Class of 1944
David Finn’s accomplishments fall into two major categories: business and the arts.
As co-founder of Ruder Finn, Inc., more than 60 years ago, he built a company from scratch into one of the largest independent public relations firms in the business, a global giant with offices in the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia. In so doing, he not only helped shape the public relations industry into its present form, but was instrumental in influencing the paths of some of the world’s biggest corporations and organizations, from trade associations to governments, from Fortune 500 businesses to not-for-profit operations. As Ruder Finn’s chief executive officer, he has also been a leader in exploring the ethical and philosophical dimensions of public relations and was the first to establish an ethics committee within a PR agency.
At the same time, David Finn made his mark as a widely published and exhibited painter and writer. He is perhaps best known, however, as a photographer with a special interest in capturing images of the world’s great sculptures. His many books are filled with his photographs of sculpture from different periods of history, from ancient Egypt and classical Greece to contemporary western art. Sir Kenneth Clark called him “a photographer of genius.” In 2008, Finn published his 100th book, “Anita Huffington, Sculpture.” His paintings and photographs have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and L’Orangerie in Paris as well as in galleries in Chicago, London, Madrid and Toronto. He has also written or co-authored books about the business world, such as “The Corporate Oligarch” (1969) and “The Business-Media Relationship” (1981). His book “Public Relations and Management,” published in 1960, has been translated in several languages, including Japanese, Spanish and Arabic.
Finn, who was born in New York on Aug. 30, 1921, co-founded Ruder Finn in 1948. His partner was his brother-in-law, Bill Ruder, and they were each 27 years old. Their first client was a young singer named Perry Como. Other show business clients — Jack Lemmon, Dinah Shore, Frankie Laine — followed. As time went on, the client list expanded exponentially, ranging from the secular (Chase, Sara Lee, the Academy Awards, the World Bank) to the spiritual (the Vatican). Finn has counseled senior executives and government officials on the environment, education, the arts, public health, nutrition, treatment of minorities and the economy. For many years, he was an adjunct professor of public relations at New York University and has taught at The New School for Social Research. He has been an adviser to the World Bank and was involved in programs for the White House, the United Nations and various government agencies, including the Federal Reserve Board. His book “Public Relations and Management” has been translated into several languages. Finn is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the advisory council of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The many honors that have come his way include a Townsend Harris Medal from the College in 2001, and the John W. Hill Award from the New York Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America in 2006, “for his leadership in the practice of public relations, service to the industry and the general public, and demonstration of the highest standards of ethical conduct.”