Former Emerson CEO, business school benefactor Knight dies at age 81

Danielle Drake Flam | News Editor

Charles F. Knight, a benefactor of the Olin Business School and a large part of the Olin community, died from Alzheimer’s disease at age 81 Tuesday.

In addition to serving as one of Washington University’s most prominent donors, Knight was best known for his career as CEO of technology and engineering company Emerson, at which he resided for nearly three decades. From 1977 to 1990, Knight was also part of the University’s board of trustees, chairing the Business School Task Force in 1980 and serving as the first chairman to Olin Business School’s National Council in 1995.

Photograph of the Knight Center on the North side of Mudd Field. The building was dedicated to Charles F. Knight after a $15 million capital gift to the Olin Business SchoolStephen Huber | Student Life

Photograph of the Knight Center on the North side of Mudd Field. The building was dedicated to Charles F. Knight after a $15 million capital gift to the Olin Business School

Knight’s lead capital gift of $15 million in 2011 supported the Olin Business School and provided the capital foundation for the school’s undergraduate and graduate business programs. The impact of his support can be seen on the Danforth campus in Knight Hall and the Charles F. Knight Executive Education and Conference Center, as well as on the medical campus, where the Charles F. Knight Emergency and Trauma Center serves as Washington University’s main medical center in the Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex.

In an email to the Olin Business School community, Dean Mark Taylor expressed his condolences, saying that while he did not have the chance to meet Knight in person, he—along with all of Olin Business School—has been impacted by Knight’s legacy.

“Many of you will have had the privilege of working with Mr. Knight and will therefore know firsthand his great vision and the effect this has had on our school,” Taylor said. “Others, like me, will not have had the great privilege of meeting him, but nevertheless [will] feel the impact of his legacy every day at the business school—a legacy which is both figuratively and literally built into the fabric of Olin [Business School].”

Chancellor Mark Wrighton had worked with Knight personally since he first joined the University in 1995. He reflected on his time with Knight, pointing out that Knight not only made waves in the business world for the Olin Business School but also pooled together resources for the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center.

“He and Emerson did many things that brought benefit to Washington University and the St. Louis community during my tenure,” Wrighton wrote in an email to Student Life. “As I began my chancellorship, he worked closely with me and leaders of the John M. Olin School of Business to develop a plan to launch a large effort in executive education…But Chuck Knight did much more at Washington University: He was critical both in his work and his efforts to build financial support for the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, which is today the third largest cancer center in the United States.”

Through both his personal touch and financial donations, Knight made an impact on the Washington University community—and on the Olin Business School in particular.

“When I walked through Knight Hall and the Knight Center after hearing the sad news, I thought of the words written in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, commemorating its architect, and how well they apply to Mr. Knight’s legacy at the Olin Business School: ‘If you would seek his monument, look about you,’” Taylor wrote.