Strong Ties:

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 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

Strong Ties: Barclay Simpson and the Pursuit of the Common Good in Business and Philanthropy belongs in memoir, business, and social issues libraries alike. It presents a powerful survey of California leader Barclay Simpson, whose ideals and drive embraced and changed the lives of many in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Main author Katharine Ogden Michaels, a family friend and insider, captures the complexities and contradictions of Simpson with great subtlety and aplomb. Judith K. Adamson also contributed to this compelling biography.

Simpson was an unlikely candidate for such wide-ranging changes, and is proof that individuals can come from ordinary circumstances to become extraordinary influencers.

His drive to save the family business, teetering on bankruptcy, would have been deserving of a story alone, but Simpson didn’t stop with the family’s wellbeing.

He went on to pursue a vision of cooperative and mutual business activities which empowered his employees, then translated this microcosm of business success to the broader world, offering lessons and insights that changed the perspectives and nature of many other businesses in the Bay Area.

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.

From concepts of transformational philanthropy to the projects Simpson successfully grew, readers gain insights not just into his life and philosophy, but on how these ideals translated to the real world.

Simpson tried many things, and never quit.

The book points out that “It is not just Barc and Sharon’s generosity, but their motives for and methods of giving, that moves…”

Readers interested in business links to community growth and the process of developing transformational philanthropic pursuits will find no better starting place than Strong Ties, which should be in every library strong in business or philanthropical topics, and an intrinsic part of business and book discussion groups about how to improve the world.

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 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 (Barc) 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—proudly sitting alongside works on Cal, leadership, child development, education, philanthropy, business, entrepreneurship, the Bay Area, World War II, family. In other words, it belongs in every library everywhere.

Strong Ties is a first-rate, nuanced social history of a complex time and place as well as the must-be-told story of a great man and his accomplished wife Sharon’s indelible impact upon the East Bay and the world beyond to which it is connected. Even so, Strong Ties will not make you nostalgic about an irrecoverable past, it will fire you up to create a more hopeful, fairer-minded future. That is the reason Barc unflaggingly embraced Martin Luther King Jr.’s insight that social injustice makes philanthropy necessary. And even if his business acumen was off the charts, that may not finally encourage you to get an MBA (not necessarily a bad thing—though he himself didn’t have one of those). Instead, it will inspire you, whoever you may be, to quote Barc’s mantra: “ Do something, take a risk, take a chance.” No wonder, if there ever was a book to take a chance on, it’s this one, a sure thing by Katharine Ogden Michaels.

Joe Di Prisco

Chair, 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.

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