Peter Benoliel, '53


When you first came to Princeton what did you think your major would be?

No major in mind when I first entered Princeton.

What made you decide to major in philosophy?

In discussion with my father, by a process of elimination, I chose philosophy, because in my father's words I would be introduced to some of the greatest thinkers the world has known, pondering the profound questions that face mankind.

Are there any stories about your experiences as a Philosophy major at Princeton that you'd like to share?

I vividly recall my senior thesis advisor Prof. Szathmary's admonition that my thesis was not well developed enough to ensure my timely graduation.  To say the least, it propelled me to focus and produce something that would accomplish this.  I should mention, besides Prof. Szathmary, Profs. Walter Stace and Walter Kaufmann stretched my intellectual horizons.

What did you do immediately after leaving Princeton?

Upon graduation, I served in the US Navy for 3-1/2 years, finishing as the Chief Engineer (3rd in command) on a destroyer.

What do you do now?

I have been retired since 1997.  The following extract from the news release at the time of my retirement from Quaker Chemical gives you a snapshot of my career: 

During his 40 years with the company, Mr. Benoliel has been a fundamental force in shaping the Quaker of today. Under his leadership, Quaker Chemical has grown from a privately held $10 million East Coast regional company to a nearly $300 million enterprise with operations around the world, with its shares traded on the NYSE. 

The son of D.J. Benoliel, one of the three early principals of the company, Peter Benoliel joined Quaker Chemical following his education at Princeton University and service as a naval officer during the Korean War. He began as a bench chemist in 1957, and held various positions in sales and administration until he became CEO in 1966. He was a key player in taking the company public in 1972, and was elected Chairman of the Board in 1980. 

In other business activities, Benoliel has been director of Bell Atlantic-PA, CoreStates Financial Corporation, UGI Corporation, Alan Wood Steel Company, and Publicker Industries. He has also served as director (and in 1989-92 as chairman) of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, serves as a trustee of the Committee for Economic Development, and was a founding member and co-chair of the Japan/America Society of Greater Philadelphia. 

Over the years, Mr. Benoliel has provided committed leadership for the cultural and charitable life of the Delaware Valley. A violinist who has played chamber music throughout the world and is an honorary member of the Japanese Chamber Music Society, Benoliel is chairman of the board of The Philadelphia Orchestra Association, chairman of Settlement Music School, and serves on the boards of the Marlboro School of Music, Grand Teton Music Festival, thePhiladelphia Chamber Music Society, the Mann Music Center, the Curtis Institute of Music and as a member of the advisory council for the Temple University Music Preparation Division. He also serves as a director of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Never one to merely lend his name to a cause, through the years Mr. Benoliel has committed substantial time and effort to community organizations such as the Philadelphia Public School/Business Partnership for Reform, the Health and Welfare Council (for which he chaired the Committee on Institutional Racism), the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the United Way (which he served in various positions including the presidency and chairman of the 1981 general campaign), and PA Partnerships for Children. 

Mr. Benoliel's long-time interest in education is reflected in past service on the boards of Springside School, the William Penn Charter School, St. John's College, and on the Overseers of University of Pennsylvania's School of Arts and Sciences. He currently serves on two advisory committees at Princeton University and is vice chairman of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina. He has been a frequent lecturer at a number of universities and is currently a visiting professor at Florida International University. 

He has been a recipient of the Franklin Institute Philip H. Ward, Jr., Medal, the Americanism Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the Volunteer of the Year Citation of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the Business/Art Award of the Arts & Culture Council of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and the Citizen Volunteer Award of the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania. [This interview was conducted in April 2014.]

Final Words?

Over the years, I have been a passionate believer in the value of a liberal education and have lectured and written quite a bit on the subject.  See the attached To What End Education? -- Vocation or Virtue?  This pretty much sums up my views of the value of studying Philosophy.