Saby Mitra, John Kraft and Robert Lanzillotti pose for a photo in front of the Warrington College of Business sign.
Meet the Deans: Dean Emeritus Robert Lanzillotti (right) with current Warrington Dean Saby Mitra (left) and Dean Emeritus John Kraft.

Robert Lanzillotti’s 100 years of impact

In honor of his 100th birthday, we chronicle the impact of former Warrington dean Robert Lanzillotti on the University of Florida, State of Florida and United States.

A lot can happen in 100 years, just ask Robert “Bob” Lanzillotti.

Warrington’s third dean celebrates his 100th birthday on June 19, and over his century of life, Lanzillotti has made a profound impact on the lives of many, from business students at the University of Florida to Americans across the nation.

Side-by-side images of Robert Lanzillotti in two of his US Navy uniforms from WWII.

Fit as ever, Lanzillotti can still wear his U.S. Navy uniforms from his time served in World War II.

Lanzillotti, born the sixth of seven children to Italian immigrant parents in Washington, D.C., attended American University before making one of his most selfless contributions to the United States. In the second year of World War II, he joined the United States Navy.

While he was allowed to defer his deployment until after he completed his bachelor’s degree in economics at Dartmouth in 1943, Lanzillotti would go on to serve in both the European and Pacific Theatres. Most notably, during his time as a midshipman in the Navy, Lanzillotti piloted a landing boat onto the Utah Beach shore on D-Day, about two weeks before his 23rd birthday.

“We went on the beaches…, but the captain did not want us [to venture far],” Lanzillotti said to Samuel Proctor in a 1993 UF Oral History Program interview. “There were mines on the beach and things like that…We were right on the sand and on the beach, but we did not roam…We made I forget how many trips.”

For his efforts during World War II, Lanzillotti earned two bronze stars, which are designated to members of any U.S. military branch for heroic or meritorious achievements. He ended his military career in 1945 after being discharged at the end of World War II at the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

Robert Lanzillotti sits at his desk while serving as Dean of the Warrington College of Business.

Lanzillotti in his office while Dean of the Warrington College of Business.

Thanks to the GI Bill, Lanzillotti went on to earn two graduate level degrees including his master’s degree in economics from American University and his Ph.D. in the same subject area from the University of California – Berkeley in 1953.

His first job in academia came in the form of an assistant professor position at Washington State University that paid “an enormous sum of $4,000” for a 12-month contract. He would later move on to a position at the Brookings Institution before becoming a professor and chairman of the department of economics at Michigan State University.

In 1969, Lanzillotti came into the position he would hold for 17 years, dean of what was then the University of Florida College of Business. Originally, Lanzillotti turned down the job, in part because of the way Florida was described to him by his colleagues in the Midwest.

Lanzillotti described his warning, “You would not want to head up that particular college of business because it has been a sleepy kind of intellectual enterprise, and one would have a hard time really doing anything with a university college of business of that stature.”

Two men pose for a photo with Robert Lanzillotti. One shakes Lanzillotti's hand while handing him a check.

Lanzillotti worked with many Florida corporations to secure additional contributions to the college.

But Lanzillotti’s get-things-done approach brought major changes that would set the foundation of excellence that Warrington is known for, impacting students for years to come.

One of his first priorities spoke to the warnings he’d heard about UF – increasing the rigor of Warrington’s faculty. Lanzillotti focused on hiring faculty and department chairs that were the top in their respective fields, and in doing so, increasing the reputation of the college as a serious academic institution. Some of Lanzillotti’s hires included Fred Arditt and Henry Theil, both from the University of Chicago, renowned textbook author Eugene Brigham and Dave Denslow, who Lanzillotti considered “one of the top five instructors in the country in the principles of economics course.”

In addition to the faculty, Lanzillotti prioritized partnering with the corporate community in Florida. In consulting with major companies across the state, Lanzillotti was able to leverage his relationships with businesses to generate financial support for the college. By the end of his tenure as dean, Lanzillotti would bring in more than $3.5 million in private donations and $2 million in state matching funds to the college.

Lanzillotti was also a key figure in securing an endowment that would lead to the naming of the Fisher School of Accounting. In working with accounting alumni Fred Fisher (BSAc ’59) and Al Warrington (BSBA ’58) and then-Fisher School Director John Simmons, Lanzillotti leveraged his networking and fundraising skills to help create the college’s standalone accounting school.

Hadley Schaefer, Robert Lanzillotti and John Simmons look down at plans for buildings on the Warrington College of Business campus.

Professor of Accounting Hadley Schaefer (left), Lanzillotti and inaugural Director of the Fisher School of Accounting John Simmons look at plans for Bryan and Matherly Halls.

Lanzillotti is also credited with securing the first eminent scholar chair in the state of Florida. On November 5, 1979, the McKethan-Matherly Eminent Scholar Chair of Business Administration was established thanks to a $1 million gift from Alfred McKethan. The chair currently supports Dr. Steve Shugan, who has taught the foundations of marketing to countless students since he came to Warrington in 1992.

During his time as dean, Lanzillotti continued to serve the nation, this time in a non-military capacity. In 1971, Lanzillotti was appointed by President Richard Nixon to serve on the U.S. Wage & Price Commission Advisory Board following a nation-wide economic downturn characterized by a 6% unemployment rate and inflation rate of 5%.

Lanzillotti remembers the phone call he received asking him to be part of the President’s advisory board. His son had answered the phone and the woman on the other end struggled to pronounce their last name. They were immediately skeptical and assumed she was selling something.

John Kraft, Al Warrington and Robert Lanzillotti pose for a photo in front of the Warrington College of Business sign.

Dean Emeritus John Kraft (left) with college namesake Al Warrington and Robert Lanzillotti.

“I picked up the phone, and this woman said, ‘I am calling from the White House, and Dr. Paul McCracken has placed the call and would like to speak with you,’” Lanzillotti recalled. “I remembered Paul McCracken, and a thought occurred to me, ‘Why would Paul be calling me? I wonder if they are going to go ahead and appoint the people to that crazy price commission?’ [McCracken] said [to me], ‘Where we are is it has not only been presented, [but President Nixon] has approved the commission, and you are one of the seven members that he wants.’”

Ultimately, Lanzillotti’s efforts on the Price Commission would bring the inflation rate down by 2%. Making that kind of difference for the nation, Lanzillotti said, was one of the greatest experiences of his life.

“The opportunity as an academic and an economist to be able to push levers in the economy and makes rules and regulations is [rare indeed].”

Proclamation from the City of Gainesville in honor of Robert Lanzillotti

In honor of his contributions, the City of Gainesville proclaimed June 19 Robert F. Lanzillotti Day.

The opportunity also aided in building the college’s reputation and excited the faculty to play their own part in helping make the University of Florida a great place to study business.

“The faculty seemed to be excited by my excitement, and they seemed to be proud,” Lanzillotti said. “I think it gave us visibility. It helped us with recruiting. It sort of put us on the map a little bit. I mean, a dean from a college at the University of Florida is on the Price Commission.”

In all, Lanzillotti is proud of what he accomplished during his time as dean but notes there’s always room for improvement.

“Looking back, I think I was fortunate to come to Florida,” he said. “I think Florida afforded a great opportunity to me, and in a way, I feel lucky that I was selected to come here. I think that I could have accomplished more if I had been a little smarter, but I am very pleased with the career in academia.”

Even on the verge of his 100th birthday, Lanzillotti is still as active as ever. He serves as a member of Warrington’s Dean’s Advisory Council and consults with companies as requested.

While Lanzillotti has amassed plenty of accomplishments and made an incredible impact on the University of Florida and beyond, there’s no stopping this centenarian. One can only ask, “What’s next, Bob?”