After growing up on a farm in Southeast North Carolina, J. Michael Goodson '66 came to Duke University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1963 before attending Duke Law. He holds the distinction of being the first Duplin County resident to graduate from Duke and notes that his journey from rural roots to successful inter- national business career puts him in some pretty good company.
“I tell people that I was born in Northern Duplin County and Michael Jordan [lived in Wallace] at the other end of Duplin County,” says Goodson, chairman and CEO of New Jersey-based Crest Group Incorporated. “We both did okay.”
On Nov. 7, 2008 Goodson and his 13-year-old son, Michael, joined nearly 400 members of the Duke Law community — students, faculty, alumni, and friends — to dedicate the Star Commons and J. Michael Goodson Law Library. Goodson’s $10 million gift to the Law School, the largest single gift in the institution’s history, made possible the extensive library renovation that was completed in the fall of 2008.
“The heart of the Law School is the student body and the faculty, but the library lives on and transcends all these other forces,” Goodson says. “I just thought it was something that needed to be done. The opportunity to be a part of it and have your name associated with Duke Law School, I thought it was a good tradeoff.”
Goodson initially set out to become a tax lawyer but turned to investment banking in the late 1960s after realizing the earning potential that the latter career offered. Ultimately, he transitioned into business, where he consistently finds that his legal training has practical applications.
“In the business world, every day of the week there are ongoing legal ramifications of what you’re doing,” Goodson says. “I think it’s indispensable to be effective, particularly if you’re in the international area of commerce, to do your job as CEO if you don’t have a legal background.”
In the ’80s, Goodson used his legal and investment banking skills to take control of Crest Ultrasonics. What was then a $7 million company is now the global leader in the patented processes of precision ultrasonic cleaning, ultrasonic plastic welding, and vibration welding, thanks in large part to Goodson’s patented discovery in 1996 of the ability to enhance the transmission of high-frequency ultrasonics with aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, and other high-tech ceramics. Crest Group has manufacturing sites in Germany, France, Switzerland, the U.K., China, Malaysia, and the U.S.
“[Goodson] was enabled by his education here and has now reached back to enable the education of others,” said Duke President Richard Brodhead during a Nov. 6 reception celebrating the naming of the Goodson Law Library. “That’s a pretty good definition of what a university is, too. A university is a group of buildings surrounding a library in which people who were enabled reached forward to help enable the fulfillment of the promise of others.”
It was a meeting with President Brodhead in April 2006 that convinced Goodson to confirm his gift plans for the law library. “That interview and my perception of Brodhead’s leadership abilities was the clincher for finalizing the gift,” he says.
In addition to the library that bears his name, Goodson founded the William Van Alystne Professorship and has supported the Thomas F. Keller Professorship, the Edgar P. and Elizabeth C. Bartlett Professorship, the Law School Annual Fund, and endowments honoring Martin L. Black Jr. and Elvin R. Latty. He has been on the Duke Law Board of Visitors since 2005 and is a member of both the James B. Duke Society and the Duke University Founders’ Society.
“I think in terms of the future of the Law School and the impact that gifts can have, I’ve targeted the gifts for things that I believe are strategically important,” Goodson says.
He jokes that his pattern of gifts toward the intellectual life of the Law School may reflect a sense of guilt over not doing more while he was a student at Duke; however, many of his contributions demonstrate a clear appreciation for the people who contributed to an enjoyable and enriching law school experience.
“I have very fond memories of the professors and the student body from those days,” says Goodson, who explains that he and his classmates were “spoiled” by the easy access they had to professors. “I was here many, many years ago, and the Law School was smaller then, but there seemed to be an abundance of truly outstanding professors.”
Goodson also notes his appreciation for Professor Katharine Bartlett’s vision and tenacity during her tenure as dean of the Law School from 2000 to 2007.
“I saw that she had the leadership to focus on the needs and what she could do to help the Law School grow, and I thought she deserved recognition for her leadership,” Goodson says. “These initiatives for the library and for the commons are initiatives that were taken during her watch, and I felt she did an outstanding job.”