Founder of FICO, William Fair ’39 brought data analysis to credit scores

One of the most important men in the world of commerce was William Fair ’39, the founder of FICO.

His company began in 1956 as Fair, Isaac and Company when Fair, an engineer, and Earl Isaac founded their San Rafael-based company on the principal that data, used intelligently, can improve business decisions.

Over the years, the company gained success by providing analytics software, services and FICO scores, the most-used credit scores in the world, to help financial service companies decide how to do business. Customers included credit-card issuers, banks, retailers, auto companies and utilities.

Its early successes included work with Conrad Hilton, who hired FICO to design, program and install a billing system for Carte Blanche in 1957, and a 1963 job for Montgomery Ward, building a credit scoring system for that department store chain.

Fair moved his company in 1961 to San Francisco’s Financial District and, in the 1970s, worked with Connecticut Bank and Trust and Wells Fargo, among other firms. In 1977 his company implemented the first credit scoring system at a European bank and, five years later, opened its first European office in Monaco.

Between 1960 and his retirement in 1991, Fair served as president of his company and later as chairman and technical consultant to his firm and its subsidiary, DynaMark, Inc. The year he retired, the company made its credit bureau risk scores available at all three major U.S. credit reporting agencies.

Fair was well prepared for the job. He had degrees from CalTech, Stanford and Cal, and he was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Operations Research Society of America and Caltech Associates.

He died Jan. 19, 1996, at the age of 73 after a battle with cancer. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on his accomplishments in a Jan. 25 story that quoted company president and CEO Larry Rosenberger as saying, “All of us associated with Fair, Isaac — employees, stockholders and clients — are deeply indebted to Bill Fair. The statistically-based decision processes and automated processing technologies which he pioneered, along with his partner, the late Earl Isaac, have profoundly changed the U.S. consumer credit industry.”

He is survived by his wife, Inger; sons Erik and Christian and his daughter, Ellen. His brother, Robert R. Fair ’36, died in 2012.