Harry Bulova Henshel, 88, former chair and CEO of Bulova

Harry Bulova Henshel, former chairman and chief executive officer of the Bulova Watch Corp., died June 29 at his home in Scarsdale, N.Y,  after a long illness. He was 88.

Henshel was a member of the 24 Karat Club since 1960 and was elected a senior member of the club in 2005.

The grandson of Joseph Bulova, who founded the company in New York City in 1875, as a 23-year-old immigrant from Bohemia, Henshel was the last member of the family to head the timekeeping company. Bulova Corporation, still American-owned and operated, is now a subsidiary of Loews Corporation.

Although the family ceased to have active control of the company in the late-1970s, Mr. Henshel retained an office at its Woodside, N.Y., headquarters until the time of his death.

Born in New York on February 5, 1919, Harry Bulova Henshel graduated from Brown University in 1940, and received a master’s degree from the Harvard University School of Business in 1951.  Following service in World War II, during which he rose to the rank of captain, he joined the family business, then headed by his uncle Ardé Bulova. 

Under the elder Bulova’s tutelage, Henshel learned the business from the bottom up, serving in a variety of capacities, including a stint as a traveling sales representative. After Ardé Bulova’s death in 1958, Henshel succeeded him as president at the age of 48, adding the title of chairman of the board in 1974, at the retirement of long-time company chairman, General Omar Bradley. 

According to a story that appeared in Time magazine in 1967. Henshel’s task at the time was to streamline marketing and crack down on jewelers selling Bulovas at less than fair-trade prices.

Between 1959 and 1967, Henshel complemented the company’s basic Bulova watch by introducing two new lines: the low-priced ($10.95 to $29.95) Caravelle, designed to compete with the Timex, and the top-quality Accutron ($125 and up), a battery-powered electronic watch whose tuning-fork action assures precision, makes the timepiece hum instead of tick, according to the magazine account. The new lines caught on so fast that Bulova said its combined dollar-sales volume during 1966 exceeded overall watch sales of either of Bulova’s chief U.S. competitors, Elgin and Hamilton.
Following the lead of his father, Colonel Harry D. Henshel, a member of the U.S. Olympic Basketball Committee for 25 years, Mr. Henshel maintained a strong interest in amateur sports, serving as a track official at major events, including the Milrose Games and, in 1948, developing the Bulova Phototimer, the first sports automatic timing device. 

Active in jewelry industry charities, Mr. Henshel served on the board of F.E.G.S. Health and Human Services System, a project of the UJA-Federation of New York dedicated to a variety of needs including employment, training and rehabilitation.  Earlier, Mr. Henshel was involved in the founding of the Joseph Bulova School of Watchmaking, established by the Bulova company in 1945 to train disabled veterans, all of whom were guaranteed jobs in the jewelry industry.

Mr. Henshel was also a member of the board of governors of the Parsons School of Design of The New School University, served on the boards of the Horsemen’s Benevolent Association, Surprise Lake Camp, Adelphi University and the Westchester Philharmonic, and actively supported UNICEF, White Plains Hospital Center and Brown University.

Mr. Henshel is survived by his wife, the former Joy Altman, to whom he was married in 1948, their daughters, Dayle, of New York, Patti, of Bethesda, Md., Diane, of Bloomington, Ind., and Judy, of Eugene, Ore., and four grandchildren.

Funeral Services were held at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Donations in his memory can be made to Surprise Lake Camp, FEGS, or any organization of your choice.