William J. Avery

Biography

While William Avery has filled a number of roles and needs within the Fox School of Business through the years, the gravity of his influence is felt most acutely in the high standing of the International Business Administration program. Back in the mid-1990s, during the program’s infancy, former Fox Dean M. Moshe Porat, PhD, asked Mr. Avery if he could help the school secure a federal grant to bolster the program’s resources. Mr. Avery’s company, Crown Holdings, Inc., was among the few in Philadelphia at that time that maintained a truly global enterprise, he said.

As one of the world’s largest manufacturers of packaging products for consumer goods—Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle, and Pillsbury are all clients—Crown Holdings employs tens of thousands in over 50 countries. In relatively short order, Mr. Avery secured the funding and reshaped the curriculum with an emphasis on real-time relevancy, mining his own extensive travels and experience abroad. Mr. Avery, figuratively and literally, traveled a long distance over the course of his 41-year career, each one spent with Crown Holdings. He started as a management trainee in 1959 and took night classes in industrial management at the University of Chicago at the recommendation of his employer. That education quickly turned him into a valuable asset and “allowed me to be able to talk intelligently to Crown executives,” he says. Among them was chairman John Connelly, who was immediately curious about Mr. Avery’s new quality and inventory control measures. Mr. Connelly, Mr. Avery says, had a sixth-grade education, but he read “excessively.” The more Mr. Avery shared, the more Mr. Connelly wanted to know, thereby shoring up with each exchange, his inside track to the chairman. Mr. Avery ascended through the ranks. He moved his family to Philadelphia in 1974 when he was named corporate vice president of sales. In 1980, he became president and chief operating officer. Ten years later, he was appointed CEO and chairman. Crown pulled in $100 million in sales during Mr. Avery’s first year with the company. During his tenure as CEO and chairman, they grew from $1.5 billion to $8 billion. Proud as he is of all of that, it pales next to his accomplishments in service to his religion and his community, among which he includes Temple University. His crowning achievement in that regard was being knighted by Pope John Paul II and inducted into the Order of St. Gregory in 1995. He was made a Knight Commander of the order in 1998. Acts he describes as accidental. Mr. Avery was in Rome on business when he received a call from Connelly, who asked him to visit the pope, who was seriously ill, and see if there was anything he could do for him. Mr. Avery’s humility has simplified the story over time, but it’s no less true. It turned out that he could help, though Mr. Avery is again short on the details. Still, “I got to know the pope as well as anybody could,” he says. Pope John Paul II recovered and went on to live another 10 years. In gratitude for Mr. Avery’s companionship, he opened his door to him and whoever else he wished to bring along whenever he was in Rome, an offer he took advantage of often, usually with awestruck business partners. Throughout Philadelphia, Mr. Avery is known for his civic mindedness. He was involved in the construction of the Regional Performing Arts Center and the National Constitution Center. He’s supported Project Home, an advocacy group that provides counseling and transitional housing for the homeless. He co-founded Philadelphia Area Accelerated Manufacturing Education, Inc., an economic development organization that offers a training program in manufacturing skills. He’s chairman emeritus of the Franklin Institute. Even well into retirement, Mr. Avery continues to serve as a trustee for the boards of Historic Philadelphia, Inc. and the Police Athletic League. As for his continued support of Temple, he says, “Everything I see there is positive. And that’s why I’m inclined to lend my support whenever I’m asked.”

Title & Company
Retired; Former Chairman and CEO, Crown Holdings, Inc.

Temple University Awards & Affiliations
Recipient, Musser Award for Excellence in Leadership, 2000

What I wanted to be when I was 20 years old
President of Crown, Cork & Seal Company (now Crown Holdings). I was a trainee with the company at the time, and one of the questions in a questionnaire we had to fill out asked, “What do you want to be doing in five years?” I filled in “President of Crown, Cork & Seal.

Best piece of advice anyone ever gave me
Your peers within the company and the management above you, everyone with a degree that’s perceived as more valuable than your own, they’re your competition. To get to where you want to be in the company, you have to go through them. It’s about creating the right attitude. And once you do that, you’ll find a lot of opportunity for growth.