Barclay Simpson and the Pursuit of the Common Good in Business and Philanthropy
by Katharine Ogden Michaels
with Judith K. Adamson
Available Everywhere Books Are Sold
May 17, 2022
About Katharine Ogden Michaels
Writer, Editor and Literary Executor, and Restorer of Antique Italian Farmhouses.
About Strong Ties
An in-depth look at the life of Oakland, California native, Barclay (Barc) Simpson, Strong Ties focuses on the set of convictions and leadership qualities that allowed Simpson to build a successful business from nothing and to become one of the leading philanthropists of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1956, Barc founded Simpson Manufacturing Co, Inc., which he grew from a small, artisan business that fabricated metal connectors into a world-wide, publicly-traded company, known throughout the construction industry as a manufacturer of over 4000 distinct, highly engineered products for tying one structural element to another in residential and commercial projects.
In building the company, he developed a set of principles—revolutionary for their times—that placed employees at the center of the business, while also promoting ethical and community-oriented practices that helped grow the business as surely as the quality of its products. Seamlessly, he went on to apply these same principals to the art of giving money away, providing financial support and leadership to some of the most important non-profit organizations of the East Bay.
In 2022, as Business struggles with new ideas regarding the role of “Stakeholders” as well Shareholders; with how to balance the pursuit of profits with sustainable practices in the areas of “Environmental, Social and Governance” (ESG) concerns; and with recognizing and promoting a diversity of talent that reflects and enhances the communities within which companies operate, this book reads like a primer for understanding the kind of ethical leadership needed in the current turbulent moment.
What reviewers & readers are saying about Strong Ties
“This is a marvelous book describing an iconic Berkeley graduate, Barc Simpson, his extraordinary wife Sharon, and their most interesting blended family. I had the privilege of interacting intensely with them but most especially with Barc throughout my entire tenure as the Chancellor of UC Berkeley. Barc and Sharon were remarkably humble but at the same time thought deeply about social issues and how they could contribute to them and to the betterment of society as a whole. I appreciated having Barc as a partner in a number of projects which were critical to the university including especially the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and our majestic Memorial Stadium. Barc combined egalitarian values with extraordinary generosity, the ability to make decisions quickly and, most especially, high moral character. In addition, he was unusual among our alumni in possessing a holistic view of the university’s mission. We are fortunate to have this book which brilliantly describes Barc, Sharon, and their family with both passion and love.”
– Robert J. Birgeneau, Ninth Chancellor of University of California at Berkeley 2004–2013
“Many books provide discussions of how to give back to or involve communities in business pursuits. Few adopt the practical, real-world applications that Barclay Simpson fostered in his life and world, making Strong Ties an exceptionally powerful portrait of success.”
– Diane Donovan, Editor, California BookWatch; Senior Editor & Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“Barc had a unique approach to anything he did whether it be in the business, academic, cultural, or local community world. You could never have a stronger supporter. You could never have a better friend, regardless of how he pushed your thinking from doing business in China to collecting art. He was the ultimate leader, innovator and friend.“
– Barry Lawson Williams, Served on the board of directors of Simpson Manufacturing from 1995–2015 and 14 other boards of public and private companies; entrepreneur who has run several of his own companies; developed and taught a Black Entrepreneurship course at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley
“Katharine Ogden Michaels has written a powerful book that, in the end, implicitly makes the strong case for an America we ought to create, an America we could urgently use these days. It’s a book about a complicated past that Barclay Simpson did his best to change, not because he could but because he should. Elegantly composed, vividly conceived, stirringly narrated, Strong Ties belongs on lots of bookshelves.”
– Joseph Di Prisco, Founding Chair, New Literary Project and the author of 14 books.
“Barc Simpson was a visionary leader ahead of his time. He created a strong, strategically relevant culture at Simpson Manufacturing even before consultants were billing hours for “culture work.” Barc believed in people, through and through, promoting from within and giving everyone an equal shot at success. His story offers deep and relevant insights for today’s and tomorrow’s business leaders.”
– Jennifer Chatman, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs | Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management, recognized expert in the Management of Organizations, at the Haas Business School, University of California at Berkeley and Board Director, Simpson Manufacturing Co. Inc. 2004 to the present
About Barclay Simpson
Barclay (Barc) Simpson (1921-2014) was the founder of Simpson Manufacturing Company, Inc., and its primary subsidiary, Simpson Strong-Tie, which he led from 1956 to his retirement from the company in 2012, and from the board of directors in 2013.
The Simpson Man sculpture story
From the mid-70’s Barclay and Sharon Simpson were collectors of contemporary and old master art. Their elaborate gardens at their house in Orinda include a number of works by contemporary sculptors. Perhaps the most striking of these is the piece called “The Simpson Man”, a recreation of Michelangelo’s David, this piece was constructed entirely out of Simpson Strong-Ties by Igino Pellizzari, and placed in a prominent place in the Simpson’s Orinda garden. A similar sculpture graces the foyer of the Simpson Manufacturing Co. Inc Headquarters offices in Pleasanton, CA . The photograph of the Simpson Man in Orinda was taken by Joseph Way, artist and long-term employee at Simpson Strong-Tie.
About Leonard Michaels
Katharine’s deceased husband, Leonard Michaels, one of the most widely admired prose stylists of his generation, was famous for his crystalline sentences and compressed, eruptive prose.
Altabella Italian Villas
Katharine’s Altabella Italian Villas comprise three classically restored stone villas on a 68-acre estate on the border between Tuscany and Umbria, 30 minutes east of Cortona. Experience the deep pleasures of Umbrian country life in a location of extraordinary natural beauty with easy proximity to some of Italy’s richest artistic, culinary and cultural treasures.
Situated on a high hilltop with views of castles, woods and rolling farmland, the houses are within easy distance of ancient hill towns famous for art, wine, wild mushrooms and the mystical traditions of Saint Francis. The houses are all within a ten-minute walk of each other, but each is surrounded by extensive grounds with lovely gardens and terraces and extraordinary panoramic views. Each house can be rented separately or with any of the other houses, accommodating groups ranging from two to twenty-three people.