WOOSTER, June 30 – Stanley C. Gault, whose corporate influence spanned the globe and whose philanthropic nature endeared him to generations at The College of Wooster and in the Wooster community, died Wednesday night at the age of 90.
Gault served on The College of Wooster’s board of trustees for three decades, beginning in 1972. He became vice chairman in 1985 and chairman in 1987, a position he held until his retirement from the board in 2000, at which time he was named chairman emeritus.
“In our 150-year history, The College of Wooster has had no greater champion, no more stalwart supporter than Stan Gault,” said President Georgia Nugent. “To walk across campus is to see his imprint everywhere. From the moment they arrive at Gault Admissions Center as applicants, until they walk into Gault Alumni Center as newly minted graduates, Wooster students’ lives are touched, and their educational experiences enhanced, in myriad ways by the Gault family’s philanthropy. Though his business career took him around the world, there was never any doubt that Stan’s roots remained firmly planted in Wooster and his love for this community was truly extraordinary. It is no exaggeration to say we shall not see his like again.”
Gault’s lifelong support for civic causes and volunteer service had a major impact on both the college and the Wooster community. Between 1981 and 1984, he served as national chairman of The Campaign for Wooster, which raised $36 million ($4 million more than goal) for the college. Several years later he chaired the Campaign for the Nineties, which raised $75 million against a $65 million goal. He and his family also provided personal gifts for major campus projects, including the Gault Alumni Center, the Gault Admissions Center, the Flo K. Gault Library for Independent Study, the renovation of Kauke Hall, Gault Recital Hall in Scheide Music Center, the Scot Center, and two residence halls: Gault Manor and Gault Schoolhouse.
Off campus, Gault provided corporate and personal support for the construction of a community facility for the handicapped and their families in Wooster, and led the way in transforming a vacant elementary school into a new home for Wayne Center for the Arts. He also led drives to construct a new facility for United Way of Wayne and Holmes County and provided personal gifts for the Gault Family Learning Center in the old Beall Avenue School and Every Woman’s House. In addition, his zealous support for education provided land for the construction of a new high school, which included a recreation center that he financed with a personal gift to the project. He also volunteered his time, serving as United Way-Red Cross general campaign chairman in 1993.
“Stan’s contributions to the college and to the community were legion,” said Bill Longbrake, chair of the college’s board. “He loved both dearly and at every turn did all that he could through his savvy leadership and generosity to boost the prospects of both. We have been so blessed to count Stan and his family as caring and loving stewards of The College of Wooster and the City of Wooster. We will all miss him keenly, but his legacy will be with us forever.”
A highly regarded CEO of three multinational corporations during his career, Gault was born Jan. 6, 1926, in Wooster to Clyde and Aseneth Gault, and grew up on College Avenue, just down the street from campus. He graduated from Wooster High School in 1943 at age 17 and enrolled at The College of Wooster that fall. He attended for a year, until he was old enough to enlist in the Army Air Corps, where he served as a B-29 gunner in the south Pacific until 1946. He then returned to the college, where he majored in geology, was elected senior class president, and met an English major named Flo Kurtz. They both graduated in 1948 and married the following year.
Gault began his career with General Electric as a sales trainee in 1948, the first step in an ascent that would take him to the very pinnacle of American business. He was appointed vice president and general manager of G.E.’s refrigerator division in 1968, and one year later, he was named vice president and group executive for the major appliance business. In 1978, he became senior vice president and sector executive of G.E.’s industrial products and components sectors.
“I worked for some exceptional leaders [at G.E.],” Gault told Wooster magazine in 2000. “I wonder sometimes, if I had been in their positions, would I have given Stan Gault some of the assignments they gave me? I often was the youngest person to take the job, or the first person ever to do a certain job.”
In 1980, Gault ended his 31-year relationship with G.E. and returned to his hometown to become CEO and chairman of the board of Rubbermaid, Inc. Over the next 11 years, he guided Rubbermaid through a period of remarkable growth as sales increased more than five-fold to $1.5 billion. He masterfully developed the Rubbermaid brand into one recognized by 95 percent of U.S. consumers and increased the company’s market value from $190 million to almost $4 billion. Near the end of his tenure, Rubbermaid became the smallest company to be listed in Fortune magazine’s Top 10 Most Admired Corporations.
In 1991, Gault retired as Rubbermaid’s CEO. Six weeks later, fellow board members at Goodyear convinced him to take the helm of the troubled tire company. He was named CEO and chairman of the board, the first outsider to lead the nearly century old enterprise. “I just couldn’t let a company this good fail,” he said at the time.
In four years, Gault cut non-performing divisions and debt, developed new marketing strategies, and saw Goodyear’s market value soar from $1 billion to $6 billion. Along the way, he was named CEO of the Year by Financial World.
Gault served on business advisory groups for three U.S. presidents. In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon appointed Gault to the executive board of the National Business Council for Consumer Affairs, where he also served as vice chairman of the subcommittee on product safety. In 1987, Gault was also appointed by President Ronald Reagan, and later reappointed by President George H.W. Bush, to the Advisory Committee for Trade and Policy Negotiations.
Gault’s long list of awards and honors includes a Distinguished Alumni Award from The College of Wooster in 1983 and an honorary degree in 1992. In 1987, he was named American Manager of the Year by the National Management Association. In 1994, he was inducted into the National Business Hall of Fame at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and in 1996, he received Financial World’s Career Achievement Award for his accomplishments at General Electric, Rubbermaid, and Goodyear.
When Financial World magazine named Gault CEO of the Year in 1992, they wrote, “In an era of lavish, boastful CEOs who build imperial headquarters and often seem to care more about their compensation packages than their company’s performance, Gault clearly does not fit in. Having come of age in the post-war boom, he has a 1950s-style faith in American big business. But, unlike some of his contemporaries, he is surprisingly in tune with the times, ready to recognize what no longer works and replace it at once…Gault’s success has been a triumph of substance over form.”
Gault was preceded in death by his wife of 63 years, Flo, and is survived by their three children: Stephen Gault, a 1973 graduate of The College of Wooster, Christopher Gault, and Jennifer Gault Marsh, as well as six grandchildren.
Calling hours will be Friday, July 8, from 3 to 7 p.m., at McIntire, Bradham & Sleek, 216 E. Larwill St., in Wooster. Services will be held on Saturday, July 9, at 10:30 a.m., at Wooster United Methodist Church, 243 N. Market St., in Wooster.