William Scandling was born on June 17, 1922 in Rochester, N.Y. He divided his high school years between three different Rochester area schools. After graduating, Scandling opted not to continue his education and began working for a men's clothing business. On occasion, he traveled to the Midwest as a sales assistant, promoting men's clothing lines. He later joked that he was only given the job because he coincidentally happened to be the exact size of the demonstration suits, enabling him to model the suits for prospective buyers. Scandling left the small business in July of 1942 when he was called into the armed forces. He took part in the Pacific Theatre with the Army Airways Communication System where he served in many capacities but was ultimately a Technical Sergeant.
As the wave of veterans flocked to colleges under the provisions of the GI Bill, Scandling was admitted to Hobart College, referred by his father's close friend, Henry A. Wheat '24, a friend of Dean Durfee. He soon realized that his GI Bill stipend was not enough to cover his, as he called them, “social costs.” Scandling, with close friends Harry “Hunk” Anderson '49 and Will Laughlin '49 spent much of their time conjuring up ideas to supplement their income. They began by selling advertising space to local merchants on desk blotters which they then gave to students. Their next venture led them to market a series of note cards that outlined the very demanding Western Civilization curriculum. Their reputation around campus grew, and they became known to students and faculty alike as “The Corporation.”
When Hobart College administrators were forced to close the financially unsuccessful cafeteria in the spring of Scandling's junior year, the three men saw an opportunity. They proposed a plan to the College treasurer, Dr. H. Newton Hubbs, which would allow the men to run the cafeteria. Doc Hubbs met with President Alan Brown and suggested that the Board of Trustees listen to their proposal. The Board approved of the proposal and granted the three men full control of the cafeteria with the stipulation that they obtain insurance. Knowing that finding an insurance company willing to issue a policy to three undergrads lacking professional experience would be nearly impossible, they sought the advice of Dean Walter Durfee and former Hobart graduate D. Max Henry '17, also a Kappa Alpha brother. Durfee and Henry went above and beyond the call of duty and supported the three young entrepreneurs to every extent possible. Within a few short months, they were issued an insurance policy from Aetna Insurance Company and reopened the doors to the Hobart dining hall.
A system was devised in which meal tickets were sold a week or more in advance. The money from the sale of the meal tickets was used to pay for the cost of food and any overhead expenses. Selling 99 tickets their first week, A.L.S. & CO., as they called themselves, began a journey that would last a lifetime.
The success of the first two weeks encouraged the men to expand operations and increase the dining hall to maximum capacity. Within months, an agreement was signed under which Scandling, Laughlin and Anderson would run the food service at William Smith College as well. At the recommendation of their previously acquired lawyer, the men decided to form a corporation. They began searching for a formal name of their new venture. After learning that Geneva was built on an old Native American village called Kanadasaga, it was decided that Saga would be fitting.
Scandling, who had experience as the treasurer of Kappa Alpha, dealt with the financial aspects of Saga. Laughlin handled ordering the food and planning the menus. Anderson was the “front man” and spent much of his time seeing that the students were pleased with their service. However, all three were involved with every aspect to some degree. Cutting costs was a priority if Saga was to succeed, so student workers were given free meals in lieu of pay. Scandling and his partners soon realized that treating the customers with respect and making them the number one priority was the most important component to their success. Their philosophy became known as the “Saga Way.”
Although Scandling was an extremely busy student, he managed to find time to travel to Rochester on the weekends to see his girlfriend, Margaret, whom he married in the spring of his senior year. Determined to push Saga even further, Scandling remained in Geneva after graduation to work on the business. In 1951, Saga acquired its third account with Kalamazoo College in Michigan. The opening of this account changed the future of Saga. Laughlin, the only remaining bachelor of the partners, was, they decided, the easiest of the three to move. In the summer of 1952, Laughlin opened operations at Kalamazoo College. He set the tone by offering Saturday night steak. Sure enough, the students responded with enthusiasm. Word quickly spread about the “Saga Way” and five more accounts were opened in the next four years.
From 1956 to 1967 alone, Saga averaged an annual sales gain of 25 percent, climbing from 1.4 million to 56.8 million. In 1968 Saga went public, offering 321,000 shares of common stock. By 1970 Saga was serving meals to hospitals and retirement communities and was operating its first two restaurant chains – Black Angus and the Velvet Turtle. By 1973 Saga was serving more than 400,000,000 meals a year. In 1986, Scandling and his partners sold Saga to Marriot Corporation.
In 1984, the Scandling Student Center at Hobart and William Smith Colleges was named to honor Scandling's generous philanthropic commitment to the Colleges. In 2003, Scandling made the largest gift in the history of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. His pledge of $15 million was designated to support advancement efforts of the colleges.
Scandling was a member of many professional societies. He served on the Board of Trustees for Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where he was the chairman from 1972-1983. He was a member of the Menlo Country Club in Woodside Calif., and the Seneca Yacht Club in Geneva, N.Y. Scandling resided in Atherton, Calif., with his wife Yvette.
Contribution: Founder of Saga Corporation
College Activities: Kappa Alpha, Gamma Omicron Tau (honorary economics society)