Robert A. Beck is an alumnus of Syracuse University, and also a military veteran. You should know his story, because it’s a Syracuse University story – one that speaks to our past, our present, and our future.
Born in 1925, Robert A. Beck was raised in Morris Heights, a low-income residential community in the West Bronx, New York City. Beck was the son of a telephone operator supervisor and an army officer. His father, Arthur C. Beck, a career Army officer who received a battlefield promotion during WWI, passed down the axiom later inscribed on an Army entrenching tool that read: “If you can’t find a way, make one.” Beck exemplified these words in his personal and professional life. In 1942, at age 16, Beck graduated from the Bronx High School of Science. Until he was old enough to enlist in the Army, Beck worked as an audit clerk at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in Manhattan.
Enlisting in 1943, Robert A. Beck served five years in which he rose from private to 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. After basic, Beck earned his parachutist badge and joined the officer ranks. In 1945, Beck was sent to Southern Germany as part of the Allied Occupation Force (AOF). When Beck returned from Germany, he was stationed at Fort Bragg, NC, where he served in the curious role of insurance officer for the 82nd Airborne Division. One of his clients was William Westmoreland, who later commanded American forces in Vietnam.
Following his honorable discharge, Robert Beck attended Syracuse University to study marketing and management. He graduated with the Class of 1950 and took a financial analyst position at Ford Motor Company, under Robert S. McNamara, who was later appointed to Secretary of Defense under the Kennedy administration. Beck left Ford a year later for a sales position with Prudential Financial, Inc., the nation’s largest insurance company.
Robert A. Beck had a knack for prioritizing customer needs over pushing products. Unsurprisingly, he quickly rose from Prudential’s door-to-door sales agent to its chairman and CEO. During Beck’s tenure, Prudential became a major player in the financial services industry and expanded its services to home mortgages, credit cards, group health insurance, and homeowners and auto insurance.
Beck was also a leader of several civic and professional organizations to include United Way of America and the Business Roundtable. In 1981, President Reagan appointed Beck to the National Committee on Social Security Reform; and until 1983, he served on the executive committee for Reagan’s Private Sector on Cost Control. Robert A. Beck played a major role in critical U.S. government affairs affecting the insurance industry. TIME Magazine named him as “the leading new spokesman in Washington likely to play a role in shaping major policy issues,” evident in concerning issues on insurance taxation, IRA, Social Security, and Cost Control.
In 1986, Robert A. Beck was awarded the George Arents Pioneer Medal, recognizing his excellence in business as a Distinguished Syracuse University Alumnus; and in 1988, he was inducted into the Insurance Hall of Fame, the preeminent insurance award for excellence.
Robert A. Beck is an alumnus of Syracuse University and a veteran of the U.S. military. You should know his story.