G. Walton “Walt” Cottrell ’62, MBA ’63, and Jean Springer Cottrell ’63
A passion for Johnson, Cornell and each other: When Walt met Jeannie
When Walt and Jeannie Cottrell sat down to discuss possible beneficiaries for their estate, their first thoughts — after their children and grandchildren — were of Johnson. “We obviously provided for our daughters and grandchildren, but we felt that Johnson deserved a place in our will,” says Walt.
The Cottrells have designated a tremendous future gift to establish the G. Walton and Jean Cottrell Advised Bequest. “I basically used the skills learned at the school for the whole working part of my career,” says Walt, adding simply: “It just seemed a reasonable thing to do.”
He credits his Cornell MBA with making him very attractive to his first employer, glass-bottle manufacturer Owens-Illinois, Inc. Throughout his undergrad years at the Engineering school, Walt was in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program; upon completing his MBA in 1963, he was scheduled to begin active Navy service on a ship in San Diego. “But just before I left Cornell, I interviewed at Johnson with a company that allowed me to sign up, and deferred my starting for two years, while I served.” That job was with the controller’s department, and it marked the start of Walt’s 20-year tenure with Owens-Illinois, where he later became treasurer.
“I think that if I had just graduated from the Engineering school, I would have had a difficult time getting a job,” he explains. But, with his new MBA, Walt was so attractive that his employer was willing to wait two years for him. ”I think the MBA was highly regarded, and it helped me immeasurably, because it would have been very difficult to interview for a job from a destroyer in the middle of the Pacific,” he says
“We had friends who had to go through that, and we were very thankful that Walt didn’t have to try and find a job while he was still in the Navy,” adds Jeannie.
Walt had initially come to Cornell to become a mechanical engineer, but, through taking accounting classes offered in the Engineering school, became interested in the cost side of business. “It wasn’t until I was in my fifth year at Cornell that I decided to apply to the business school; they allowed me to double register — that is, continue with the engineering degree while taking classes in the business school.” (The Navy, incidentally, gave him a one-year deferment to finish his MBA).
Throughout his career — first with Owens-Illinois, then with Allen Group, followed by Squibb Corporation, and finally Carpenter Technology — Walt says his Johnson experience served him well. “I was always in the treasurer or finance area, and got involved in a lot of M&A work. I really benefited from the courses I took at Johnson, from both Professor Hal Bierman and Professor Alan McAdams; I used that knowledge in my entire working career.”
The Cottrells, who are both from Auburn, have many fond memories of Johnson and Cornell, where they fell in love. Although they had been friends for many years (“Our mothers knew each other when they were in third grade,” says Walt), they didn’t begin dating until their last two years on campus. They both graduated in 1963 (Walt from the business school; Jeannie from Human Ecology), and got married one week later, right before Walt began his Navy service. They initially moved away from Ithaca in 1963, relocating many times, including a five-year stint in Geneva, Switzerland, with Owens-Illinois. But the Cottrells found themselves gravitating back to Ithaca, whether to attend reunions or interview Johnson MBA candidates. And when they were discussing a place to retire, their thoughts naturally turned to Ithaca. “At the time, we were in Reading, Pennsylvania, and we decided that we really liked the Finger Lakes area, and wanted to retire in a town with a university,” says Walt. “So it didn’t take us too long to figure out that Cornell met both of those criteria.”
Since moving back, the Cottrells have discovered a renewed appreciation for the community. “We have really, I think, strengthened our good feelings about Cornell and what it offers to students, and how amazing the students are,” says Jeannie.
“It’s a good feeling to have the decision made, about our estate,” she adds. “We shared it with our daughters, who we think are somewhat relieved that they weren’t at some point going to have to wonder what Mom and Dad wanted to do with their estate — because I don’t think we raised them to stop working and live off an inheritance! So they were quite happy with our decision to make a major gift to Cornell.”
Neither of the Cottrells’ two daughters attended Cornell ( both have master’s degrees from Columbia). “But we’re working on the grandchildren!” says Jeannie.