Q&A: UC San Diego Library Supporter Mary Ann Beyster Reflects on Father’s Legacy

From left to right: Mary Ann, Betty, and Jim Beyster celebrated the opening of the Beyster Papers during a reception on April 21, 2017.

The Beyster name is intertwined with the history of San Diego’s entrepreneurial and technology community. The late Dr. J. Robert “Bob” Beyster built Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) from a small scientific consulting firm in the 1960s to a multibillion-dollar defense contractor powerhouse. He was known for his visionary business practices and sophisticated ability to bring out the best in his employees. SAIC grew to become one of the largest employee-owned companies in the nation.

In 2015, the Beyster family donated Bob’s Papers including business records, stock plans, and records of government-funded research to the Library’s Special Collections & Archives.

Dr. Beyster’s legacy is now carried on by his daughter Mary Ann through the work she’s doing with entrepreneurship, innovation, and employee ownership in the education system. Of the Library’s valued supporters, few have a background quite as diverse as Mary Ann’s. Not only is she an enthusiastic community leader with 30 years of experience in manufacturing, technical management consulting, and small business innovation, but she’s also a passionate documentary director and producer.

Library staff asked Mary Ann a few questions to learn more about her late father’s legacy and her involvement with the UC San Diego campus. 

Q: It’s been two years since your family donated your father’s business correspondence to the UC San Diego Library. Why was it important for you to donate these materials to an institution of higher education?
A: The goal of this archive is for educators and researchers to have access to this unique resource on a visionary local business, scientific ingenuity, and employee-owner enabled entrepreneurial practices so that others may build off of the learnings of my father and SAIC. These archives open up access to records not previously available as the company was privately held.

As part of the 30-year anniversary since my father’s founding the Foundation for Enterprising Development, we felt that this new archival resource would align perfectly with the Foundation and my father’s mission to help spread the word on the strategic use of broad-based equity instruments and the impact of sharing wealth and responsibility. Entrepreneurs are often contacting us about the strategy and specifics of employee ownership and participative management so that they are best informed for the near and long-term strategy.

Q: What role do you see this rich archive of materials playing in the work of scholars in the next five years?
A: This archive provides a comprehensive historical record of the 35 years of SAIC’s growth to become the nation’s largest research/engineering firm that is employee-owned. It is unusual for a tech founder to remain the CEO of their company throughout such growth and change. These materials provide insights on my father’s experimental techniques applied to management, use of transparent and distributed decision-making, and resolve around guiding values. As many scholars may find relevant, he was driven by discovery and respected academic study, but he cared deeply about the practical application of an idea and that the application makes a difference to an important problem facing the country.

Along with details on stock plans, management and board reports, there are decades of reports for researchers to access that illustrate the transition of advanced research and development from government funded to wide-spread commercial applications, and the interconnectivity of innovation along that (often times long) life cycle. This life cycle continues to be timely and very important topic of discussion at UC San Diego as well as other leading research institutions.

Q: What shapes your family’s giving? What are your top giving priorities?
A: Our primary focus is on the wellbeing of San Diegans across a range of needs from a healthy environment, community health and human services, arts and culture, science and technology, veteran services, and education. In addition, each family member has an expanded geographic scope (usually tied to his/her alma mater) as well a particular focus area. We’ll support basic services that are most needed now, as well as innovative program development that catalyzes the research and experiments needed for the future.

Q: What message would you share with fellow community members considering supporting or giving a gift to the UC San Diego Library?
A: UC San Diego Library and the special collections librarians have world-class expertise, and we are lucky in San Diego to have direct access to this resource and these people. This library is bringing together the past and the future through a new learning environment exemplified in the different ways they preserve history, provide context, and enable global connectedness to information.

Q: How have libraries made an impact on your life?
A: Growing up, I loved reading in public and school libraries and now I always try to visit a public and/or university library when traveling. Libraries are a window into the community. They are inspiring places in so many ways from architecture, resources, knowledge-building, and dream-making.

Q: You’ve worked on a variety of educational programs highlighting individuals who make the world a better place including the documentaries “We the Owners” and “The Kitchenistas,” both of which have won several awards. Can you tell me more about your passion for film?
A: Beyond facts and evidence, documentaries can create empathy and passion, expand learning, and move people to action from a new and deeper understanding of an issue.

My two film projects started out with very different motivations, but by the end I was struck by the common themes of creating positive change through an entrepreneurial spirit, place-based action, and connectedness to community and the environment. I suspect these themes will be explored in my next films as that’s what interests me and what is very exciting to see with today’s entrepreneurs addressing significant social issues.

My first film, We the Owners, follows three employee-owned “Best Places to Work” companies that use shared ownership as an integral part of their business responsibility. It is through ownership that wealth creation is made possible for all their employees. The founders and employee-owners strive to create innovative, fair, and more sustainable business models as they take on the challenges of starting up, expansion, succession, and layoffs. We the Owners is being used in hundreds of university classrooms (viewed by tens of thousands of students ever year) and by hundreds of companies as a training tool during employee orientation and board of directors’ leadership trainings.

The Kitchenistas follows first-generation Mexican immigrant mothers and grandmothers in their struggles and transformations to conquer a health crisis in their food desert community. National City has one of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in San Diego County and in the state of California. The Kitchenistas, graduates of the local non-profit Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center’s healthy cooking and leadership program—Cooking for Salud!— are out to change that, one healthy dish at a time.

The Kitchenistas has now aired on PBS stations across California, and across the U.S. As many communities are struggling with high rates of obesity and diabetes, through this film these amazing women serve as a regional, national, and global example of how changing the health of a community starts around the kitchen table.

Q: Could you update us on your future projects?
A: I am exploring a few stories about entrepreneurs who are building healthier and wealthier communities, and likely to go into production this year on a story where the entrepreneurs are women who are creating change as startup founders, nonprofit leaders, and civil servants.

Being active in a number of nonprofits as well being a judge for several global innovation competitions, I get to meet many social entrepreneurs focused on solving critical problems in their community or field of practice (e.g., health, conservation, energy). I hope to find more ways to advice and direct them as well as create platforms so that more people hear their impressive, inspiring, and real stories.

More on the J.R. Beyster Archive
The Library has created a finding aid that can be easily accessed to search Dr. Beyster’s archives. Researchers may visit the Library during business hours or contact Special Collections & Archives at (858) 534-2533 ahead of time for assistance.

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