Frederick H. Joseph ’59, who was known for heading several prominent Wall Street companies over his long career, passed away on Friday at age 72.
Although Joseph was involved in a widely-publicized Wall Street scandal in the late 1980s, he is remembered by many of his classmates at Harvard Business School—where he graduated in 1963—for his leadership in business and nonprofit work.
Joseph served as CEO of Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. from 1985 until the firm’s collapse in 1990. Before scandal struck, Drexel profited in the 1980s from selling junk bonds, but then Michael R. Milken, a trader under Joseph’s supervision, was imprisoned for 22 months and fined $600 million for violating U.S. securities law, according to Bloomberg News. While Joseph faced no criminal charges, he was banned for a time from assuming another position as a Wall Street CEO, according to Portfolio.com’s “Worst American CEOs of All Time” list, on which Joseph ranked seventh.
“He was the captain of the ship, and in navy terms, if you’re the captain and the ship has trouble, the captain takes responsibility—he always took responsibility,” said Charles D. Ellis, a classmate of Joseph at HBS who worked with him at Drexel. “I’m a very tough person on integrity. I have known Fred quite well and stayed with him all the way through.”
Joseph rebounded from the scandal, becoming managing director of Morgan Joseph & Co., a firm which he helped to found in 2001.
“Fred was one of the real leaders in Wall Street,” said Joseph’s HBS classmate Gerald P. Kaminsky. “He built a firm which ultimately went down, but...he was a guy who was totally honorable, admired by his peers, and in recent years he continued to show his capability in building a business in the financial services area.”
Classmates noted Joseph’s activism in helping to found Partners of ’63, a nonprofit organization of members of the HBS Class of 1963 which assists educational causes.
“I have truly been impressed with him and his willingness to give back,” said classmate Ralph T. Linsalata, commenting on Joseph’s nonprofit work and his career in general. “In the financial services world he’s had a significant impact. He always seemed to end up as the driving force.”
Joseph also served as a director of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, which raises money for research on multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer that he struggled with. Louise M. Perkins, chief scientific officer of the MMRF, remembered Joseph as “an incredibly gentle and patient man.”
“He was bright, engaging, fun, and a person I’m glad I got to know at Harvard,” said Kaminsky. “He’ll be missed by all of us.”
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