William Nicholas Thorndike
March 28, 1933 – May 6, 2021
William Nicholas Thorndike, A Founder of Wellington Management and Trustee
William Nicholas Thorndike died peacefully at home in Brookline on May 6th. He was 88. He was born in Chestnut Hill, the youngest of five children of Dr. Augustus and Olivia Lowell Thorndike. He attended Philips Andover Academy and Harvard College, graduating in 1955 with a major in Russian History.
After graduating, he headed west to broaden his horizons. He settled in Seattle, working for the Seattle Trust Company, along the way kindling many lifelong friendships.
He returned to Boston to seek work in the investment business and was hired as an equity analyst by Fidelity Management, run at the time by its legendary founder, Edward C. Johnson. “Mr. Johnson” was an important mentor for Thorndike, who rose to Secretary/Manager of the research department during Fidelity’s early growth years before departing in 1960 with three close friends to found the investment counseling firm Thorndike, Doran, Paine and Lewis.
“TDP&L”, as the firm was known, opened its doors in November 1960 and was the first new investment firm in Boston since the Great Depression. The new firm sprung out of a breakfast investment club, which the founders evolved into Ivest Fund, an innovative “small cap” mutual fund. The four partners worked together with great comity for the next 29 years.
The firm generated heady returns in the bull market of the early 1960’s, thanks in part to a decision to go aggressively into stocks during the depths of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In 1965, the young partners were approached by Walter Morgan, the founder of the much larger Philadelphia-based mutual fund pioneer, Wellington Management Company. Morgan immediately hit it off with the young quartet. The firms merged in 1966, “a Boston Whaler and an ocean liner” as it was described at the time. As Chairman, Nick helped coordinate the combined firm’s initial growth alongside the other partners.
The firm was publicly traded for most of the 1960s and 1970s until it was taken private in 1979 in an early management buyout that Thorndike was instrumental in crafting.
Once private, Thorndike was an architect of the innovative partnership structure that is still in place at Wellington and that has helped the firm to thrive over the last four decades, while uniquely remaining a private partnership. A key element in that structure is a willingness on the part of senior managers to “leave something on the table” as Thorndike put it, for future generations of Wellington partners. This ethos of generosity and long term stewardship remains a hallmark of the Wellington culture.
Nick retired as a longtime Managing Partner of Wellington Management Company and Thorndike, Doran, Paine and Lewis at the end of 1988. As the first original partner to retire, the firm's 'TDP&L' name retired with him. On his departure from Wellington, Thorndike gave an informal speech to the partner group that is still cited by senior management at the firm on the importance of “kindness” as an essential personal and professional quality.
Nick thrived during a second career helping companies, community causes and families for the next twenty years. In 1987, he became Chairman of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The MGH remained a lifelong passion that he served as trustee for over four decades. While chairing the MGH board, Thorndike participated in its strategic merger with Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
At this time, Nick also served as a trustee and board member of numerous corporations and nonprofit organizations including Courier Corp, Data General Corp., Providence Journal Company, the Putnam Investments mutual funds, the GMO mutual funds, Eastern Utilities, Radcliffe College, and Northeastern University among others. Nick was energized by this breadth of involvement, helping these organizations through their inevitable challenges.
Thorndike developed a reputation as a pragmatic, independent thinker and conducted himself with integrity, humility and a sense of fairness. He was a Trustee in the fullest sense of the word.
Beneath a naturally reserved demeanor, he lived a life of quiet zest with his wife and true soulmate, Joan. He was a lover of after-dinner games, jokes, and parties. He had a warm and welcoming smile, a lively sense of humor and loved good food — raspberries, chocolate and oysters, in particular.
Throughout his life, he was an avid traveler, with favorite destinations ranging from Tashkent to the Panama Canal. He also relished frequent trips with the entire family.
Nick and Joan spent much of their retirement at their Vermont farm, on land dubbed “Bushkaville,” a place that he loved dearly.
He is survived by his beloved wife, Joan, by his two boys, William N. “Will” Thorndike, Jr and Alexander L. “Lanny” Thorndike, by his daughters-in-law, Geneva Simmons Thorndike and Anne Needham Thorndike, M.D. and by five loving grandchildren, Charlotte, Jamie, Nick, Anna and Russell, as well as numerable nephews, nieces and their offspring. The family would like to thank the compassionate caregivers who made his final weeks so peaceful.
A celebration of Nick’s life will be held at a date and venue to be announced in the near future.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Nick’s honor can be made to the MGH Fund, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center and the Green Mountain Camp for Girls in Dummerston Vermont.
Virtual Memorial Service