USC life trustee David S. Tappan Jr. died Sept. 27 at his home in Newport Beach. He was 88.
A retired chairman and chief executive officer of Fluor Corp., one of the world’s largest engineering and construction companies, Tappan had served on the USC Board of Trustees since 1984.
“Dave Tappan was an extraordinary force in the life of our nation,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “As a wise and dedicated trustee of this university, he helped drive USC’s extraordinary academic progress in recent decades. He also served our nation and the civic and business worlds in remarkable ways throughout a long and illustrious career. I was privileged to know him, and the entire Trojan Family will miss him. We all extend our deepest sympathies to the entire Tappan family.”
The son of Presbyterian missionaries, Tappan was born on Hainan Island, China, and attended the American School of Shanghai. He graduated with a degree in economics and finance from Swarthmore College in 1943 and, after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, completed graduate studies at Stanford University, where he earned a master’s degree in business administration in 1948.
Tappan joined Fluor Corp. as administrative assistant to the vice president for sales in 1952, following four years with the U.S. Steel Corp.’s Columbia-Geneva steel division in San Francisco. At Fluor, he rose through the company ranks over the course of a career that spanned some four decades.
After serving as vice president for domestic sales and vice president for all sales operations, domestic and international, Tappan was elected to Fluor’s board of directors in 1965 and promoted to the position of senior vice president in 1968. He was appointed vice chairman of the board in 1976 and named president and chief operating officer in 1982. In September 1984, following the death of J. Robert Fluor, Tappan was elected chairman of the board and chief executive officer.
Under Tappan’s leadership, Fluor underwent extensive restructuring and diversification, and returned to profitability following a period of significant losses in the early 1980s.
Although Tappan retired as Fluor’s chief executive officer in 1989 and as chairman in 1990, he continued his service on the board through 1994.
Over the course of his career, Tappan sat on numerous corporate boards, including those of Genentech Inc., Allianz Insurance Co., Regenesis and Advanced Tissue Sciences Inc. He also served on the boards of the National Energy Foundation, Scripps Research Institute and Beckman Laser Institute at the University of California, Irvine.
He also was active in local nonprofit arts organizations, including the Newport Harbor Art Museum and Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, for which he served as a trustee, and the Orange County Business Committee for the Arts, which he helped found in 1981.
Maintaining lifelong ties with the country of his birth, Tappan oversaw several collaborative projects with Chinese companies during his years at Fluor’s helm. Reporting on a joint venture with China Petrochemical International Co. in 1985, the Los Angeles Times quoted his prophetic prediction that, 25 years out, “you’re going to look back and say the China market was the most important new market of the past half century.”
In subsequent years, Tappan was a director of the National Committee for U.S.-China Trade and of the Los Angeles-Guangzhou Sister City Association. He also served on the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and was a member of the board of overseers of the Executive Council on Foreign Diplomats (now the Executive Council on Diplomacy), a private organization that assists the U.S. Department of State by providing opportunities for foreign diplomats and U.S. citizens to learn about their respective countries’ institutions, policies and cultures.
In 1991, Tappan received the Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Ernest C. Arbuckle Award honoring excellence in the field of management leadership.
During his quarter-century of service as a USC trustee, Tappan became involved in many facets of university life, particularly on behalf of the USC Marshall School of Business. He was a presidential-level member of the USC Associates and a member of the USC Marshall Board of Leaders. The Tappan family endowed the Dave and Jeanne Tappan Chair in Marketing at the USC Marshall School in 1990. In addition, a case room in USC Marshall’s Popovich Hall is named for Dave and Jeanne Tappan in appreciation of their generous support.
Beyond USC Marshall, in 2007, David Tappan participated in the USC U.S.-China Institute’s inaugural conference, “The Future of U.S.-China Relations.” Additionally, through the Tappan Foundation, the Tappans extended their support to medical scholarships at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Tappan is survived by his wife, the former Jeanne Boone, whom he married in 1944; children David, Janet ’71, Diane ’72, Connie ’73 and Steve ’74, MBA ’75; 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Tappan was predeceased by a grandson.
Following a private funeral service, a memorial celebration of his life will be held at a time and place to be announced.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to the charity of choice.
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