Photo of Barclay Simpson in the Simpson Strong-Tie factory, 2006.
Barclay Simpson in the Simpson Strong-Tie factory, 2006. Photo courtesy of Simpson Strong-Tie.

Barclay Simpson: An Oral History

Conducted by Neil Henry in 2012-2013, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2013.

Barclay Simpson is a Bay Area native who founded one of the world’s most successful engineering firms, Simpson Manufacturing, the maker of structural connectors used in housing and commercial construction that have become an industry standard around the world. Founded in 1956, the firm grew when Simpson took over his father’s small window screen business based in Oakland. Last year the now publicly-traded company recorded more than $700,000,000 in sales. An innovator and entrepreneur, Simpson saw action in World War II as a dive bomber in the Pacific in the Army Air Corps, and was on hand in Tokyo during the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Far more than a successful businessman who ran his company with a novel philosophy of encouraging his workers to take active roles to share in the fruits of its success, Simpson later became a noted art collector and dealer acquiring a sizeable collection of the works of Rembrandt and James McNeill Whistler, among others. He was also a public official, elected to the BART Board of Directors, on which body he served as president and almost single-handedly engineered an accord that led to the subway’s extension to San Francisco International Airport. Simpson also nurtured commercial growth around the Pleasant Hill BART station that today stands as a model of economic development.

His generous philanthropy is legendary throughout the Bay Area and around the country. His Put Something Back Fund has supported the arts and public education in impoverished regions of the East Bay and other disadvantaged school districts around the country. He has also been a tireless financial backer of UC Berkeley, including the Haas School of Business, the Bancroft and Doe Libraries, and the Athletics Department, whose Simpson High Performance Center is a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the physical and intellectual development of student athletes. He also served as chairman of the board of the Berkeley Art Museum during the critical period when an agreement was reached for the design and construction of a new facility to house both the museum and the Pacific Film Archive on university-owned property on Center Street in downtown Berkeley. In 2013, in recognition of his exceptional achievements and contributions to society, University Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau bestowed on Simpson the Berkeley Medal, the highest honor given to a citizen whose career has significantly benefited the public and whose work illustrates the highest ideals of the University.

The interviews with Simpson were conducted in eight sessions beginning in December, 2012 and running to early March, 2013, all of them taking place at the dining room table in his house in Orinda.

 

 

 

 



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