J. Wilson Newman | Legacy of Leadership Profile

J. Wilson Newman 

(1909-2003)

Growing up in Clemson (pop. 400), J. Wilson Newman earned his first money in agricultural pursuits, such as counting squares at the Experiment Station's test plots for boll weevil eradication, picking peaches, and selling peaches at Clemson College's roadside produce stand. But Newman never considered a career in agriculture.    

At 16, he persuaded a local banker to allow him to work after school without pay so that he could learn the business. On a routine inspection, bank examiners spotted the teenager standing tiptoed at a teller's window. When the banker explained that he was Wilson Newman, who was so intent in his ambition to learn banking that he was willing to work for nothing, the examiners said he would have to be bonded and salaried.

Rather than hanging out at the drugstore, doing nothing, Newman stayed on at the bank at a salary of $1 a year. Such was the inauspicious beginning for a man who would later rise to the presidency of Dun & Bradstreet, the world's oldest and largest credit reporting agency.    

J. Wilson Newman was born November 3, 1909, in Clemson, son of Charles Carter and Grace Strode Newman. His father was a professor of horticulture at Clemson College, and both of his grandfathers were college professors. His maternal grandfather, H. Aubrey Strode, was the first president of Clemson College.    

Newman graduated from Calhoun – Clemson High School in 1927 and received a bachelor of science degree from Clemson College in 1931. He attended the American Institute of Banking for two years and the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration for a year. He received a law degree from New York University in 1937.

After a brief experience in banking, he joined R. G. Dun & Company as a credit reporter shortly before the company's merger with the Bradstreet Company. He later became assistant general counsel, was promoted to assistant to Arthur D. Whiteside, Dun & Bradstreet president, and at age 36 was promoted to vice president.    

Newman succeeded Whiteside as president in 1952. He was 43 years old and the company's youngest officer or director. The job was considered one of the most responsible in American commerce, according to the American Institute of Management.

Newman later was named chief executive officer and then chairman, a position he resigned in 1968 to become chairman of the D&B Finance Committee. Under his leadership, the firm expanded its original credit reporting services to include the first large-scale system of computerized data for sales and marketing purposes, as well as other services in such fields as business education, marketing, and a variety of investor services initiatives.    

His success at Dun & Bradstreet can be measured by the fact that revenues increased from $15 million to $2 billion during his years, and the reputation of the company throughout the world became one of complete integrity and total responsibility. In all, Newman spent 49 years with Dun & Bradstreet.    

He has been a director of a host of corporations, including AT&T, General Foods, Western Electric, International Paper, and Chemical Bank.

Newman served on the Clemson University Foundation Board of Trustees from 1974 to 1979 and continues to be an honorary trustee. He funded a chair in memory of his father — the Charles Carter Newman Chair in Natural Resources Engineering — in the Clemson University College of Engineering. Dun & Bradstreet established the J. Wilson Newman Chair in Managerial Economics in Clemson's College of Commerce and Industry. Newman received an honorary doctoral degree from Clemson in 1957.    

He married Clara Collier of Corinth, Mississippi, on July 16, 1934. They had four children: Mrs. Robert E. (Clara Adelaide) Blanchard, Mrs. Bradley R. (Mildred Bledsoe) Thayer, James Wilson Newman, Jr., and Charles Carter Newman II.

Semi-retired from D&B, Newman lives with his wife in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they moved in 1981. He maintains a consulting relationship with D&B and has meetings with members of the many education and research institutions of which he is a patron.    

For 10 years, beginning in 1983, Newman was a member of the Governing Council of The Miller Center for Public Affairs, a research center affiliated with the University of Virginia in Charlottesville that studies ways to improve the American presidency and United States government overall. On May 23, 1991, the center dedicated the J. Wilson Newman Pavilion, a $2.5 million addition to the center. The pavilion makes it possible to accommodate audiences of up to 200 for seminars and deliberations. His writings include an autobiography, For What Do We Labor?, and The Private Sector.    

Newman was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1993.    

© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame