by Susan Wooleyhan Caine
Howard Wood credits his success in business to one fundamental principle: “If you hire bright, dedicated people, they will see to it that you succeed.” As co-founder of two of the nation’s most successful telecommunications companies, Wood understands the value of investing in talented individuals. At Washington University, he invests in students through the Wood Leadership Program, which helps recruit top applicants to Olin Business School.
Wood grew up in Bonne Terre, a small town in the heart of Missouri’s lead belt. His mother was an English teacher and his father was principal of the high school. Wood, who was valedictorian of his high school class, received a full-tuition scholarship offered by Henry Day, a St. Louis businessman with operations in Bonne Terre, to any student from the region who went to Washington University. The scholarship made it possible for both Wood and his brother, Donald, BSBA ’66, to attend. In 1992, when Wood received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Olin Business School, Day was an honored guest.
Howard Wood calls the undergraduate business program at Olin “the best anywhere,” and he appreciates the broad foundation he received from courses in Arts & Sciences.
Wood still recalls feeling “like a country bumpkin” when he arrived on campus as a freshman. In the late 1950s, many top students were encouraged to study engineering. Wood entered the School of Engineering & Applied Science but soon realized that engineering was not for him. By his sophomore year, he had joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and decided to switch to the business school.
“I had taken a business course in high school, which in those days included typing and shorthand. The teacher took an interest in me and gave me a great introduction to accounting. I loved it,” Wood recalls. His typing skills paid off, too, in a part-time job during college.
Wood calls the undergraduate business program at Olin “the best anywhere,” and he appreciates the broad foundation he received from courses in Arts & Sciences. The business curriculum has changed in the past 50 years, he says. “Entrepreneurship and business communications, two of the most important areas in business schools today, didn’t exist then. I only had 21 hours of accounting, which would be considered inadequate now, but I passed the CPA exam on the first try.”
Wood graduated with honors in 1961 and went to work at the St. Louis office of Arthur Andersen & Co., one of the leading international accounting firms. “Companies didn’t demand an MBA in those days, and Arthur Andersen offered the equivalent of an MBA on the job. Working there was a wonderful experience. The firm encouraged talent and demanded the highest standards of integrity and client service; I have instilled that culture in my own businesses.”
Wood planned to pursue a career in auditing, but he was invited to join Andersen’s tax department right out of college. He says, “I had a lot of responsibility early. I loved tax work and forming strong relationships with clients.” He became partner-in-charge of the St. Louis tax division and a regional tax partner, one of the youngest in the firm’s history.
In 1976 Wood became involved in the fledgling cable television industry when he assisted in financing for T.C. Industries, Inc. He was instrumental in the formation of Cencom Cable Associates in 1982, and in 1987 his client, the late Robert L. Brooks, recruited Wood to run Cencom. “Some people thought I was crazy,” Wood says, “but I had become increasingly involved in administration, and I preferred working with people. I wanted to see if I could take my own business advice.”
While at Andersen, Wood had hired Jerry Kent, BSBA ’78, MBA ’79, who also was recruited by Cencom. In 1993 Wood, Kent and a third partner, Barry Babcock, co-founded Charter Communications. Under their leadership, Charter became one of the largest cable television operations in the United States. They sold Charter in 1998, and in 2001 Wood and Kent co-founded Cequel III, an investment and management firm in the telecommunications industry.
Throughout, Wood has always kept close ties to Bonne Terre, where he lives today on a 300-acre farm and manages his farms and cattle business, in addition to real estate investments. “I lived in St. Louis for 30 years, but I always had a farm,” he says. “When my father retired, we bought a 100-acre farm together, and he wanted to have 10 cows. Forty years later, I have 650 head and several employees.”
Wood’s love of the land led him to become active in Missouri conservation. He was a director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri and served as its president in 1984 and 1985. In response to Wood’s continued commitment to conservation, Gov. Mel Carnahan appointed him to be one of four commissioners to the Missouri Conservation Commission in 1997 for a six-year term, whereupon Wood helped establish Missouri’s conservation program as one of the best in the nation.
For decades, Wood has been one of the leaders helping to drive Washington University’s progress. He served on the Business Task Force, 1980–81, that led to the development of a nationally ranked business school. He is a past president of the Olin alumni association and became an inaugural member of the school’s National Council in 1995. He joined the university’s Board of Trustees in 2000 and became an emeritus trustee in 2011. He received a Distinguished Alumni Award at Founders Day in 1996 and the Dean’s Medal from Olin in 2000.
“Philanthropy is making an investment … not measured in dollars, but in its impact on human beings. We are deeply grateful for Howard’s vision and generosity, which is making an extraordinary difference to the future of the Olin School, our students and our society.” —Mahendra Gupta, dean, Olin Business School
To help attract the best and brightest MBA students to the Olin School, Wood and his then-wife, Joyce, BSBA ’76, MBA ’77, launched the Wood Leadership Fellows Program in 1998. Wood Fellows receive full-tuition awards and are selected for their superb academic credentials, extraordinary work history, a strong commitment to the community, well-defined career goals and exceptional leadership skills. In 2007, the Wood Leadership Scholars Program was added to offer significant need-based scholarships for outstanding BSBA students.
In 2004 Howard and Joyce Wood also established the Joyce and Howard Wood Distinguished Professorship at Olin, currently held by Professor William P. Bottom. In 2008 they made a gift to name the Howard and Joyce Wood Simulation Center at the School of Medicine. Wood and his brother established the Wayne Wood Scholarship at the business school in honor of their father in 1989.
Mahendra Gupta, dean of Olin Business School and the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professor of Accounting and Management, says: “Philanthropy is making an investment. The return is not measured in dollars, but in its impact on human beings. We are deeply grateful for Howard’s vision and generosity, which is making an extraordinary difference to the future of the Olin School, our students and our society.”
Susan Wooleyhan Caine is director of development communications.