Dexter Bailey Dawes, a former investment banker who helped pioneer the implementation of Employee Stock Ownership Plans in the early 1970s and later spent his retirement years advising numerous local organizations and nonprofits on their finances, died of esophageal cancer at his Palo Alto home on March 21. He was 84.
Dawes, who described himself as a problem solver, operated largely behind the scenes providing input that helped numerous organizations become and stay financially sound, even during tough times.
Dawes served on 17 different boards for corporations as well as organizations benefiting everyone from seniors and children to students and Palo Alto families, including the Palo Alto-Los Altos American Youth Soccer Organization, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, the Palo Alto High School Sports Boosters and the Bond Oversight Committee and the Audit and Finance Committee for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. In 2017, he received the Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement Award for his public service.
Rhonda Bekkedahl, CEO of Channing House, said Dawes was key in establishing financial policies that brought the not-for-profit retirement community out of a difficult financial position.
"I credit much of our strong financial position to the path that Dexter helped set us on with his financial acumen and his serious regard for his fiduciary responsibility as a trustee," she told Channing House residents while Dawes was on the board.
Dawes' long and storied financial career began in 1963 after he earned a master's degree in business administration from Harvard College and came to Palo Alto to "run a finance function" for Philco-Ford Aerospace, his son Adam Dawes said.
In the early 1970s, he joined Bangert & Company, a merchant banking firm that specialized in leveraged buyouts and was headed by Louis Kelso, a renowned political economist who created the Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOPs. Dawes shared Kelso's worker-capitalist vision and helped implement the plan at other companies.
"He was a strong believer in incentives and having people have ownership," said Adam Dawes.
Dawes later became a founding member of the boutique investment banking firm Bangert, Dawes, Reade, Davis, and Thom, which helped companies restructure themselves to a better financial position — a calling card that would follow him for the rest of his life.
In 1996, he retired from John Hancock Capital Growth Management, an equity fund subsidiary of John Hancock Life Insurance Company, which he had headed.
His life away from finance didn't last long. Dawes spent the bulk of his retirement years volunteering on numerous boards, commissions and oversight committees and mentoring entrepreneurs.
As chairman and vice chairman on Palo Alto's Utilities Advisory Commission, Dawes developed a 10-year efficiency plan that enabled the city to weather the energy crisis of 2001 as well as volatile changes in the gas market, including the bankruptcy of energy supplier Enron Company.
"The utilities department is a business within the city of Palo Alto," said John Melton, 85, who served an overlapping term with Dawes on the commission from 2004 to 2015. "Business knowledge and savvy were one of the important ingredients for commissioners. Not everybody had to have that, but it happened that Dexter and I did."
In a 2017 interview with the Palo Alto Weekly, Dawes attributed his success in the nonprofit sector to negotiating and good judgment — skills he acquired over his long career.
Dawes also was an early investor in Embarcadero Media, which publishes the Palo Alto Weekly, The Almanac and the Mountain View Voice, and served as a director of the company from 2000 to 2013.
"Dexter thought (Embarcadero Media) was an important contribution to the community," said Jerry Elkind, who was one of the initial 15 shareholders when the company was founded in 1979 by Bill Johnson. "He really always had a very strong community sense. And he thought at the time that it would be a good investment."
As the internet became ubiquitous and rival papers entered the Peninsula, Dawes had no illusions to the threat they represented and was anxious to find ways to keep Embarcadero Media profitable and competitive.
One of Dawes' top priorities, according to Elkind, was pushing the paper to an electronic format and getting it done "as early as possible." He supported Johnson's efforts in doing so, and Embarcadero Media became the first publishing company to post its entire editorial content on the web in 1994.
"Dexter never failed to zero in on the key financial issues confronting the company at any given time and ask all the pertinent questions," Johnson said. "His mentoring and analytical mind helped me to become a better leader, take risks and adapt to the changes taking place in the media world. And he never lost sight of our mission to inform the community with trusted reporting and analysis."
Dawes was born on July 10, 1936, in Englewood, New Jersey, to Wetmore Dawes, an accountant, and Caroline Dawes, a homemaker.
He enrolled at Harvard College as a Holloway Program Naval Scholarship recipient and received his bachelor's degree in applied math in 1958. After serving in the Navy for three years, Dawes married Jean Rau in 1961.
Dawes is survived by his wife, Jean, of Palo Alto; his brother, Harry Dawes, of Peterborough, New Hampshire and sister, Augusta Stewart, of San Francisco; sons John Dawes of Corte Madera, James Dawes of Redwood City, and Adam Dawes of San Carlos; and five grandchildren.