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James Balog: A life in science and business

7 November 2019
Jim Balog met the “love of his life” Alvina Balog while a student at Penn State. Credit: Cleveland Clinic

In 1989, at the urging of James Balog ’50 (chemistry and physics), the dean of the Eberly College of Science at the time, Gregory Geoffroy, approached influential Penn State leaders Frank Smeal and Lloyd Huck to discuss the idea of launching an accelerated five-year B.S./M.B.A. degree program at University Park.

Balog was one of 10 children born to his Russian immigrant parents, from whom he learned the value of hard work. In Balog’s first years as an undergrad at Saint Francis College, his father died in a coal mine explosion, and to support his studies he worked in construction, stone masonry, brick laying, and carpentry each summer. Balog said that although it was hard, he was fortunate to work with people who took him under their wings and taught him those skills; and he was known to be able build anything.

Balog transferred from Saint Francis College to Penn State and graduated in 1950 as the president of his class. After earning an M.B.A. from Rutgers, he applied his science and business degrees at Merck & Co., where at the age of 27 he became budget director of the company’s chemical division. From there he went to Wall Street and became a director at investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, Inc., where he was vice chairman until 1987. He eventually retired as chairman of the board at Lambert Brussels Witter Group.

Balog had a lifelong involvement with the U.S. health care industry, both as an industry analyst and as a policy expert, and he chaired the presidential committee that made recommendations leading to the passage of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act. He also served on several commissions dealing with health care policy at the national level and was appointed by President Reagan to membership on the U.S. Bipartisan Commission on Comprehensive Health Care, which was formed to determine the cost and feasibility of long-term care, to define when long-term care was needed, to assess the benefits of universal health insurance, and to issue recommendations to policy makers. Balog served on the commission with five senators, six members of the House of Representatives, former president of the American Medical Association James Davis, and former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget John Cogan.

Balog’s rise to the top of the U.S. financial and health care industries was remarkable, yet he never forgot his roots. At his urging, Penn State created the Science B.S./M.B.A. accelerated five-year degree program, where students spend their first three years focusing primarily on science and their final two years pursuing an M.B.A. Balog was the primary driver behind the degree program, and he endowed a program scholarship that bears his name.

“The generosity of Jim and Alvina Balog provides a superb educational experience for B.S./M.B.A students, which expands their vision of their possibilities and prospects,” said program director Louis Martarano ’76. “The Balogs’ endowment funds opportunities for students to interact with and learn from successful science alumni and others who operate in both the science and business worlds. The endowment also funded a new course that gives science undergraduates exposure to important business concepts. Twenty years after the first B.S./M.B.A. student graduated, the program is still going strong.”

James Balog passed away this year, and he will be greatly missed by the Penn State community. His legacy will live on through the talented students who pursue the Science B.S./M.B.A. The Eberly College of Science thanks Jim for his vision, his interest, and his lifelong support of science and business at Penn State.