Paul Forman ’56: Scientist and Entrepreneur
I first met Paul Forman ’56 when we came to Rochester as high school seniors to compete for the Bausch & Lomb Science Scholarship. We returned the next year as freshmen—with Paul as the scholarship winner, the committee having recognized his scientific and leadership potential. We have been friends for life.
His potential was realized early on in the University and the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. His scientific promise was realized in the optics department, where he worked with Dr. Shinya Inoué and others. His entrepreneurial spirit was shown early on, as he persuaded me to work with him to sell tangerines to vitamin C–starved freshmen. This worked well, until the tangerine season ended. He then started a less seasonal business providing students with desk blotters containing paid advertising.
After graduating with his degree in optics in 1956, Paul joined Perkin-Elmer Corp. in 1957 as an engineer and held various engineering, program, and corporate management positions. In 1969, Paul completed Harvard Business School’s Program for Management Development. Building on his collective experience, Paul along with two Perkin-Elmer colleagues founded Zygo Corp. with the intent of building the best plano optics in the world and the instruments to measure them.
Under Paul’s leadership, Zygo developed into a world-class public company. Paul received numerous honors and awards, including SPIE’s Alan Gordon Award, NASA’s Apollo Achievement Award (for an optical instrument used in the first lunar landing), Distinction in Photonics Award (Laurin Publishing Company, 1997), Lifetime Achievement Award (American Society for Precision Engineering, 1998), and the Edwin H. Land Medal for pioneering entrepreneurial creativity (Optical Society of America, 1998).
Paul was CEO of Zygo until 1993, chairman until 1999, and chairman emeritus at the time of his death. He continued to work as an independent consultant to, and board member of, a number of high-tech private companies. He was chairman of the board of CRI (Cambridge Research and Instrumentation) and Apollo Solar. Over the years, he assisted a number of younger entrepreneurs in establishing their own businesses.
In May 2003, the University recognized his achievements by awarding him the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences “for exemplary contributions to technology, business, education, and society.”
In 1996, Paul was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and fought it with characteristic determination. In 2004, he was diagnosed with lymphoma, which he also fought courageously. With the loving support of his wife, Barbara Marks, Paul survived both of these terrible illnesses. His death in November 2007, following cardiac arrest, was sudden and unexpected.
In addition to his many accomplishments, Paul will be remembered as a loyal and true friend, a charming and persuasive salesman, and for his passion for important activities that would make this world better. Most recently, Paul had begun to focus his energy and efforts on the problems of sustainability and global warming; to strengthen his abilities and become better informed, he was taking courses at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He believed that science and technology combined with integrity and perseverance could make life better for us all.
We will miss his friendship, charm, leadership, and dedication to making the world a better place.
—Albert Gordon ’56
Gordon is professor emeritus at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Read the announcement of Forman’s Distinguished Alumnus Award and his commencement speech, “Lessons Learned from 25 Years of Business.”