Nelson “Nels” Schaenen Jr. ’50, MBA ’51, is honored with the Samuel C. Johnson Distinguished Service Award
Nels Schaenen Jr. is recognized for his sustained and exemplary commitment to Johnson and its alumni.
By Katie O’Brien ’16
A member of Johnson’s fourth-ever graduating class, Nelson Schaenen Jr. has given back to his alma mater ever since by serving as a trusted advisor, extraordinary leader, and a generous benefactor to many areas of Cornell and Johnson. “Nels has been a wise, loyal and energetic champion ofCornell’s business school for many decades, and a driving force in one of the school’s biggest capital campaigns,” says Dean Soumitra Dutta. “He sets the bar high for alumni involvement, and we at Johnson are most grateful to him.”
Schaenen, who enjoyed a successful career in investment management and retired as a managing director of Weiss, Peck & Greer, was at the center of decision making at the highest levels of Cornell for more than three decades. He is a member emeritus of the Johnson Advisory Council, which he served 1969-2007. Having personally contributed to every major fundraising effort during that time, he is recognized in Johnson’s Hallof Honor. A member of the Cornell Board of Trustees for 24 years,1971-1995, he was elected Presidential Councillor and Trustee Emeritus in 1995. Schaenen called these “some of the great experiences of my life.”
When Schaenen attended Johnson, there were 40 students in his class and the school was housed on the first floor of McGraw Hall onCornell’s Arts Quad. The school subsequently moved to Malott Hall in 1964, and in the 1990s, when it was clear the school needed a larger home, he led the $38million campaign to fund the renovation of Sage Hall together with Rob Dyson, MBA ’74. Schaenen also donated the gift of a classroom in honor of his parents during the renovation. He established an endowment for a revolving loan fund to address the ongoing issue of meeting students’ financial aid needs. Now, he is serving as the reunion chair for Johnson’s class of 1951 65th reunion.
About his long and continuing service to Johnson, he notes:“It seemed like an useful way both to help the school, and also get involved in the running of a great institution,” adding praise for all of the “wonderful people”he has worked with in the process.
Schaenen is one of many Cornellians in his family; his father, uncle, brother, and two of his three children attended Cornell. “When I applied to Cornell, it was just after the end of WWII. I had been in the U.S. Navy for a year, and the only application my father sent me was for Cornell,” he laughed. “I had never actually seen Cornell until I stepped on its campus in1946.”
Schaenen applauded Johnson’s expansion of its offerings beyond the residential two-year MBA program, calling one of the most recent, the Johnson CornellTech MBA, “a major victory for Cornell and for the Ivy League.”
Schaenen offers sage advice for new MBA graduates: “The most important thing is just try to seek a job that you have a passion for. And no matter where you go, to be yourself.”