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Bill Hanson, a founder of MIT Leaders for Global Operations, dies at 80

Mentor to hundreds of alumni was known for asking questions that prompted students to look within themselves.
Bill Hanson
Bill Hanson

Bill Hanson, an inspirational founding figure of the MIT Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program and a mentor to hundreds of its alumni, died on July 15 at the age of 80.

Hanson was senior vice president for manufacturing at the Digital Equipment Corporation, where he had a front-row seat to the challenges facing U.S. manufacturing in the 1980s, and brought this vision to his role helping found and develop LGO (then Leaders for Manufacturing, or LFM) in 1988 with MIT faculty including Kent Bowen, Thomas Magnanti, and the late Don Rosenfield.

Hanson moved full-time from the Digital Equiptment Corporation to MIT in 1996 to become LFM’s first industry co-director. He later helped found what is now the William C. Hanson, Don W. Davis and Janice Klein Leadership Fund to honor Davis (LFM’s first leadership instructor) and support leadership training within LGO. He retired in 2012 to Mashpee, Massachusetts, with his wife, Bette.

“Bill was an enlightened person with unusual warmth and a great passion for life, and he was a true friend to many of us,” says Magnanti, MIT Institute Professor. “He had a remarkable impact on manufacturing and industry, but also on education, especially at MIT. He was a beacon in bringing industry to the leadership of LFM. I had the privilege of working closely with him and benefited enormously from his wisdom, insight, and unfailing enthusiasm, as well as rooting with excitement with him for the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots.”

"Bill left an indelible legacy through his support of the LGO program and its graduates and industrial partners,” says Jeff Wilke LGO ’93, CEO of Global Consumer at Amazon. “He generously modeled ethical leadership by listening carefully and helping students and alums hone their individual styles.”

As a mentor to Leaders for Global Operations students, Hanson was known for asking questions that prompted students to look within themselves. “He asked what impact I wanted to have on the world, and how I would use the many opportunities I have been given to change lives for the better,” says Christina Simpson LGO ’11, senior manager for market development at Medtronic. “Bill inspired us all to be better and do more, and he will be greatly missed.”

During her LGO admission interview, “I immediately sensed Bill’s kindness, his earnestness and his belief in people’s potential,” says venture investor Rachel Sheinbein LGO '04. “He was a wonderful mentor during my time at LGO, and it didn’t stop there. When I was making a critical career decision, he asked his famous question: Was I looking for a job, a career, or an environment? He reminded me of my own passions and encouraged me to take a risk. It was the best decision of my life, and I wouldn’t have made the leap without Bill.”

SkipStone President A-P Hurd LGO ’04 had a similar experience during what seemed like a routine conversation, when Henson paused and asked, “What’s your legacy?”

“I was taken aback. ‘What do you mean? I'm 27, I don't have a legacy.’ Bill replied, ‘Well, you've been given a lot of opportunity. You better start figuring it out, because it's not just going to happen by itself.’ To this day, that is one of the best questions anyone has ever asked me.”

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