Consulting firm owner who influenced public policy
Does wearing a seat belt save lives and if so, what’s the cost of that safety measure across society?
How do women efficiently prepare for the economic demands of retirement, especially for health care and especially in the face of evaporating defined benefit pension plans?
These are two of the thousands of questions Wilbur A. Steger sought to answer during his 87 years of life — a life that ended Saturday following about five years of coping with the effects of Parkinson’s disease.
From his home in Squirrel Hill and his office in the East End, Mr. Steger spent a career helping decisionmakers from Pittsburgh to the White House gather information and discern courses of action on issues of every ilk in his capacity as the president, chairman and founder of Consad Research Corp., an independent consulting firm that launched in 1963 and remained in business until about a year ago.
“Will was an amazing man whose impact can’t be overstated,” said Jeffrey Lewis of Turlock, Calif., former chief of staff to Teresa Heinz and president of the Heinz Family Philanthropies.
Mr. Turlock, who worked at Heinz from 1991 to 2011, said he knew Mr. Steger throughout most of that time both professionally and personally because of his work as a trained economist who helped chart the course of public policy at all levels of government and society.
“He was an expert at helping to figure out where the potholes were in the road before you walked down it. He always was able to come up with question you didn’t think about, even when you thought you had come up with all the questions. He was amazing,” Mr. Turlock said.
Born on July 30, 1929, in New York City, Mr. Steger was a son of Harry and Sadie Steger. He graduated in 1946 from Lawrence Woodmere Academy on New York’s Long Island, obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1950 from Yale University, then his Ph.D. in 1955 from Harvard University. His 1,100-page doctoral thesis was about taxes.
He met his first wife, the former Sheila Lichtblau, when they were each 16 years old at a friend’s birthday party. Although their families had planned an elaborate wedding at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City for December 1949, they eloped a month earlier but ended up holding to the second date as well.
It was an unusual start to an extraordinary marriage, said Fran Steger of Shadyside, one of the couple’s four children.
“They were really in love,” she said.
Her mother attended Hunter College in New York, then shifted her studies to Simmons College in Boston, from which she earned a degree in library science, after the couple married. She died in 2000. Mr. Steger and his wife and young family (two children at that point) moved to California to work for the Rand Corp. think tank as an economics analyst after he obtained his doctoral degree. He and a partner decided to found a public policy research and consulting firm: Consad Research.
Their first big client was the City of Pittsburgh, which is why Mr. Steger moved here, initially thinking it would be a six-month stint, according to a column he once wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His job in 1963 was to help Pittsburgh craft an economic simulation model — a strategic plan for the city’s future.
The business expanded over the years, with Mr. Steger establishing offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City. In all, about 40 people were employed.
Fran Steger said her father worked with many entities: private, philanthropic and governmental. She said he had been inside the White House numerous times and had worked with virtually every administration from John Kennedy’s through Bill Clinton’s. In fact, Mr. Steger often would be seen sporting a blue ball cap embroidered with the words White House, his daughter noted.
Ms. Steger and her brothers — Jeff of Kensington, Md.; Hal of Half Moon Bay, Calif., and Ed of The Woodlands, Texas — agreed Sunday that their father had boundless energy, numerous interests and a passion for work.
Hal Steger, who resides in Half Moon Bay, Calif., recalled some of the particular issues his father’s firm tackled: the efficacy of rules requiring the use of seat belts and the economic costs to society at large; the economic impact of tightening restrictions on particulates in the air that are generated by coal mining.
Mr. Turlock said the Heinz foundation hired Mr. Steger to deal with a range of economic issues, particularly in the area of women and health care.
“He dealt with the most important issues of the day,” Mr. Turlock recalled.
Because their father required only a few hours of sleep per night, the siblings laughed when recalling one of the children spotting their father in bed one morning.
“My brother asked ‘Who is that man in Mom’s bed?’ because my father was never seen in bed, not even on the weekend,” Fran Steger said.
She said her father departed for work early each weekday, returned home for a 7 p.m. dinner with the family, then retired to the living room “with his yellow legal pad” to do more work. He worked steadily until a few years ago, then shut down the firm in 2016.
Although Wilbur Steger often squeezed in a bit of work on Saturdays, the weekends were for wife and children.
Fran Steger said her father was an avid tennis player, having been captain of the high school tennis team. He played through his early 70s. Because he was highly competitive, his daughter said her dad wouldn’t play with her again after she beat him once about 20 years ago.
She said her parents were Pittsburgh sports fans and enjoyed Pittsburgh’s cultural events, from the opera to the symphony orchestra to plays. They also were active in their Jewish faith as members of Congregation Dor Hadash, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Squirrel Hill.
In addition to his four children, Mr. Steger is survived by his second wife, Sheila Kaufman. The couple made their home recently at Juniper Village in Forest Hills. He also has seven grandchildren, one brother and two sisters.
A graveside service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at Homewood Cemetery, where he will be interred next to his first wife.