Cornell C. Maier
1925 - 2021
Cornell C. Maier, widely respected as a socially conscious corporate leader and revered for his years of generosity to and advocacy for various Oakland, CA, causes, passed away on August 13.
He was 96 and died of natural causes at his home in Oakland with family at his side.
Maier served as chairman and chief executive officer of Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corporation from 1978 to 1987 and of its successor company, KaiserTech, until 1988, when he retired after more than 38 years of service.
Born on January 12, 1925 in Herreid, South Dakota, a small farming community, he applied the lessons he learned as a child to earn broad respect for the social activism of his company and enrich his beloved Oakland community. A lifelong bachelor, he loved children and worked tirelessly over many years to provide them an opportunity for first-class education and medical care.
During his tenure as CEO, he launched a "One Person Can Make A Difference" program both as an incentive/reward for individual performance within the corporation and as a blueprint for community involvement. Under his direction, Kaiser Aluminum "adopted" schools and parks and provided summer jobs and workplace mentoring for high school students. When, in 1980, it appeared the Oakland A's would move to Colorado, it was Maier who worked successfully to arrange local ownership.
"It's not enough to make good products, sell them at reasonable prices, and take care of shareholders and employees," Maier often said. "We also have a public responsibility; we must be involved with the significant issues of our society."
Upon retirement, philanthropy basically grabbed hold of his life and came to define him within and well beyond his community. "I believe every able-bodied person has a responsibility to give of his or her time, talent or financial resources to help others. No exceptions," he told a reporter in 2009.
His involvement was expansive and diverse, with special emphasis on education and medical care. The causes included Holy Names University, Holy Names High School, Cole Elementary School, the Marcus Foster Educational Institute, Oakland Women's Rowing Club, Oakland's St. Mary's Center and the Oakland Zoo. Two -- Northern Light School and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland -- exemplify the extent of his personal involvement.
Established in 1989 by four educators determined to provide "a whole child education" for children who, otherwise, would not have the opportunity of a private school experience, Northern Light prides itself in the fact that hundreds of its graduates have gone on to earn scholarships at major colleges and universities. Maier served as an advisor, giving generously of his own time, expertise, and funds while recruiting many others to do the same.
Michelle Lewis, one of Northern Light's founders, described Maier's involvement this way: "He's the godfather. He means everything to the school. Our students feel accountable to him."
When Maier retired from Kaiser Aluminum, he was offered a seat on the board of directors at Oakland's Children's Hospital. He turned it down, choosing instead to hold and comfort medically fragile babies in its neonatal unit two days a week -- something he did for about 25 years.
"I just thought I wanted to volunteer and be where the action is, and I wanted to be with the children," he said. "When you're holding a baby and the baby is touching your cheek, it's as close to heaven as you can get. To me, they are miracles."
A man of indefatigable energy, Maier arose well before dawn throughout his life and played tennis twice a week well into his 90s.
Raised with his sister by their mother, Maier moved to Los Angeles as a high school senior. He attended UCLA but transferred to UC, Berkeley, where he graduated with an electrical engineering degree. A World War II B-24 bomber navigator who flew 51 missions out of Italy, Maier started at the absolute bottom of Kaiser Aluminum. "In those days," Maier humorously told a reporter, "I envied the mail boys."
He worked his way up through the ranks in virtually every major activity of the corporation's operations, including key posts in sales, production planning, marketing, and administration in the U.S. and abroad.
His assignments included serving as deputy managing director of James Booth Aluminium Ltd. in Great Britain; as managing director of Kaiser Aluminium Werke, Inc., in Germany; and as vice president and regional manager of the corporation's European operations.
Returning to the U.S. in 1969, he was named vice president and general manager of Kaiser's aluminum mill products division. In 1970, he was named vice president and general manager of all aluminum operations, followed that same year by his election to the executive vice presidency and the company's board of directors. The next year he was named general manager of the corporation, with direct responsibility for its day-to-day operations. He was elected president in early 1972 and chief executive officer the following July. Maier was elected chairman of the board in September 1978.
At various times during his career, he served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and as a director of the Bank of America, the Bay Area Council, the California Commission on Campaign Financing, and The East Bay Community Foundation. He was a former member of the Commission for the Establishment of Academic Content and Performance Standards, the University of California Outreach Task Force, the Educational Task Force of the California Business Roundtable, and the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business Advisory Board.
Maier was preceded in death by his mother, Ann Maier, his sister, Virginia Roesch, and his brother-in-law, Edward Roesch.
He is survived by his niece, Deidre Smith, his nephews Douglas and David Roesch, their wives, Helen and Kim, as well as great nieces, a great nephew, a great, great niece and other loving relatives.
The family extends its heartfelt gratitude to dear friends Lynn and Paul Kalcic, Michelle Lewis, Caitlin Kara, John and Tracy Novick, his devoted caregiver, Vivene Downer, his trusted chauffeur, Gregory Edwards, and his countless friends across the globe.
Interment will be private. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date at Allen Temple Baptist Church, 8501 International Boulevard, Oakland. In lieu of flowers, kindly donate to Northern Light School, 3710 Dorisa Avenue, Oakland, CA 94605.
Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Aug. 17 to Aug. 22, 2021.