Malin Burnham Interview – August 10, 2015

  • Interviewee: Malin Burnham
  • Interviewer: Mary Walshok, PhD
  • Date: August 10, 2015

BURNHAM: My history as part of the Burnham family in San Diego, I suppose starts in about 1905 when my grandfather John Burnham moved his family to San Diego. And the reason he moved here was because he had an older brother by the name of George Burnham who had previously come a few years earlier from Minnesota to San Diego. And my grandfather bought into a small real estate brokerage firm which was subsequently named John Burnham & Company, and it was in commercial real estate brokerage, commercial insurance, and commercial mortgage lending. And my father was a youngster of about seven or eight years old back in 1905 when the family moved to San Diego. Fast-forward to my birth in 1927. I had one sibling brother 18 months older - Peter - and we grew up in the Loma Portal area of San Diego. Went to public grammar school at the Loma Portal Grammar School, and then to Point Loma High School. I did all six years at that time. I was the last class that did all six years at Point Loma High School, because as soon as I went from the sixth grade - or the seventh to the eighth, they started a new junior high school called Dana in the Point Loma area. So I grew up in a middle-income family neighborhood you might say. When I graduated from high school, it was in June of 1945, and I had intended to join the Navy. The draft for World War II was still in effect, of course, because the war was still going on with Japan in that time. And any event, I went on a sailing regatta in the Star International Class of Sailboat. I was 17 years old and I had a crew by the name of Lowell North who was 15 years old, and we took the train across the country to New York City and into Stamford, Connecticut; and we were the youngest age ever. To win the World Championship in this very competitive class. And I'm proud to say that that record has never been touched since then. On the way home, we took the train because airliners weren't flying in those days, or even known. So we got about halfway across the country, somewhere in the middle of Kansas, and the train stopped. It was the middle of August and we didn't know why. It turned out to be VJ Day. The war was over in Japan; and we were met at the Union Railway Station in Los Angeles by my mother and father, because driving back-and-forth from here to LA was better than infrequent trains, or planes - In any event, the first thing my mother and dad said, "Well, congratulations on your victory," and number two, "You're going to Stanford, ah-ha." And I said, "But, Dad, I'm planning on going to the service into the Navy like all my buddies have been doing." "Well," he says, "the war is over and the draft will stop sooner or later, and you don't need to waste time waiting for that to happen." So my father had arranged [chuckling] in a few days through one of his Los Angeles insurance contacts-a big Stanford booster-that I could be a walk-on; and that's exactly what happened. In those days, there were few men in college versus women, and the actual enrollment numbers were down during the war years, of course, and so Stanford was-

WALSHOK: Eager to have good students. [Laughs]

BURNHAM: Yes. Well, and so they were accepting people like me that at least had a good high school record. And so off to college I went. And Stanford was on the quarter system, starting in September through December. And so, again, I had no draft notice, so my dad says, "You're going back for the second quarter." "Okay, pop." And some friends of mine talked me into going skiing at Yosemite. I had never skied before in my life. And in those days, ski equipment were wooden skis and leather boots, and no safety bindings or anything like that. Well, within one hour, I succeeding in breaking my leg on the slopes; and that succeeded subsequently in giving me draft deferment. And so I continued my education at Stanford, and soon thereafter, the draft was over with and they weren't taking in young people like me, and so in that regard, my college education was continued. Now, I was the first of my family to go to university.

WALSHOK: Oh, really?

BURNHAM: I even beat my older brother because he was in the service. And so I got started one year before he did, even though he was a year-and-a-half older. And so what courses did I want to take at Stanford? In high school, my best subjects were physics and math, so I decided I'd take an engineering curriculum. And my dad was very supportive. He always had the door open for me to come back into the business, but he never was pulling, he was just saying it was up to me what I wanted to do. And as a matter of fact, he was very happy that I was taking an engineering course because he envisioned that someday I could be the CEO of Westinghouse or General Motors. And the more I thought about that, the less I liked that idea; because the more I thought about it, the real estate business in San Diego looked pretty appealing to me-the best place to live. When I entered my junior year, I had to declare which discipline of engineering I was going to major in. And since I then knew that I wasn't going to follow engineering as a career, I decided to take an industrial engineering course; and because I got some exposure to marketing and law and accounting and those types of things, and a smattering of all of the three or four different disciplines of engineering. And I will have to tell you that if I was going to do it all over again, I would do exactly the same thing. And why? Because that education, for me at least, taught me how to analyze; and I could look at things and mentally take them apart-whether it's a building or a project, a proposed project, or a person: "How do these things go together? How do they tick?" and so on and so forth. And so that was a wonderful education for me.

WALSHOK: There are a couple of things you said Malin that I'd like to pursue because I think they are relevant to the role you have played since the 1980s. You mentioned that you were a competitive sailor and traveled to the East Coast-a big deal when you were 17. You mentioned your dad saying to you, "Well, you could be CEO of Westinghouse one day." Was your family ambitious for you and your brother?

BURNHAM: Yes, I would say. I probably haven't used that word particularly, but my mother and father were very supportive of my brother and me. I don't believe, looking back, that they tried to so-call spoil us; but, again, neither had ever gone to college, and they supported us. My brother was more of an outdoor-type person; and also, he was a very good mechanical-type person. And I never had an automobile of my own until my junior year in college. My brother ended up having a little Ford pickup truck in high school. But why? Because he was mechanically inclined. He could take the engine apart and put it back together.

WALSHOK: A tinkerer, yeah.

BURNHAM: Yes. I couldn't do that today even. So he took a different path than I, and our folks supported both of us and what we were doing. He also began sailing the same time I did, but was less interested in the competitive nature of it than I was. So, yeah, we had a very close family life. Our biggest luxury in those days was a backyard barbeque for either a piece of swordfish or a hamburger steak, and that was the top of the line for our family. And we also had seven or eight guava trees in our backyard; and every spring, my mother made guava jelly for the whole year's supply. Little things like that I remember. And we were just down to earth type of people.

WALSHOK: But also, I have heard you speak about the values that your grandfather and your father instilled in you in terms of what your responsibilities were as a citizen of this city or of this country.

BURNHAM: Well, that's a good point, and I hadn't thought of it exactly that way as my mentors. But as I think back, my father's [uncle] was George Burnham. He was elected as a two-year term in the United States Congress. He was one of the representatives of this area. That was public service. That was probably the first in our family of any magnitude that I can remember. Again, this was before my time, so I didn't associate with him. And then my father was in the Navy during World War I. When he got out before getting into business, he was a postmaster of National City. So there was a little public service there as well. And so somehow that got instilled in my DNA - I don't know how. But I was always taught to do the right thing and be above board, and complete my commitments, whatever they might be. And so I hadn't put all this together before, but you're questioning has made me think about some of these things.

WALSHOK: When did you come back to San Diego? You graduated from Stanford in…?

BURNHAM: In the summer of 1949. And I came back, and then a week later-after graduating as an industrial engineer-I joined John Burnham & Company, named after my grandfather, as I mentioned before, who died a year before I was born. So I never knew either my grandfather or my uncle grandfather George. And so I came back and entered the firm. I was the 11th employee at that time.

WALSHOK: Working for your dad?

BURNHAM: Working for my dad in John Burnham & Company, and I was paid a magnanimous salary of $225.00 a month.

WALSHOK: [Laughs] Those were the days.

BURNHAM: Those were the days. And I was also married. I had gotten married that same summer of 1945, and -

WALSHOK: '45 or '49?

BURNHAM: Excuse me, 1949; the summer, I got married. And a year later, I had two children, twins: boy and girl, John and Cathleen. And I had my nose to the grindstone, obviously. I entered our company to learn the mortgage banking business. As I said before, all of our work was in the commercial field. Well, not entirely all of it; but most of it was in the commercial field, in mortgages, insurance and real estate sales. We represented the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company out of Boston, and I got started in the home-lending side of the business. I had a clipboard and a tape measure, and I learned how to measure a house, draw the floor plan, and decide how many square feet within the boundaries, and then what it was valued at - both land value and building reproduction value; and that was my beginning. In those days, the John Hancock would not make a loan on a home over $10,000.00. And that slowly got ratcheted up over the years. One of the lessons that I learned early on was that the ground rules of business were subject to change as time went on. And that was something that my father disliked. He was concerned that we'd get started with a mortgage program and we'd be out soliciting loans, and we could tell real estate brokers what the plan was, and a loan that we could make, and how we could make it. And that went, well, good for about 15 months; and then the lender, John Hancock, would change those rules in some way. They would say, "You can't do this, but I want you to do that." Well, my dad - that bothered my father. Then after two or three cycles of changes - I never will forget this - I decided that change was inevitable, and I had to be accommodating to change. In fact, I finally learned to try to anticipate change so I could get ahead of the curve. And I think that was one of my - well, one of my successes in life was to do just that kind of, if you will, see if he could look around corners as to what might be coming next. And so that was a valuable education for me in the business world.

WALSHOK: And I think that is a useful example relevant to when we start talking about the '80s and '90s, and the sort of sea change that took place in this region. But there was an earlier change I want to talk to you about. You would have been a young professional in your dad's company, and that was in the post-World War II era: '54, '55, '56. And I'm curious if you have much of a memory of what was going on then; because as you know in my book, we talk a lot about the role John Jay Hopkins' General Dynamics played in getting General Atomics established on, what, 140 acres on the remote Torrey Pines Mesa. We talk a lot about the role the city council played in zoning what today we know as the Torrey Pines Mesa for Light Industry and R&D. And it was in the late '50s, about ten years after you returned, that Jonas Salk and Roger Revelle and all that movement to build the Torrey Pines Research Hub up there, started to incubate. Do you remember much of that as a young man, or was that just happening and you were taking care of your family and your business?

BURNHAM: Well, that history is all well-known to all of us now. No, I can't say that I was very aware of how this community was being built with a new foundation. But what I do remember is that after the war, I was aware that Consolidated Aircraft Company-who moved out here from Buffalo in the early '40s to build airplanes-were the largest employer. They had 45,000 people working for that company during the war building bombers. And then what happened, I remember very distinctly, all of that went downhill to nothing. Consequently we had a lot of the well-trained, educated people in that war effort - engineers and otherwise - and I do remember that a number of those people started their own companies, like Walter Zable, Sr. starting Cubic Corporation out of a little building over in Point Loma. My neighborhood is where that whole thing started. And there were a whole series of these new startup companies that were started in the late '40s and throughout the '50s with people who had come to San Diego during the war effort, and wanted to stay here and live here. And so I was certainly aware of that going on. But now as I look back, two things that I think most people don't realize, and that is that as we think of recently National Geographic has anointed San Diego as one of the smart cities of the world. In fact, they only announced six of which we are the sixth one, the only American cities, and why were we smart. They could have labeled it "San Diego, a lucky city," because not only were we lucky, we were also smart. Why do I say that? To me, while National Geographic didn't portray this as important as I would, I think the two smartest things-lucky things that we have done (and I had nothing to do with either one) was when the Navy decided to come into San Diego Harbor and put a fleet here. And just think what has happened to that. Fast-forward to today with the Marines and Camp Pendleton, and so on and so forth, we have in this region the largest military installation in the world; and that is getting increasingly more important with all the turmoil that is going on in the world. We have to be the stabilizer in this world, and part of it is coming right out of San Diego. Well, the second most important event was when the war was over and the La Jolla Mesa had a camp-it was Camp…

WALSHOK: Matthews.

BURNHAM: Matthews had all of the acreage that is now the University of California, San Diego. Now, that camp was a housing camp, a barracks camp for soldiers going overseas or coming back; they were being processed in and out. And just think of when the war was over, there was surplus land which was given to the city of San Diego. Now, while I was here and starting in business in those years, I had nothing to do with what happened. Normally what would have happened is that the city of San Diego would have said, "Okay, let's just extend the single-family housing division of La Jolla up the hill." My answer is just think what San Diego would not have been today if that had happened. So it was a lucky move on both sides, you know. And so to me, those were great lessons to look back on; and that's what San Diego's all about today.

WALSHOK: I shared with you that in the archives, we have interviews with Clark Kerr, and Pat Brown, and Roger Revelle, and Walter Munk; and they all talk about the fact that the San Diego City Council, perhaps because the mayor had had polio, and because of the influence of John Jay Hopkins and his advocacy for science as the next frontier for the military, that that is what moved the city council to zone the land. And, of course, they had to go to a public vote on every one of those: General Dynamics, Salk, Camp Matthews. Actually, they went for two votes on UCSD because they added Pueblo land to Camp Matthews because Regent Pauly was being so difficult. And it's a terrific story of civic opportunism, perhaps, but not just luck, I think. In Newport News, they didn't build the research kind of infrastructure we have here. And so your comment about the military is very interesting because it was also a lot of R&D in Point Loma and on the Torrey Pines Mesa.

BURNHAM: Well, it was a wonderful decision that was made. In my opinion, from my memory, there was no master plan that we had here.

WALSHOK: That is why I said opportunistic. [Laughs]

BURNHAM: Yes, it was very opportunistic. So we did one thing at a time, and the next decision was quite related to the prior one.

WALSHOK: That's right.

BURNHAM: But, again, in hindsight, there was no master plan until much later.

WALSHOK: When people give speeches, particularly consultants, you have to have a vision. You have to have a strategy, not exactly how San Diego happened. [Laughs]

BURNHAM: Well, it wasn't the way we started, but it is the way over the last 30 years I would say, at least three decades, that we had had a master plan in at least the high-tech arena, and the education arena as to what we can do, and how we can expand. If you think of each college that was added to UCSD, there was kind of a master plan as to what was the next most important piece that should be added, and so on and so forth. And I take that all the way up to one of the most recent pieces, and that was the Rady School for Management. I remember very clearly standing in a parking lot after we'd had a meeting in - I believe it was Harvey White's office. There were four of us that left that meeting, left him in his office, and we were out in the parking lot, and we were talking about, Somebody said in that little group, "what we need here is some kind of a bridge between two big engines of the university, which are related to the two engines in the city on the private side, and that is high-tech engineering and health - and in particularly, health science." And someone else said, "Well, gee, maybe what we ought to do is have a graduate school of business," which later got changed to management, rightly so. And so that was a conscious decision of how people can take -

WALSHOK: Do you recall approximately when that happened? Was that in the '70s? Was that in the '80s, '90s?

BURNHAM: No, no. Well, the school is now -

WALSHOK: Ten years old.

BURNHAM: Eleven years old, and I would say it was about three years before it opened. So that was fourteen years ago, so 2001, I would guess, from that conversation. We took that conversation to Bob Dynes, who was then chancellor, and he smiled and liked it, and ended up getting Peter Cawley, who was then and still is, the dean of the Institute for the -

WALSHOK: Yeah, IR/PS, in those days. Now Global Policy Studies.

BURNHAM: Exactly. But they asked Peter to do a little side duty and draw up a business plan, with the help of other people, of course.

WALSHOK: Yeah. I happen to be on that committee.

BURNHAM: Okay. And so we drew up this business plan, and one of the best things that I like about it is linking, again, the strong parts of the university with the strong parts of our emerging economy, which was high-tech and innovation, and so on and so forth. One of the best things we did was to say, "We expect at least two-thirds of our entering students to have science degrees," because we want them to stay in science. We don't want them to follow the top schools today and send -

WALSHOK: Send them into finance.

BURNHAM: Usually they send them to either Wall Street or consulting. And that's fine, but that's not what we want.

WALSHOK: There's an interval here I'd like to ask you a little bit more about, and that is the '60s and the '70s. And the '60s, as you will recall, were a very volatile time in America, particularly '64 onward with the Vietnam War and all the student protests on the campuses and whatnot. Now, again, you're still a young professional with your family. And how did you as a civic leader and a business leader perceive UCSD, and what was going on in the Mesa? Did you have any opinions or views? Did you have any relationships with people at the university or at Salk, or some of these other incubating companies?

BURNHAM: The answer is no, I had no contacts, I had no particular interests. All of that got done by - not with my involvement. But let me tell you why and how I did ultimately gravitate in that field. And that was in the late '50s and early '60s. I was more and more taking over the role of the head of our business. My father finally appointed me in about 1962 as the President because he wanted to step down and retire from the business at age 65. And so I took over, and growing into that position and afterwards. And at that time, in the real estate brokerage field, and in the insurance brokerage field, national companies in the United States were beginning to put branch offices around the country, including San Diego. Now, these people had much more clout and financing and experience than little ol' John Burnham & Company. And we've always had, in our family and in our business, our interest was one of quality versus quantity. We didn't have any ambition to be a national company. We have always had an ambition to be a regional company and a regional asset. But I was concerned with when Coldwell Banker, the biggest national real estate brokerage firm, puts an office in San Diego, and then their counterpart does the same thing two years later. How am I, little ol' John Burnham & Company, going to survive? I went around and talked to a half a dozen of my mentors in the business world here in San Diego, people that were 10, 12, 15 years ahead of me in age and experience, and they said, "Well, Malin -" what they basically told me was that I needed as head of our company, I needed to have a better feel of the community, both the history and current activities of what my competitors have. And bear in mind, I've been here longer, because what happens when Coldwell Banker would open an office here. They would bring somebody in from Memphis to run this office for three or four years, and then that same person would graduate to Chicago next. And so I had an opportunity here that they didn't have, and that is to know the community better. They said, "You have got to get out in the nonprofit world and the political world and help these people; and therefore, it will come back to you in the way of opening doors." That's exactly what I did. And after awhile, I had my next tier of managers that do the same thing - get out into the community and join organizations, and help build our community. So we could open more doors and get more phone calls answered than our competitors.

WALSHOK: You are much admired, right, as a civic leader today. But what you are telling me is initially, it was a business strategy.

BURNHAM: I was selfish; I wanted to survive. And that is exactly why I went out and did all this.

WALSHOK: And that would have been in the '60s?

BURNHAM: That would have been starting in the late '50s and the early '60s when this was happening.

WALSHOK: As all this change is happening in the ecology and geography of the La Jolla Mesa - which we now call the Torrey Pines Mesa - you were moving into a leadership role, and there were lots of national competitors. And you recognized, "I've got to get more engaged and get my senior people more engaged."

BURNHAM: Absolutely, yes, so that we were better known. And not just in the community in general, but we were supporters of the community that these other people weren't as yet.

WALSHOK: And that worked for over 50 years.

BURNHAM: Yes. It is still working.

WALSHOK: Yes, yes. [Laughs] So would you - and I'm watching my clock because -

BURNHAM: I have got plenty of time.

WALSHOK: You are okay, good. I would like to ask you a little bit about your engagements. And so you understand from where I'm coming: part of what we're interested in in this archive is how dots connect. So when you talk to professors, as we've done, like Jim Arnold or Harold Urey, or Jonas, or Roger - you realize they had links and connections at Princeton, or in Washington, or at the U.S. Navy that benefited the growth of the Mesa. And one of the things that I find interesting about you, having known you for over 30 years, is how many connections you have - not just inside San Diego, but externally. Now, did that begin to happen in the '60s when you took over as CEO and San Diego was a boom economy? Where did all of these connections that you are able to draw on today, whether they are in Mexico City or New York or Midwest, when did that start to happen for you?

BURNHAM: Well, I think probably these connections had to start when my mentors told me if I wanted to survive in business, I needed to get to know the community better than my competitors. And that was the neophyte era, but that has simply grown over time until 1986 when I decided to sell my business interest to my then managers and get 100 percent out of the business world and 100 percent into the nonprofit world; and that has only grown since then. But I have always been interested in connections. And Roberta and I [laughs] - I mentioned to her this morning, I'm reading our daily newspaper and I see that Frank Gifford dies. He was a great football player and also a television announcer. Well, I said, "Honey, you remember when we met Frank Gifford?" and she said, "I certainly do." It was in early February of 1987 in the Le Cirque Restaurant in Manhattan where we were having dinner with Dennis Conner and his wife, and we were hosted by Donald Trump and his then wife. And who walks in but first - who is the clothing designer?

WALSHOK: Ralph Lauren or -

BURNHAM: Ralph Lauren. Ralph Lauren comes in and he says, "Hey, Ralph, come over here. I want you to meet my friends." And so we stand up and meet a new person because Donald then had the main center round table for dinner anytime he wanted it. And then a little later on, who comes in: "Hey, Frank, come over here. I want you to meet my friends," and that was Frank Gifford. This is aside from what you might want.

WALSHOK: No, it is absolutely central actually.

BURNHAM: But it is all about connections. Now, by the way, the reason that we were with Donald is because I had been calling on him for a year-and-a-half for support for our America's Cup team, and he did support us financially. We initially took to him a drawing of our next boat. We had about three boats in that campaign; each one of them was designed to be faster than the prior boat. And we wanted support to build this next boat, and so I took a picture of it with the name "Trump Card." But it didn't take. He didn't want to get that much involved. But, anyway, he did support us, and we were in New York for that occasion because he, Donald, supported financially and underwrote a parade up Fifth Avenue with the America's Cup; and on the lead float was the mayor of San Diego, the mayor of New York, Donald Trump, Dennis Conner, Malin Burnham, and a couple other people.

WALSHOK: So from a historical point of view - I'm pushing you on this because you are able now to tap into a national and an international network of influence; let's be candid. And if I hear you correctly, you're saying, "That was more through my sailing career than through my business career"?

BURNHAM: That particular contact, it was definitely all from a sailing standpoint, but it also had to do with finances.

WALSHOK: Okay, because you know a lot of banking and finance people.

BURNHAM: Yes, I do.

WALSHOK: You are always dropping names with me, and I'm impressed.

BURNHAM: A lot of those people were in business. Some of those people were in business; some were in philanthropy. So it was an easy transition for me to go from business to get out of total into 100 percent in philanthropy because I'm talking to different people about the same dollars.

WALSHOK: You are saying it was really in the 1980s when you began to expand this network of connections.


WALSHOK: And it was because you made this lifelong, now, commitment to philanthropy and supporting important institutions or programs for San Diego. I am not trying to put words in your mouth here.

BURNHAM: No, I understand. I would like to go back to about 1981 when Roberta and I decided to have our own small family foundation, because we wanted - I think really the inspiration for that is that we wanted - we knew at that time we wanted to always be in the philanthropic world somehow. So this was a way that we would have an anchor, so to speak, and so we did form our little foundation; and for the first 10 or 12 years, we gave a lot of small checks to a lot of different philanthropies here in the San Diego area. And we got to thinking after 10 or 12 years, "Are we doing the right thing?" And we asked a lot of questions, thought about it, talked to different people, and we decided we would be better off if we gave bigger checks that could make more of a difference to a smaller number of recipients. And in order to do that, we decided that, you know, "What areas are we mostly interested in?" And we picked two that we have been pretty consistent in ever since. (I am talking about the early '90s when we were having this conversation.) And those two areas are education and health. In education, all the way from pre-kindergarten, up to graduate school. And in health, on both sides, both health care and health science. So that's where probably over 80 percent of our interests and efforts are still in those two areas, because we can't cover the whole waterfront. We have been very satisfied that, yes, we have been able to make more of a difference. And, personally, we can get involved, which also helps to drive some of these efforts.

WALSHOK: This is for the historical record, not for gossip. I think you know I'm doing some work with the Lilly Endowment on wealth-creating events, you know - sells of companies, mergers, IPOs that enable individuals to create family foundations or invest in Jewish family foundations or community foundations. Were there some events in your life that allowed you to build the corpus of this foundation that from a historical point of view might be important?

BURNHAM: You mean the financial corpus?

WALSHOK: Yes, because usually that is what happens. [Laughs]

BURNHAM: As a matter of fact, going back in my early days of philanthropy, the biggest obstacle I had to overcome - and I don't know exactly how to describe it. But it took me a half a dozen tries before I could ever sign a $1,000.00 check to some philanthropy. I couldn't quite - my hand was shaking. I couldn't get there -

WALSHOK: You had to grow into it. [Laughs]

BURNHAM: Yes, I had to grow into it. I had to break the ice in a way. And I find out that a lot of people have the same hesitancy: "Hey, I don't know anything about philanthropy, and giving money away was not the way I grew up," and so on and so forth. So I started very, very small and very, very timidly in that regard. And so it has been an educational series of steps as to what we have done and why we have done it. And we are very satisfied that we have done it the right way. But we also had to learn a long time ago how to say no, and hopefully in a gracious way. Just so we can focus and stay within our own financial ability. And _____ to go on mental ability; we don't just write checks and walk away. We want to help them in other ways as well.

WALSHOK: Now, 1982 from the point of view of the archives is a really important year.

BURNHAM: Okay, let's get back to that.

WALSHOK: And I really appreciate this background because it gives us a sense of you as a family and you as a man. Now, you and Roberta had already determined that health and education were important?

BURNHAM: No, not in 1982.

WALSHOK: No, okay.

BURNHAM: Let us back up. In '81 I think we formed a foundation; 10 or 12 years later was when we said, "We need to focus instead of spreading."



WALSHOK: And it wasn't until '86 that you left the company, right, and retired?

BURNHAM: Yes, '86 we sold to my managers, to my five or six managers all my business interests. But in '82 was when I first got introduced to the health science world.

WALSHOK: Okay. That's what we're going to talk about for another half hour, if that's all right.


WALSHOK: And when I come back in ten days I think, what I hope we can really talk about is stem cells and Sanford Burnham Prebys and all of that. I still want to be in the 1980s.

BURNHAM: How did I get started?

WALSHOK: How did you get started in that world?

BURNHAM: Well, it was not my doing.


BURNHAM: First of all, bear in mind that I've always lived in the Point Loma area. My office has always been downtown. I have generally been thought of as a central city type person in my interests, including political, and so on and so forth. My business has always been downtown based, and my office still is based downtown obviously. Well, in 1982, I got a call from two friends of mine who were on the board of then La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation.

WALSHOK: Who were those individuals?

BURNHAM: Broderick. What was her name?

WALSHOK: Oh, Betty Broderick?

BURNHAM: Well, it's close. It's kind of a nickname of Broderick.

WALSHOK: I'll find it.

BURNHAM: We'll find it.

WALSHOK: I'll find it.

BURNHAM: And then Bob - no, not Bob Cheverton. But he was a competitor of mine in the insurance world.

WALSHOK: Not Trepte.

BURNHAM: No. It was Cheverton Insurance.

WALSHOK: Cheverton Insurance.

BURNHAM: Cheverton. Cheverton.

WALSHOK: Cheverton.

BURNHAM: Correct.

WALSHOK: We'll find that name too.

BURNHAM: Okay, yes.

WALSHOK: These were two people you knew?

BURNHAM: Yes, I knew them well - more socially probably, or civically. And they called me and said, "Malin, we'd like to interest you in coming on the board of the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation." And I said, "Wait a minute, I don't know anything about cancer. I don't know anything about the technology; I don't know the science." I said, "It has never been in our family. I don't have any emotional ties to it." And I said, "And why do you want me?" and they said, "Well, everything about the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation," in which they were on the board of, "is all about La Jolla." I said, "What do you mean?" "Well, all the scientists live in La Jolla, the attorney lives in La Jolla, and the banker lives in La Jolla and we are too narrow. We need to spread the base. And you are an outsider from La Jolla and that's why we're calling you." And I said, "Well, okay. Why don't I come out and take a look." They made arrangements for me to come out to the institute building and meet the founders: Bill and…

WALSHOK: Lillian Fishman?


WALSHOK: Oh, my goodness.

BURNHAM: Bill and Lillian. The Fishmans. And so she worked in the laboratory and he was a scientist, and it was an interesting story in that - I'll get back to what happened. But the interesting story is he had an NIH grant, and he was at Tufts University in the Boston area, and he felt that he wasn't getting the university support over and above his NIH grant. And as we know, you can take these grants and move to another qualified institution. They, at age 62, packed up the family car - and I'm giving you this because I think it's important to how I related to them - drove out to California and knew nobody. Started in San Francisco, finally worked their way down; and when they got to La Jolla, they said, "This is it." They rented an apartment, a two-bedroom apartment in downtown La Jolla. Put the laboratory in one bedroom; that's how they started in 1976.

WALSHOK: That is a great story.

BURNHAM: Six years later is when I get contacted. So I go out, and now we are in a regular lab building up on La Jolla Mesa, now Torrey Pines Mesa, and I meet them for the first time, and then several other scientists. And they showed me all around and talked to me about what their approach is, and so on and so forth. Well, I saw something there that I liked, but I couldn't describe it for many years later; and it was probably seven or eight years later that I finally understood the word. And the word of what I saw was collaboration.

WALSHOK: Interesting.

BURNHAM: And I'll get back to that. But it was all about collaboration. Now, what do I mean by that? In those days, science or a scientist was working in a vacuum where the scientist didn't want his or her neighbor to know what he or she was doing because they might "steal my secrets." That was well-known in those days as to how science was developed. And these people were exactly the opposite. They were open-minded. They were all about family and networking, and people worked together. There were no siloes, there were no secrets. I liked that. And I said, "Gee, this is an eye-opener for me for what I've known about, read about science," and so on and so forth. I said, "Okay, I will come on your board." And that's how I got my toe in the water, and learned a little bit at least about science and how it was done, and so on and so forth. And so, as I say, the rest is history. I liked the Fishmans and so I joined the board in 1982 when the organization was 6 years old. Today is 33 years later. So it has been a great ride. The other interesting thing about my career with the organization is that I have been part of a series of stepping stones. Back then, La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation had a budget of approximately $3 million, and there were 32 people involved - scientists, and the lab people, and so on and so forth. And, of course, today, we've got a little over 1,100 people involved. We have a branch in Orlando included in that number, and we are in the current fiscal year about $145 million in revenue and expenses. And we have had a series of wonderful things that have happened. The thing that makes me most proud is our scientists. Over the years and in recent years especially - and John Reed was all part of this analysis - they believed in the very discoveries we have made in our little institution. By the way, we have been primarily responsible for about three different drugs in the cancer world. Most of our advances have helped somebody else advance whatever they are doing. But our people estimate that our contributions to cancer in particular are part of saving at least a million lives a year. And that is pretty darn important. And as I remind people, there are not too many institutions or organizations that you and I can be part of that can make a difference to the entire world - very few. And so what is now the Sanford Burnham Prebys Institute has given me more satisfaction than any other one-organization project in my whole life.

WALSHOK: Can we talk, to finish off this morning's conversation, about your first ten years on the board? Because at this point, you and I are acquaintances, and eventually friends because of the San Diego Dialog and CONNECT, and the San Diego Foundation, as your philanthropy and leadership expands. But I remember that one of the contributions I think you made was to diversify the board early. In other words, you didn't just stop with Malin Burnham from Point Loma. So talk to me about your first five to ten years on the board, what you think are three or four of the most important contributions you made.

BURNHAM: Well, obviously, that was a growing period. We were a single focus, and that was cancer only. As we talked to potential philanthropists, I learned early on that many were not just interested in cancer. They say, "Well, what are you doing in heart, cardio work?" or, "What are you doing over here?"

WALSHOK: Diabetes.

BURNHAM: Diabetes, whatever it is. So I began to learn the importance of some diversity. I still think focus is a great tool in our lives in various stations. But there has to be an equal balance - not an equal balance, but a fair balance I should say. And so that is how the organization has evolved. However, I have always been very, very protective of what I call the DNA of the organization and what I call the same DNA of the life sciences in San Diego. And right to this very day, I'm outwardly protective of keeping our DNA intact where the DNA of life science world has to do with that one word we talked about earlier - collaboration. And I am totally against any outside organization, regardless of who or where it is, I mean outside of San Diego County, that would have - that could dictate decisions that would lessen our DNA. And, again, even if it's not involved with the Sanford Burnham Prebys Institution, but involved with the San Diego life sciences DNA, I'm going to use my voice because of our colloquialism, because of our fact that we are a large small city, and that we're close together. That is how the Sanford Consortium got born, we had all these assets that could come together.

WALSHOK: Well, I'm going to keep pressing you on the growth of what became the Burnham Institute because it's an anchor institution; and how it grew I think has a lot to do with your leadership. Now, I recall two things because you recruited a couple of friends of mine to be on the board. And then you and Roberta made what was then a life-changing gift. I think it was $5 million?

BURNHAM: Well, yes. It turned out to be $10 million, but it started at $5 million.

WALSHOK: Can you reflect back on those early days of helping to build the board and making that leadership gift that changed the name of the institute?

BURNHAM: Well, first of all, I have always tried to keep my ego in check. Perhaps some of my friends don't think I've done enough checking of my ego. But I try to keep it in check. For that very reason, for instance at now Sanford Burnham Prebys, when someone like Danny Sanford comes along with a very substantial gift, as well as what Conrad Prebys has done, no way am I going to stand in the way of adding their name, very important names to the institute. So back to my early days -

WALSHOK: The early days - pivotal, pivotal for the institute.

BURNHAM: The early days: I became chairman of the board the first time - oh, my gosh - probably in the second year that I was involved. And my interest was in spreading the base, particularly in San Diego; and so I brought more people on the board that were outside of La Jolla, outside of medical research, and so on and so forth.

WALSHOK: Any particular names that you recall that would be good for us to just note historically?

BURNHAM: I'm drawing a blank. But, yes, they were there. And I'm trying to think of the people.

WALSHOK: And, again, we can find them. But this would have been '84, '85, right?

BURNHAM: Well, Hal Sadler was one, for instance, that came aboard as he is an architect in a leading firm in San Diego; and they did some work for us. But, again, it was finding people - leaders in the community that were outside of the medical research arena and outside of the La Jolla village area, again, just to spread the base. So, yes, I could go back as well.

WALSHOK: Well, and those are names we could find. But we're talking '84, '85, for the record.

BURNHAM: Yes. And so we'd end up with a majority of people that were non-scientific people. And they weren't all philanthropists, but they were different people from business interests or other interests that could help grow and give more recognition to the public for what this little outfit was really all about. So collaboration was what I've always promoted; diversification, bringing some other folks involved, ultimately expanding-now we have four different types of science that we concentrate on. The first one that we added was infectious diseases - inflammatory and infectious diseases. And then we added - well, cardio and obesity, and those types of things. So now we have those four different focuses. We also, of course, expanded down in Florida, now going back about 11 years when we started that interest down there. So it was a slow - I didn't have an overall game plan or overall drawing as to what we were going to do.

WALSHOK: But help me with the gift, because that gift was, you know, for an observer who sort of follows how the area was evolving - that was a very important private gift to basic science, kind of pivotal in our history. I can't even remember the date you made it, but I think it was in the '80s and it was, at that time, a very big gift.

BURNHAM: Yes. At that time, it was then Year 20 of the organization. So 20 plus 76-

WALSHOK: '96. Wow, okay.

BURNHAM: 1996. I was still on the board, but the two leaders of the board were Tom Page and Kenny Golden, and-

WALSHOK: And Tom Page was CEO of SDG&E, and Golden was a major construction company.

BURNHAM: Yes, correct. And they were some of my mentors, if you will, back in those days. One was the chairman and the other was vice chairman of the board at that time. And they came to me and they said, "It's time that we start building an endowment for this organization." And I said, "I agree." And so that was the start of the conversation. And they then went to Walter Ames - not Walter Aimes…

WALSHOK: Not Sable?

BURNHAM: No. Walter - oh… He lived in La Jolla in those days. He never married. He was in the social scene - you've known him.

WALSHOK: I know who you mean, yes.

BURNHAM: And he came out of Texas in the oil -

WALSHOK: Right, right.

BURNHAM: Walter…

WALSHOK: Again, we'll get his name.

BURNHAM: Okay. And he was on the board, he was probably 15 years older than I, and so the leadership, Ken and Tom, decided to go to both of us at the same time - independently, but at the same time; one day apart or whatever. And they said, "Here's what we need to do. We need to start building an endowment. We would like each of you to commit to $5 million in connecting gifts." So we start out with a $10 million endowment. And turned out that Walter - he started in Coronado and ended up in La Jolla - but I'll get there.

WALSHOK: We will.

BURNHAM: Anyway, he told them quickly that he would commit to his $5 million on one condition, and that is the organization be named Burnham, after the Burnham family.

WALSHOK: Oh, my goodness.

BURNHAM: And we weren't talking about renaming at that time. We were talking about the fact that we had to build an endowment. And so that put a lot of pressure on me, and I took 90 days. I said, "Let me think about this, about the naming." I was prepared to make the gift, but I wasn't sure I wanted my name on it. Why? And this is where I've used this concept I guess other places as well: "Let's look at the potential negatives. What if we were part of the discovery of a new drug that killed a whole bunch of people? Or, what if we had a chemical spill in the laboratory that raised a lot of damage?"

WALSHOK: Interesting. So all those things were going through your mind.

BURNHAM: Absolutely going through my mind. And so that's why I wanted 90 days to think about this. So I asked a lot of my mentors and people that I knew well, even outside of San Diego, including people in Kansas City; I remember a family there. Well, it really came down to the fact that most everybody said, "The reason that it's important that we use our name is because it puts a seal of approval like the Good Housekeeping -"

WALSHOK: It is a validator.

BURNHAM: Yes. "The Good Housekeeping seal of approval that other people accept, and they will follow along in our footsteps to get involved." And so I said, "Okay, you've convinced me." So that's what happened. And Walter did not want his - for two reasons. One, he was never married. He didn't have a family, he didn't have a business, and he came out of Texas-

WALSHOK: Not as well-known as you, your family name.

BURNHAM: Exactly. So he wanted the family name to do the right thing for the institution. And, as I said, it put a little extra pressure on me.

WALSHOK: Terrific story, Malin.

BURNHAM: We each put up the $5 million. And later on, I grew mine to a $10 million family contribution over a period of time.

WALSHOK: Now, I'm trying to remember history; you and I share this history. As I recall, Dick Atkinson, who was then chancellor at UC San Diego, and for many years, a professor and leader at Stanford University also drew you into his sphere when he came in '84. Do you want to share with me a little bit about your relationship with UCSD? Because, eventually, you co-chaired, right, our 25th anniversary fundraising.

BURNHAM: I forget exactly how and why I got involved with the university, other than the fact that I was deeply committed to education. And, subsequently, I've been helping five different universities, I guess, in San Diego County, plus one further north.

WALSHOK: Yep. [Laughs] That little campus we don't talk about.

BURNHAM: Some of us don't talk about. Anyway, I clearly remember a meeting that Chancellor Atkinson called regarding what the next 25 years -

WALSHOK: Yes, that sounds right.

BURNHAM: Okay. We were coming up for a 25-year anniversary at the university. So he had two questions to this group. And he pulled a group of probably at least 30 people together sitting around a table, and I would say half of them were insiders and half of them were community people. And the two questions were: "What should we do to celebrate our 25th anniversary?" and, "What should we be doing - that we're not doing - over the next 25 years?" So we talked about those two items, and I never will forget when we got onto the second item, Dick had about three different things that he threw out that we should consider adding to pieces of the university for study, and one of them was an architectural school. And when he came to that, I stood up, took my shoe off, and pounded it on the table like the Russian leader who did the same thing previously and I said, "Why in the world would you want to do that? We have no expertise in architecture. Why don't we go do something where we've got expertise." And I forget what that led to now, but it was -

WALSHOK: I think it was IRPS.

BURNHAM: It could have been IRPS.

WALSHOK: The Pacific Rim.

BURNHAM: Yes. Or, it could have been CONNECT, or it could have been whatever.

WALSHOK: Well, CONNECT had begun incubating then.

BURNHAM: Okay, all right. But, anyway -

WALSHOK: Yes, interesting.

BURNHAM: What we need to expand the university studies should be in something that relates to what our abilities are.

WALSHOK: Interesting.

BURNHAM: Yes. And to start an architecture school - it could have even been a law school, now that I think about it.

WALSHOK: Yes. That probably was also on the list. [Laughs]

BURNHAM: Yes, it was on my "no" list; I never will forget. And everybody stood up and kind of agreed.

WALSHOK: You are not being metaphorical? You literally took off your shoe and hit the table?

BURNHAM: I did, absolutely. Took off one shoe and pounded because that was the-

WALSHOK: And then you agreed to co-chair?

BURNHAM: Well, that was a few years later.

WALSHOK: Okay. [Laughs]

BURNHAM: That was 15 years later. And then I agreed to co-chair along with Irwin and…

WALSHOK: John Morrer I think.



BURNHAM: I had Irwin and John Morrer, and then what's her name…

WALSHOK: Pauline.

BURNHAM: No. At the University - who's the library named after?

WALSHOK: Oh. Geisel.

BURNHAM: Geisel. She was an honorary chair, and we were the working chairs, the three of us. I never will forget a picture - I think it was on the front of San Diego Magazine of the four of us handing out dollar bills to each other, or something - I forget what it was all about. Yeah. So and then -

WALSHOK: But that was the late '80s. So by the late '80s in this town, you were becoming identified as an advocate and champion for science, research, health. I mean look who you were hanging out with - Irwin, who had just started Qualcomm by the way, you know. He had sold Linkabit by this time. And John - that was before he was chair of the Board of Regents.

BURNHAM: That was 30 years ago when Qualcomm and CONNECT were started.

WALSHOK: You're right. All of that stuff was happening around the same time. You are correct. And so from a sort of technology history point of view, you were one of the early hard-chargers, the only guy from Point Loma, from downtown.


WALSHOK: [Laughs] And I think what we're going to do is close our conversation today and start - if it's all right with you - with 1989 to today, the various activities to which you contributed, including UCSD's 25th anniversary, which was pretty pivotal in helping set new directions up at UCSD. And then we will talk about the growth of Sanford Burnham - and you are bringing Denny in. And then I'd really like to zero in on the pivotal role you all played in building stem cells and stem cell capability. And that'll probably take about 90 minutes, if you're okay.

BURNHAM: Yes, I'm okay.

WALSHOK: Good. I think we've done what we can do today.

BURNHAM: Okay. And so normally, a private club - golf club, sailing club, whatever - would just assess their members for the new improvements we have. That's a normal procedure. Well, in this case, they went for the first time; and I had a meeting with the commodore and the vice commodore, which they've explained what they were doing. And on this new building, there's going to be a sailing center for the junior program. And they came to me because - they flattered me to say that, "We've got a list of five people and we're starting with you." And I said, "Oh, yeah." [Chuckling]


BURNHAM: And, anyway, I kept saying at that first meeting to myself, "Why me? Why me?" So I said, "Look, give me a couple of weeks and let me think about this, and so I'll get back to you." Well, I started thinking, Mary, about, "What did I learn between the age 10 and 15 when I was in the San Diego Yacht Club sailing program?" first of my family that ever had a boat, and, "What did I learn besides how to steer a sailboat?" And I started putting some words down and some concepts - which is this paper I'm going to give you. And I said - I labeled them "My Virtues and Values."

WALSHOK: So, for the record, Malin and I started talking offline about the expansion of San Diego Yacht Club; and it was in that context that we're coming back to where he developed some of his core value that affected how he's worked in this community lifelong.

BURNHAM: Correct. And so about five years ago was when I agreed, when I agreed to put up half the cost of this new building, which they have subsequently named the Malin Burnham Center for - Sailing Center - Malin Burnham Sailing Center. And, by the way, as an off-note here: our yacht club, like other clubs around the country - or some do, they keep track of longevity of membership. And every time somebody leaves or dies, you move up another notch or whatever. Well, a few years ago, I was Number Two, and Roberta says, "I'd rather you never be Number One." And I said, "Why?" She said, "Because there's no future."

WALSHOK: [Laughs] There's no future in being Number One.

BURNHAM: But I am Number One as of a year-plus ago. But, anyway, that's beside the point.

WALSHOK: Do you want to read that list of your virtues?

BURNHAM: I came up with what I call values and virtues. I've now gotten them down to virtues of excellence, which apply to anybody in any light. And not necessarily in order, but: "Plan ahead." In other words, set personal goals. "Commitment." In other words, take responsibility. "Hard work," meaning be prepared. "Dedication," meaning never give up. "Teamwork," meaning everyone contributes. "Play by the rules," meaning be honest, ethical, and fair. And, lastly, "Follow through," meaning take action to achieve your goals. And that's the way I look at life.

WALSHOK: Great. Well, thank you for this. And you've taken action both in leadership and investment, and it's going to be interesting to talk about '89 on.

BURNHAM: Well, it's kind of fun to reminisce -