Born in 1942, Louis V. Gerstner Jr. is best known for serving as IBM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; his nine-year tenure is often used as a case study in corporate leadership. When Gerstner took the reins of IBM in 1993, the tech giant was looking at either bankruptcy or breakup. Facing much public criticism, Gerstner overhauled the company's management, marketing, and compensation strategies, which boosted IBM’s market value from $29 billion to about $168 billion. Prior to IBM, Gerstner was CEO of RJR Nabisco and also held senior positions at other industry titans like American Express and McKinsey & Company. In recognition of his numerous philanthropic efforts, as well as his business accomplishments, Gerstner was awarded the designation of honorary Knight of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011. He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been awarded honorary doctorates from a number of U.S. universities. Gerstner's memoir "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?" is a New York Times Best Seller that chronicles his historic achievements at IBM.
Early signs of Gerstner's greatness can be found during his days as a student at Dartmouth. Unlike many of his fellow Ivy Leaguers, Gerstner was a first-generation college student who came from modest economic means. However, he came close to never making it to his first Dartmouth lecture. A chance meeting with a Dartmouth alumnus triggered a series of events which led to Gerstner receiving not only an acceptance letter to Dartmouth, but also a much-needed financial aid package that allowed for him to attend such a prestigious and expensive school. At Dartmouth, he excelled in academics, and was even tapped by the elite senior honor society Casque and Gauntlet. In 1963, he received a Bachelor of Arts in engineering, graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.
In 2013, the legendary CEO was back on campus for that year's commencement ceremony, notably adding an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to his extensive collection of awards and recognitions. More recently, Gerstner proved that he still maintained a strong affection for Dartmouth with the announcement that he was establishing a scholarship program that benefits students who are in similar situations to his previous one. Namely, with a $4.8 million gift in 2020, he established The Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Scholars program, which supports high-achieving, low-income students with a demonstrated interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. During a ceremony at Dartmouth, President Philip J. Hanlon (’77) thanked Gerstner for believing in the potential of the students who will be named Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Scholars. He also added, “Lou Gerstner exemplifies not only the kind of leader that a Dartmouth education can produce but also our finest human values in creating opportunity. We are honored by his intentions to do this at Dartmouth for a new generation.”