Charles F. Knight honored with Eliot Society Search Award

Charles F. Knight, chairman emeritus of Emerson, received the 2007 Search Award at the 40th annual William Greenleaf Eliot Society event April 26 at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis. The Eliot Society presents the award in recognition of an outstanding citizen of the University whose contributions have made significant advancements in teaching, research and service to society.

Bob Virgil (right), president of the Eliot Society, gives the Search Award to Charles F. Knight as Knight's wife, Joanne, looks on at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis, April 26.
Bob Virgil (right), president of the Eliot Society, gives the Search Award to Charles F. Knight as Knight’s wife, Joanne, looks on at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis, April 26.

Awardees receive a silver replica of “The Search,” a sculpture designed by Heikki Seppa, professor emeritus of art, that symbolizes the endless quest for truth and knowledge.

This year’s keynote address was given by Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and author of the highly acclaimed book “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.”

In announcing the award, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said: “Chuck Knight and his wife, Joanne, have helped shape the present-day Washington University. Theirs is a deep-seated dedication to supporting institutions that improve lives and advance knowledge.” He also recognized Knight’s special service to the University as a member of the Board of Trustees from 1977-1990, an especially pivotal growth period. In addition, Knight is emeritus chair for life of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and he helped engineer the formation of the BJC health system.

Knight’s generosity can be felt throughout the University. The Danforth Campus’ Charles F. Knight Executive Education Center, a state-of-the-art, five-story facility complete with conference rooms and classrooms equipped with sophisticated technology, as well as guest rooms, dining areas and a business center, opened in 2001. The Knights also have supported the John M. Olin School of Business by endowing a distinguished directorship in executive education.

Olin’s rise as a top business school was guided by its National Council, of which Knight is a founding member and former chair. He also chaired the Business Task Force, an advisory group that preceded the National Council. Both of the University’s last two major campaigns relied heavily on his leadership.

A deep commitment to supporting medical research drives his support for the School of Medicine. The Charles F. Knight Emergency and Trauma Center, created in 2002, is a 52,000-square-foot facility offering 61 beds and a comprehensive environment for specialized care.

The Joanne Knight Breast Health Center and Breast Cancer Program serve a critical function as part of Siteman Cancer Center, and the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professorship in Orthopaedic Surgery provides top-level teaching and research in this growing area.

Most recently, the Knights announced their intention to provide long-term funding for Alzheimer’s research at the University.

Knight began his 27-year tenure as CEO of Emerson in 1973. At the time, he was the youngest CEO of any U.S. billion-dollar company; he became chairman in 1974.

Under his leadership, Emerson evolved from a domestic manufacturer to a leading global technology and solutions provider, as sales increased more than 16-fold.

He stepped down as CEO in 2000 and retired as chairman in 2004.

Knight’s management success has been recognized widely in major business publications. He was named Chief Executive of the Year by Chief Executive magazine.

He is a member of the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame.

His book, “Performance Without Compromise: How Emerson Consistently Achieves Winning Results,” was published in 2005, and the class he conducts for Olin’s MBA program is very popular.

At the University, Knight’s generosity and support have been recognized with the Olin School Dean’s Medal in 1993, an honorary doctor of science degree in 1996 and the Robert S. Brookings Award in 1999.

His philanthropic involvement extends throughout the St. Louis region, and he has been particularly supportive of higher education, health care and youth-oriented organizations, including St. Louis Public Schools, the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club and the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center.

Knight earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA from Cornell University.

The Eliot Society was created in 1959 as an organization for alumni, parents and friends to provide unrestricted support for the University.