opperman 2011
Opperman in 2011

Dwight Opperman, the former CEO of West Publishing Co., died yesterday. Opperman became an editor at West shortly after his graduation from law school in 1951 and eventually rose to the top position. He was instrumental in the development and launch of Westlaw and in setting the company on a course from traditional book publisher to electronic information services leader.

Opperman was CEO of the closely held company in 1996 when it was sold to Thomson Corp. for $3.4 billion. In 2002, Forbes ranked him as the 239th richest person in the United States.

In recent years, Opperman served as chairman of Key Investment Inc., a private investment company in Minneapolis run by his son, Vance Opperman, a lawyer and former president of West Publishing.

I had the occasion to meet Opperman several times when he was West CEO. He was always gracious and cheerful and seemed sincerely interested in ensuring that West’s products were of the highest editorial integrity and quality.

He represented an era of legal publishing that has been lost to digital technology and mega-conglomerates. In a sense, his death marks the end of an era.