Charles W. Lake joined R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, the largest non-government printing concern in the nation, as a sales trainee in 1946 after serving five years as an ordnance officer in the U.S. army. He became assistant to the treasurer in 1947, director of engineering research and development in 1965, director of operations in 1958, director of the Chicago Manufacturing Division in 1959, and was promoted to senior vice president in 1963. Lake was named director in 1963, president in 1964, and was elected to chairman of the board and CEO in 1975.
Lake was born in LaPorte, Indiana, in 1918. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 1941 and an MBA from Chicago Booth's Executive MBA Program in 1949, a member of the fifth class to graduate from the program.
His many positions in alumni service to the University of Chicago included memberships on the Council on Chicago Booth, the Visiting Committee to the Divinity School, and the Citizens Board. As board member of the John Crerar Library, he played a major role in its merger with the science libraries of the University of Chicago. Lake also served on the board of the American Hospital Supply Corporation, CBI Industries Inc., Inland Steel Company, and the Northern Trust Company.