SAIC Founder J. Robert Beyster Dies

J. Robert “Bob” Beyster, the nuclear physicist who founded Science Applications International Corp.—the multibillion-dollar government contractor better known as SAIC—died of natural causes yesterday at his home in San Diego. He was 90 years old.

Beyster was a Cold War scientist who founded SAIC to tackle some of the nation’s most-difficult problems in national security—and in the process became an evangelist for employee ownership, technology innovation, and entrepreneurship (and a San Diego Xconomist).

He was born in Detroit, MI, in 1924 and attended the University of Michigan under a wartime Navy officer-training program. After graduating with a doctorate in nuclear physics in 1950, he helped develop nuclear power plants at Westinghouse for the first U.S. nuclear submarines, and later joined the effort to develop the H-bomb at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. In 1957, he moved to San Diego to lead the accelerator physics department at what was then known as General Atomic.

Beyster founded SAIC as a boutique research and engineering firm in 1969, after Gulf Oil acquired General Atomic in 1968. Much of the work involved classified research and contract services for U.S. defense and intelligence agencies. SAIC’s first contract, for example, involved calculating the yield of various nuclear weapons.

The company maintained tight secrecy around its operations, and for many years, Beyster even prohibited signage on the buildings where SAIC maintained its offices.

He created SAIC as an employee-owned business, and expanded initially by recruiting prominent scientists and offering them an ownership stake in the company. Within the first year, his own stake in SAIC went from 100 percent to less than 10 percent. In later years, the company compounded its growth by making scores of acquisitions. SAIC’s annual revenues soared to roughly $11 billion before it was split into two separate companies—SAIC and Leidos—in 2013.

The scientists Beyster recruited usually brought their government-sponsored research with them, and he often gave … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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