When Dr. J. Robert Beyster founded Science Applications International (SAI), a small government contracting firm, he had no plans to stay sole owner.

In the first year of business, his ownership stake fell from 100 percent to about 10 percent as new employees were hired.

“Someone who is involved with the company should own a piece of it,” said Dr. Beyster, who died on Dec. 22 at the age of 90. “People involved in the company should share in its success.”

Dr. Beyster’s belief in employee ownership stayed constant from the company’s start in 1969 to his retirement as chairman of the board in 2004. By then, SAI had grown from a tiny company housed next to a ballet studio in La Jolla, California, to a Fortune 500 defense contractor.

SAIC became a publicly traded company in 2006, later moved its headquarters to McLean, Virginia, and in 2013, was split into two companies: the current SAIC and Leidos. Even after the board and executive team decided to take SAIC public, the company continued to foster innovation and a dedication to hiring and developing top talent, values espoused by Dr. Beyster.

“Along with all of us at SAIC, I continue to be inspired by Dr. Beyster’s principles, including his dedication to customers and employees, and his desire to embrace a challenge and make a profound difference,” said SAIC Chief Executive Officer Anthony J. Moraco. “We proudly carry the SAIC name with us to this day, and are committed to upholding and growing its legacy.”

After retiring, Dr. Beyster continued his work with the Beyster Institute and the Foundation for Enterprise Development, nonprofit organizations he founded to promote the benefits of employee ownership and advise organizations considering the model.

John Robert Beyster was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1924. During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he was commissioned as an officer and served on a destroyer based in Norfolk, Virginia. Later, he earned bachelor, master, and doctorate degrees in engineering and physics from the University of Michigan.

After stints as a scientist and program manager for Westinghouse Atomic Power Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and General Atomic, Dr. Beyster founded SAIC because he had observed that the government was not always getting the best technical support from contractors. “Providing quality work on national security problems at a fair price was the major motivation behind the founding of SAIC,” he said.

SAI won its first contract, analyzing nuclear weapon effects for the U.S. government, based on Dr. Beyster’s physics expertise. “After a year, a surprising thing happened,” Dr. Beyster said. “We made a profit.”

An avid sailor, Dr. Beyster led SAIC to contribute scientific talent and technology to U.S. teams contesting the America’s Cup, including the 1987 winner Stars and Stripes 87. He was also selected for induction in 2008 as a lifetime member of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.

Dr. Beyster is survived by his wife, Betty, and three children. His full obituary can be found online and words of condolence may be left at Dr. Beyster’s Blog.


Watch a tribute to Dr. Beyster

This video tribute was shown at Dr. Beyster’s memorial service on Jan. 31, 2015.