Haas alumnus Ralph Bahna, MBA 65, founder of the Club Quarters business hotel chain and longtime chairman of Priceline.com, passed away Monday, Feb. 24. He was 71.
Born in Grand Rapids, Mich., Bahna attended the University of Michigan, where he was a Big Ten wrestling champion for the Wolverines. After earning his MBA at Berkeley’s business school, Bahna went on to drive countless innovations in the travel industry.
Bahna was credited with helping to turn Trans World Airlines (TWA) around by inventing business class while still in his 20s. He then led a turnaround as CEO at Cunard Line in the 1980s and in 1993 founded Club Quarters, private, city-center hotels, which he led until his death. Bahna also was a founding investor in Priceline.com, the “name your own price” travel booking engine, which he had served as board chairman since 2004.
In August 2012, Bahna shared his “secret sauce” for leading change in a rare talk with Berkeley MBA students, building on his work with Dean Rich Lyons on the school’s innovative leader curriculum. Bahna spoke on the difference between “thinkers” and “transactors” and described how to become a “thinker” to solve problems and transform organizations.
“If a person can add another half hour or an hour in a week [to thinking], their power increases immensely,” said Bahna, who had spoken only one other time publicly in the last 20 years.
His recipe for success included the ability to boil down a challenge or course of action very concisely, sales skills to convince others to implement a solution, and determination and tenacity. He noted, for instance, how his efforts to successfully create the predecessor to business class travel at TWA in the late 1970s required him to rewrite a proposal more than 20 times.
Bahna, a member of the Haas School Board, was a generous supporter of Berkeley-Haas as well as the University of Michigan wrestling program. He served on the boards of the King and Low Heywood Thomas Schools and was active in the Young Presidents’ Organization. He supported Columbia New York Presbyterian’s atrial fibrillation research and served on its heart steering committee. He also was involved in developing the Center for Integrative Medicine & Wellness at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Conn., where he lived.
Bahna is survived by his wife, Dorothy Ballard Bahna; two daughters and a son; and eight grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 4, in St. Cecilia’s Church, 1184 Newfield Avenue, Stamford, Conn. Interment will be private. The family will receive friends from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday March 3, at the Hoyt Funeral Home, 199 Main St, New Canaan, Conn. For online condolences and directions, visit hoytfuneralhome.com.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Bahna Fund for Electrophysiology/ New York- Presbyterian Fund, Inc. c/o Adele Conner, Office of Development, New York Presbyterian Hospital, 654 West 170th St., NY, NY 10032.
Read an interview with Bahna in the Fall 2012 issue of BerkeleyHaas magazine.