Samuel W. Bodman, 79; former Fidelity executive served as US energy secretary
When President George W. Bush nominated him in December 2004 to be the new US energy secretary, Samuel W. Bodman saw the position as the culmination of his career.
“The job as energy secretary, in many ways, combines all aspects of my life’s professional work,” he said as he accepted Bush’s nomination.
Beginning as an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he had received a doctorate in chemical engineering, Dr. Bodman honed his business acumen under the tutelage of venture capital pioneer Georges Doriot. Dr. Bodman went on to serve as president and chief operating officer at Fidelity Investments, and then chairman and chief executive at Cabot Corp. before moving to the Bush administration. There, he was deputy secretary in the Commerce and Treasury departments before becoming energy secretary.
“In academics, in business, and in government, Sam Bodman has shown himself to be a problem solver who knows how to set goals, and he knows how to reach them,” Bush said as he announced the energy secretary nomination in 2004.
Dr. Bodman, who in retirement had divided his time between his homes in North Palm Beach, Fla., El Paso, Texas, and Martha’s Vineyard, died Friday in his El Paso home of complications of primary progressive aphasia. He was 79.
In a statement issued Friday, Bush said he and his wife, Laura, were “deeply saddened by the death of Sam Bodman. Sam had a brilliant mind, and we are fortunate that he put his intellect to work for our country as secretary of energy.”
In Boston’s business world, Dr. Bodman was known for an approach to management defined by his openness. Colleagues described him as a consensus-builder and a top-notch communicator.
“His mind is extraordinarily creative and innovative,” Kennett F. Burnes, who worked with Dr. Bodman at Cabot and succeeded him as the company’s chief executive, told The Boston Globe at the time of the energy secretary appointment. “He has an ability to see things in a very broad and yet comprehensive way.”
At Fidelity, Dr. Bodman helped launch Fidelity Ventures, a venture capital business, which he ran until the mid-1970s, when he was named president of Fidelity Management & Research.
Dr. Bodman climbed to the number two spot at Fidelity. As president and chief operating officer of FMR Corp., the holding company of Fidelity’s empire, he answered to Edward Johnson III, the company’s chairman and chief executive.
Then in 1987, Dr. Bodman surprised the business community by decamping to Cabot, which he saw as opportunity to combine his backgrounds in management and chemistry. It was a measure of his importance at Fidelity that when Dr. Bodman left, Johnson filled the void by assigning five senior executives to run different parts of the company.
By the time Dr. Bodman departed from Cabot, the company was operating in 25 countries, producing basic chemicals such as carbon black and silica, along with specialty metals — a combination that Forbes magazine once reduced, in shorthand, to soot, sand, and mud.
In early 2000, about a year before leaving for the Bush administration, Dr. Bodman shrugged off the “soot king” nickname Forbes had given him. “I guess I would much rather be thought of as a guy who took this old company and helped fix it so it could be prosperous in the years ahead,” he told the Globe.
Born in Chicago, Samuel Wright Bodman III was the older of two brothers. His father, Samuel W. Bodman Jr., was a salesman, and his mother, the former Lina Lindsey, was a schoolteacher.
Dr. Bodman graduated from Glenbard Township High School in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and headed east for college at Cornell University, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.
He graduated from MIT with a PhD in 1965 and taught there from 1964 to 1970.
During those same years, he was technical director at American Research and Development Corp., the pioneering venture capital and private equity firm founded by Doriot, a legendary Harvard Business School professor who had served in the Army during World War II and was known as General Doriot.
Dr. Bodman would later recall arriving for work an hour early on Saturdays for extra training from Doriot. “We worked Saturdays in those days,” Dr. Bodman said in a 1987 Globe interview.
After leaving academia, he spent 17 years at Fidelity and 14 at Cabot, where he introduced a venture capital approach to a company that had been around for a century. Dr. Bodman restructured Cabot and divested some older, money-losing divisions.
At MIT, he had served as a director of the School of Engineering Practice and was part of the MIT Commission on Education. He also was part of the MIT Corporation and later was named a lifetime trustee.
Along with serving on corporate boards, he was a Cornell University trustee, a trustee of the New England Aquarium, and a lifetime trustee of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where he had been president. Dr. Bodman was also a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
“I am proud that he was a member of my Cabinet, and I am proud that he was my friend,” Bush said in his statement, in which he and his wife, Laura, offered condolences to Dr. Bodman’s family .
Dr. Bodman’s first wife, the former Elizabeth Little, died of cancer in 1982 at age 43.
In 1997, he married M. Diane (Petrella) Barber, who also was widowed.
“Sam said the same thing at work that he did at home,” she said, and that was, “ ‘Do the right thing, always.’ He focused on that.”
Dr. Bodman “was warm,” she added, and “he could be very funny.” He also remained an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots, even when his principal residence was away from the area.
Not surprisingly, given his professional accomplishments, “he was a force — Sam was a force,” said his stepdaughter, Caroline Greene of Washington, D.C.
“He loved with intensity, he taught with intensity, he led with intensity,” she said, adding with a laugh that he even “did Sudoku with intensity.”
A service will be announced for Dr. Bodman, who in addition to his wife and stepdaughter leaves two daughters, Elizabeth Mott of Grosse Pointe, Mich., and Sarah Greenhill of Greenwich, Conn.; a son, Andrew of Rincon, Puerto Rico; a stepson, Perry Barber of El Paso; his brother, James of Chicago; 13 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
“Sam was a man of integrity in all aspects of his life,” Caroline Greene said.
“He had a natural way of bringing out and demanding the very best in people,” she added. “He was a constant inspiration to always do the right thing and always do your best, and to do it kindly with a deep respect for others.”