The Man Behind the Getty|
Harold M. Williams 49
He wasnt quite Michelangelo peering at an uncarved slab of Carrara marble and seeing the David. But Harold M. Williams 49 took his idea for an extraordinary arts complex, backed up by what became a cool multibillion-dollar endowment, and created the new Getty Center in Los Angeles.
And then, like many visionaries who have realized their ideas, Williams wanted to move on. So he stepped down after 17 years as president and chief executive officer of the Getty Trust on his 70th birthday, only weeks after the Center opened. (Five programs in scholarship, education, and conservation are housed at the Center as well as the new J. Paul Getty Museum.)
"Ive walked away from things before when I feel Ive accomplished what I came to do, and the various [Getty] programs will take a new commitment I was not prepared to make at 70," says Williams, who retains an emeritus title.
A "modest" collector of contemporary American art, Williams worked for industrialist Norton Simons empire from 1955 to 1970 and served as a trustee of Simons noted art collection. He left Simon in 1970 as chairman of the board to head the University of California, Los Angeles Graduate School of Management. Seven years later the Carter administration recruited him to chair the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
When the Carter era ended, Williams was negotiating a new job in D.C. Then the Getty Trust called. "I was offered the opportunity to create something almost literally from scratch [there was a Getty Museum in Malibu] and an endowment of nearly $30 million" [which has grown to $4 billion]. His interests far exceeded the idea of just enlarging the museum. After a year of research, he presented his proposal to the trustees and they approved it.
Williams legacy is the Getty Center itself, a gleaming acropolis overlooking the San Diego Freeway. "On a weekend youll see [reflected in visitors] the demographics of Los Angelesone of the most diverse cities in the country. Its a happening, not just a museum."
Retired but busy as ever, Williams was recently appointed of counsel to Skadden, Arps. He is heavily involved in various committees to improve Californias public schools and institutes of higher learning.
His maxim for a life of challenges? "Ive climbed the mountain and I like the view from the top, but now its time to move on."