Harvard Law’s largest donor, Finn Caspersen, took own life under mysterious circumstances


Finn Caspersen ’66

What could an heir to a billion dollar fortune, privileged with an education at Harvard Law School, want most in life?  For Finn M.W. Caspersen ’66, heir to the chairmanship of Beneficial Corporation, philanthropy was one of the most rewarding pursuits available in a life of wealth and success. After the sale of Beneficial to Household International in 1998 for approximately $9 billion, Caspersen managed a private investment fund, Knickerbocker Management, overseeing the assets of trusts and foundations. Outside of his business life, Caspersen was a selfless contributor to the success of HLS, including the largest donation for the Northwest Corner Project, his chairmanship of the Dean’s Advisory Board, and chairmanship of the “Setting the Standard” campaign, which raised a phenomenal total of $476,475,707 for HLS.

According to Louis Kaplow ’81, the Finn M.W. Caspersen and Household International Professor of Law and Economics, contributing to HLS?provided Caspersen with great personal satisfaction. “I tried to personally thank him, but he was not an easy person to thank. He seemed not interested, personally, in having praise bestowed upon himself, and much more interested in participating in the development of the law school as a continuing enterprise.” Caspersen was tireless in his efforts to generate contributions to the law school. In an interview with the Harvard Law Bulletin after the conclusion of the “Setting the Standard” Campaign, Caspersen said, “You always have to do more. You never get to perfection.”

It may remain a perpetual mystery why a man who appeared to have everything – wealth, a family, social notoriety, and a generous philanthropic nature – would decide to end it all. The New York Times has indicated that Caspersen may have been the subject of a Federal investigation. Whatever information comes to light in the future, the impact of Caspersen’s contributions to the law school will secure the ability of HLS to continue setting the standard for legal education into the twenty-first century.

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