In Remembrance: Lewis B. Cullman ’41 Died on June 7 2019

Lewis B. Cullman, 100, died peacefully on June 7, 2019, in Stamford, Connecticut. The youngest son of Joseph Cullman Jr. (Y 1904), Lewis followed his three older brothers to Hotchkiss and then Yale, where he majored in government. His senior thesis adviser, Cecil Driver, encouraged him to pursue his interest in meteorology by writing about the US Weather Bureau. After Yale, he studied meteorology at NYU before entering the Navy as an ensign, reporting first to Naval Air Station Lakehurst then to South Weymouth, where he prepared forecasts to support the Navy’s operations that involved dirigible airships (blimps). Later in the war, he served in Port Lyautey, French Morocco, a staging area for many Allied operations during the war.  

After the war, Cullman returned to Boston and started his own private weather forecasting service for municipalities. When he learned that the US Weather Bureau was offering the same service, he decided to plead his case by appearing before Senator Joe Ball’s subcommittee on appropriations for the bureau. He argued that the bureau’s mission was unfair competition.  He also suggested a concept, years ahead of its time, that the three existing TV networks (CBS, NBC, and Dumont) have their own meteorology staff, planting the seeds for today’s 24-hour weather coverage. After subsequent stints in New York with the family business, Cullman Bros., and an investment bank, Wertheim & Company, in 1962 he decided to start his own investment advisory business. Shortly thereafter, he launched the Incubation Fund to invest in “unrecognized securities,” and the New York Herald Tribune referred to him as one of Wall Street’s top analysts. In 1964, Cullman helped to inaugurate a new era in financial history by pioneering the first leveraged buyout (LBO), when he and his associates parlayed $1,000 into ownership of Orkin Exterminating, valued at $62.4 million.  

By the mid-1970s he closed the deal that would be his biggest: buying Keith Clark, a desk calendar company based in Sidney, New York, that he described in his memoir as “about as good as it gets.” He expanded the business for the next 22 years until he had 90 percent of the market, and with the stock market approaching its peak in 1999, sold it to the paper giant Mead. 

It was then that Lewis and his second wife, Dorothy, who predeceased him in 2009, began in earnest what he would call the “distributive phase” of his life, focusing on philanthropic ventures. Major beneficiaries include the New York Public Library; the American Museum of Natural History ; the Museum of Modern Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Enterprise Foundation; Environmental Defense Fund; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; Yale University (class of ’41 scholarship, refurbishing of Branford College, support of Yale forestry school, biology department); Purdue University; Chess in the Schools; the Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival;; Mount Sinai Hospital; Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; New York Weill Cornell Medical Center; the American Academy in Rome; Human Rights Watch, Planned Parenthood of New York City, the Neurosciences Research Foundation, and the Municipal Art Society. 

Cullman is survived by his wife Louise, a son, two stepsons, and eight grandchildren.  

—Submitted by the family.

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