George L. Shinn, Quixotic Wall Street Chief, Dies at 90
Published: December 17, 2013
George L. Shinn, who climbed from trainee to president of Merrill Lynch, the nation’s biggest securities firm, then led the First Boston Corporation, a major player on Wall Street during the 1980s, died on Monday in Scarborough, Me. He was 90.
Jack Manning/The New York Times
His son, Andrew, confirmed the death.
Mr. Shinn was also a director of The New York Times Company from 1978 to 1999 and the board chairman ofAmherst College in Massachusetts when it voted in 1974 to admit women.
Mr. Shinn spent 27 years at Merrill Lynch, rising through a series of promotions to president and chief operating officer in January 1974.
But within a year he jumped from Merrill, mainly a retail brokerage firm, to become chief executive at First Boston, an investment company more involved in raising capital for industry than trading already marketed securities.
He later acknowledged that the main reason he had left Merrill was an inability to get along with its chairman at the time, Donald T. Regan, who he thought guilty of financial improprieties. “I did not like the guy who was the chairman,” Mr. Shinn said. “He was not straight.”
Mr. Regan went on to serve as treasury secretary and White House chief of staff under President Ronald Reagan. He died in 2003.
Under Mr. Shinn, who became chairman as well as chief executive, First Boston built on its roaring success as an adviser on mergers and acquisitions largely begun in the early ’80s under Bruce Wasserstein and Joseph R. Perella. But to Wall Street’s surprise, Mr. Shinn retired at 60 in 1983 to pursue teaching and — after buying an airplane — a love of flying. (First Boston later merged with Credit Suisse, which retired the First Boston name.)
As an alumnus, Mr. Shinn led Amherst’s board at a time when all-male colleges across the country were increasingly turning coed. “We had to have coeducation,” he recalled in an oral history of the university. Students were jubilant, he said, but “I was ostracized by the alumni.”
George Latimer Shinn was born on March 12, 1923, in Newark, Ohio, to Leon Shinn and the former Bertha Latimer. He won a scholarship to Harvard, but his father, an industrial chemist, refused to let him attend. The elder Mr. Shinn disliked the Harvard men he had met as a soldier in World War I because he thought they had received preferential treatment to avoid the front lines.
Mr. Shinn enrolled instead at Amherst, where he spent three semesters as a pre-med student before joining the Marine Corps during World War II. Though eager for combat, he said, he was assigned to flight school and became a flight instructor in Pensacola, Fla., rising to captain. A flight school classmate was Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer.
After returning to Amherst for his degree — in English, having abandoned his ambitions in medicine — he joined Merrill Lynch in 1948 as part of an entry-level training program.
While at Amherst he met Clara LeBaron Sampson, a student at nearby Mount Holyoke College. They married in 1949; she died in 2010.
Besides his son, Andrew, his survivors include his daughters, Deborah Shinn, Amy Shinn, Martha Moore and Sarah Shinn Pratt, and five grandchildren. A sixth grandchild died in 2004. After retiring, Mr. Shinn taught an investment banking seminar at Columbia University and was a trustee of the New York Philharmonic and other organizations.
Returning to pursue his own studies, he earned a Ph.D. in English at Drew University in Madison, N.J., in 1992 and taught courses there in intellectual history. His dissertation was titled “William James and Henri Bergson: The Emergence of Modern Consciousness.”