David J. BenDaniel, an influential entrepreneurship professor who encouraged ideas at the Johnson School for over three decades, died on Nov. 22 after a brief respiratory illness. He was 86.
Colleagues and students could easily distinguish BenDaniel by his never-ending energy, keen intellect and passion for “entrepreneurship across a broad array of industries,” said Mark W. Nelson, the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean and professor of accounting.
Zach D. Shulman, the current director of Entrepreneurship at Cornell which BenDaniel helped set up, said the professor’s energy was “really amazing” in an email to The Sun, jokingly adding that he was “like the Energizer bunny.”
BenDaniel mentored a large number of students each year for Big Red Ventures, Cornell’s MBA run venture fund and also taught various MBA and non-Johnson student courses in private equity and entrepreneurship.
“He had been a bedrock of Cornell entrepreneurship for more than three decades and has impacted thousands of students, who, as alumni, hold him in highest regard,” Schulman said.
In April 2017, BenDaniel’s contribution to the field was recognized by Entrepreneurship at Cornell’s first Lifetime Achievement in Entrepreneurship Education Award, according to the University. Additionally, the David J. BenDaniel Lecture in Business Ethics was established and endowed in his name in 2010 to help encourage an interest in ethical business leadership.
Steven Benjamin ’80 M.Eng. ’81 MBA ’82, chair of Entrepreneurship at Cornell’s Advisory Council, talked about how BenDaniel had the ability to add value to every student idea and business plan, no matter what the topic.
“He had the remarkable ability to get the best out of his students, motivate them to work hard, yet have them all feel that he was one of the best professors they ever had,” Benjamin said in the Cornell Chronicle.
While BenDaniel was known as a key figure in the entrepreneurial sphere at Cornell, his educational background and early career were in a different sphere.
An early affinity for physics led BenDaniel to get a bachelors as well as a masters degree in the subject, both at the University of Pennsylvania. He then went on to serve in the Atlantic Fleet as an officer on behalf of NROTC. When he returned to finish his studies, he decided to pursue a doctorate in engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This technical background served as a launchpad for BenDaniel to start working at General Electric and later Exxon. From 1981-83 he served as the senior vice president for venture capital at Textron Corp and then from 1983-85, played a key role as Genesis Group International’s executive vice president for venture capital. In 1985, he began his foray into academia when he joined Cornell University as a Senior Fellow of the Entrepreneurship and Personal Enterprise Program.
He has been featured in publications including Fortune, Business Week, Success Magazine and Physics Today — an indication of the wide array of interests he had.
BenDaniel is survived by his wife Claire, children, and several stepchildren and grandchildren. In accordance with the late professor’s wishes, there will be no funeral service.
Details regarding an event being hosted by the Johnson School to honor his memory will be announced soon.