Union Notables

Robert Holland Jr.    class of 1962


Robert Holland, 2009, digital photograph, courtesy of Robert Holland

Robert Holland Jr. was born in 1940, and grew up in segregated Albion, Michigan. He attended Union College, and was President of his class from 1959-1962. He was awarded the prestigious Daggett Prize, given each year to a senior of exemplary “conduct and character.” After receiving a B.S. from Union in 1962 in mechanical engineering, he earned an M.B.A. from the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College (CUNY).

Holland is currently a General Partner with Williams Capital Partners, a first-time private equity fund, and with the West Africa Fund, a mid-cap fund for investing in West African businesses. Throughout his career he has brought his expertise in corporate governance, marketing, and business development to numerous national companies and not-for-profits, achieving dramatic performance turn-around and long-term growth for these organizations. He has compiled an impressive record of improving the fortunes of companies while developing and supporting a range of community programs, particularly those that enhance opportunities for minorities.

In the mid-1990s, Holland was President and CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, where he greatly improved manufacturing efficiencies and oversaw an 8% increase in sales. Ben & Jerry’s had run a national search for a new CEO by hiring a search firm, and by holding a “YO! I’m Your CEO!” contest, inviting 100 word applications from anyone interested in the job. Although Holland was discovered by the search firm, he nevertheless joined the spirit of the contest by submitting a poem called “Time, Values, and Ice Cream.”

Before Ben & Jerry’s he was the Chairman and CEO of Rokher-J Inc. (1991 – 1995, 1981-1984), Chairman of Gilreath Manufacturing, Inc. (1987-1991), Chairman and CEO of City Marketing (1984-1987), and Associate and Partner with McKinsey & Company, Inc. (1968-1981). He is a director of Carver Bank Corp., Lexmark International, Inc., Neptune Orient Lines, YUM Brands, and is on the Advisory Board of PepsiCo.

While at Union College, and after his graduation, Holland was a volunteer at Children’s Hospital, NY and the St. John’s Camp, for children in the social services system. Public/Community service has continued to play an important role in Bob Holland’s life ever since. He founded the Make-A-Difference Dropout Prevention Program in Detroit, MI, and has served on a great many boards, including the Advisory Board to the NCAA, the Board of the Harlem Junior Tennis Program, and the Board of the Research Corporation, the New York City Board of Children’s Aid Society, and the Lincoln Center Theater. He is a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he served as a trustee for twenty-five years.

He holds honorary degrees from Union University, the University of Vermont, and Bryant College in Providence, RI. In 2008 he was one of six recipients of the UNITAS Alumni and Diversity Award from Union College.

In 1997 he gave a Commencement speech at Union College and he focused that speech on making a difference. He told seniors that economic deprivation anywhere is a threat to economic stability everywhere, and that each person can make a difference. “If you decide to have a positive impact on one poverty-stricken child’s life, one each year until you come back for your thirty-fifth reunion, you will have a meaningful impact on a body of people the size of New York City.” He then added, “You can check my math, or you can get busy making a difference.”