Commencement 2015: Biographies - Joseph Neubauer


Joseph Neubauer, business and civic leader, Tufts trustee emeritus and alumnus of the Tufts School of Engineering is awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service Degree during the Phase I ceremony of Tufts University's 159th Commencement on Sunday, May 17, 2015.
Photo by Kelvin Ma/Tufts University


For more than two decades you served your alma mater as a member of the Tufts University Board of Trustees, helping to transform this institution into one that is world-renowned.

You are an ardent supporter of higher education, because you believe deeply in its capacity to help young people develop into committed, influential, and active citizens of the world.

You learned about the transformative power of education from your parents, who fled Nazi Germany and subsequently saw in the United States a land of opportunity for you.

You have embraced the importance of the public good in your own life. As the Chairman of Aramark—a global leader in industries including food service and facilities maintenance—you played an important role in promoting the growth and prosperity of Philadelphia, where you have also championed landmark projects in the arts and culture.

Your civic engagement and philanthropy were deservedly recognized with your induction into the prestigious Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. For embodying the ideals that help define Tufts University, and for your role in shaping this institution’s ability to make a difference in the world, your alma mater is extremely proud to award you the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service.


When JOSEPH NEUBAUER, E63, J90P, was fourteen, his parents—German Jews who had fled to British-controlled Palestine in 1938—decided he needed a better education than they could provide. So they put their son on an ocean liner and sent him alone to America to live with his aunt and uncle. The only English he knew he had gleaned from John Wayne movies; his pockets were mostly empty. Arriving in New York Harbor on a chilly February evening, anchored until the morning’s landing, he could see the Statue of Liberty and an Esso sign. “I was frightened to death, and excited also at the same time,” he recounted later.

He learned about resilience firsthand, and hard work, too, both qualities that led him to the top of the corporate world and made him a devoted citizen of his community. Neubauer was a longtime senior executive at Aramark, the world’s leading provider of managed services in food, facilities, and uniforms. He was elected president of the Philadelphia-based company in 1981, chief executive officer in 1983, and chairman in 1984. He served as president and CEO until he retired in 2012, and stepped down as chairman of the board in February 2015. During his tenure at the helm of Aramark, the company grew from a $2.5 billion business largely concentrated in the United States to a $13 billion global services provider.

When Neubauer came to America, he entered high school as a freshman—he was a quick study at English. The principal didn’t give him a report card at the end of the school year. “He said, ‘You’ve only been here a few months. We’re going to move you up, and if you pass your sophomore year, we’ll know you passed freshman year, too.’ It was the best deal I’ve ever made,” Neubauer said. At Tufts, he majored in chemical engineering, but his life took on a new direction when his economics professor, Harry Ernst, nominated him for a scholarship at the University of Chicago’s business school.

Two years later, M.B.A. in hand, he started working at Chase Manhattan Bank, and at age twenty-seven became the youngest vice president in the bank’s history. From there he went to PepsiCo, where he was the youngest treasurer of a Fortune 500 company and was later promoted to vice president. He joined Aramark in 1979 as executive vice president of finance and development, chief financial officer, and a member of the board of directors.

Neubauer served on the Tufts University Board of Trustees from 1986 to 2008, when he was named a trustee emeritus. At Tufts, he helped establish the Lerman- Neubauer Prize, awarded annually to an Arts and Sciences or Engineering faculty member judged by graduating seniors as having had a profound impact on them intellectually in and out of the classroom. He also endowed the executive director’s position at Tufts Hillel.

He currently is a member of the board of directors of Macy’s, Inc., and Mondelēz International. He is chairman of the board of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, and will become chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago on May 28.

Neubauer has been recognized throughout his career for civic and professional achievement. He received the 2012 Philadelphia Award in recognition of his involvement in the region and the William Penn Foundation Award in 2013. In 2005, he received the Corporate Citizenship Award from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for his contributions to the growth of Philadelphia, where he still resides. Neubauer was inducted into the prestigious Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans in 1994, and has served as its president and chairman; he is now chairman emeritus.

Although many years have passed, Neubauer said in a recent interview that he still remembers quite clearly the first time he saw the New York skyline: “The joy that I felt that night has been with me for the rest of my life in the United States.”

Tufts will award Neubauer an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.