The Citizen of the Year.”
“Giving should not be mechanical,” Lang told the New York Times. “It should be the fruit of one’s feeling, love, and sense of responsibility. Giving is not giving back. There is no quid pro quo. Giving is self-fulfillment.”
Lang was married to Theresa Volmar Lang from 1946 until her death in 2008. He is survived by a sister, a daughter, two sons, eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.