In 2011, Bose shocked the technology industry by donating a majority stake of the company to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the form of unsellable, non-voting shares. In the arrangement, MIT does not participate in the management of the company, but receives annual cash dividends on its shares. Ken Jacob — a 32-year veteran of Bose and one of Amar Bose’s former students — talks about the meaning of “the gift” and Dr. Bose’s legacy.
I first intersected with Dr. Bose at MIT when I was a grad student there. My undergraduate and graduate work was all in acoustics and sound — and in my last semester at MIT, I took Dr. Bose’s class. The night after the first lecture I called all my friends — I didn’t have that many — but I told them that they would not see me for four months because I was going to devote myself to that class. My goal was to impress him so much that he would want to hire me. I got my job at Bose in 1984.
Dr. Bose’s greatest gift — what excited him the most — was unlocking the potential in another human being. The effort that he put into teaching — it wasn’t about, ‘I have this body of material that I need to transfer from me to you.’ It was about convincing you that you had far more capability and potential than you believed you had. He once told me that he believed “most human beings were hundred cylinder engines running on just one.” If you think about all of the students and employees that were affected by Dr. Bose, and then you think about the people that they in turn affect…it’s like this giant community of people, convinced through evidence, of what they’re capable of.
If you think about all of the students that were affected by Dr. Bose…it’s like this giant community of people, convinced through evidence, of what they’re capable of.
Have you ever heard of the high school math teacher, Jaime Escalante? This guy taught in one of the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles, riddled with gangs. He was from Bolivia and he was able to bring students from the worst possible backgrounds to the point where the vast majority of them were passing the AP Calculus exam — so much so that the company that runs the AP test became convinced that they were cheating. So they sent out a bunch of proctors and forced the kids to retake the AP exam, which they nailed again.
When Dr. Bose found out about this teacher, he got on a plane to LA — literally — and asked if he could sit in the classroom and watch this guy teach. Because he was convinced that whatever this guy was doing to unlock the potential in these kids was far greater than anything he had ever done as a teacher at MIT. He studied this guy’s teaching for years to come, and they became friends because he was so interested in this subject of unlocking the potential in others.
Dr. Bose’s definition of research was always very simple: you don’t know if it’s possible. So, with the things that he considered research, you couldn’t guarantee success; you couldn’t be certain of success at all. The whole idea is that you were going into the unknown. And one reason he always fought so fiercely to keep the company private was that there’s no way — if you were a nameless stockholder that just wanted to see a short-term return on your investment — you would invest in things you didn’t know were possible at all.
So the whole model of Bose is to be self-funding, independent, privately held and able to pursue long-term research.
Over the history of Bose, the profits have always been reinvested back into the company. For me, that was a big motivating factor to work here — as the company succeeded, more and more resources could be devoted to do even more of the kind of technical work we like to do. And with Dr. Bose’s gift to MIT, we get a kind of double motivation because now our success benefits MIT too.
Every year now MIT awards these research grants — they’re called the Amar G. Bose Research Grants. It’s an opportunity for Bose to see and hear firsthand about the research projects that are funded with dividends on the stock Dr. Bose gifted. And there’s a whole process sifting through — I don’t know how many hundreds of applications there are — that culminates in an event at the President’s House at MIT every year. It’s just one of the ways I’ve seen that MIT is using the money and I think it’s awesome.
Dr. Bose’s definition of research was always very simple: you don’t know if it’s possible.
You know, the typical sources of funding for research are so inadequate. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s true — they’re always looking to fund sure things. They want their money to result in success. It’s sort of natural, right? It’s like an investment. The same way if you were buying stock in a company, of course, you want that company to succeed, but if you think about it, that’s not what research is. If you really, truly are going into the unknown, it really means unknown. When people are writing grants for traditional sources, they’re forced to accentuate the positives in order to try to get the funding. And then there’s inevitably disappointment if they’re doing really ‘out there,’ risky research.
What I love about the Amar G. Bose research grants at MIT is that they’re based on this idea that traditional sources of funding, which can be very valuable for certain things for sure, leave a huge number of really exciting unanswered questions about whether something was possible. So, the idea that these very serious, very strong technical people are getting funded by these grants is so cool.
Dr. Bose announced the gift in a way that absolutely minimized publicity because he didn’t want it to be about himself. He just wanted the two institutions to be able to continue their work. And he worked on the structure for the gift for many, many years — I think up to twenty years until he found the formula that would work. It’s just this masterstroke. And it happened at the end of his life. Literally this is how he ended his life. It’s unbelievable, it’s absolutely unbelievable. It’s not about him at all. Isn’t that just crazy?
Literally this is how he ended his life. It’s unbelievable, it’s absolutely unbelievable. It’s totally about us. It’s not about him at all. Isn’t that just crazy?
I think it’s a genius invention; and it’s classic Amar Bose. Think about it. It’s so selfless. It invests in unlocking other human beings both at MIT and at Bose. I don’t think there’s anything like it anywhere in the world.
In the whole 50 years from the beginning of the company to when the gift was announced, no dividends were ever given to a stockholder. Now with a significant dividend returned to MIT so that it can continue its long-term mission of research and education — I’m even more motivated for the company to be successful.
I will leave you with an image. It’s the idea that with one stroke of his pen, Dr. Amar Bose found a way to have MIT share in the success of Bose. One stroke of the pen to share our success with a great technical institution that Dr. Bose credited with giving him so much.
That’s pretty mind-blowing.