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Obituary: William B. Wolf (1920-2009)
Article Type: Obituary From: Journal of Management History, Volume 16, Issue 1
William Benjamin Wolf
The Academy's 26th President (1971), passed away at his home in West Seattle, WA, June 13, 2009. A true renaissance man with an interest in all aspects of international management, management consulting, human resource management, and the evolution of management thought, Bill was perhaps best known as the Editor of the Chester I. Barnard papers. He was born on June 9, 1920, the son of Meyer and Mabel (Cohen) Wolf.
Bill served on the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations faculty from 1969 to 1982. He held a prior appointments in the School of Business Administration at the University of Washington, where he also served as head wrestling coach, and the University of Southern California. Following his retirement form Cornell, he held visiting appointments at the Norwegian School of Management; Kyoto University; Hiroshima National University; University of New South Wales; University of Hawaii; Zhongshan University; University of California, Los Angeles; Instituto De Estudios Superiores De Administracion; and the University of California, Irvine, among others. Bill received his A.B. in Economics, with highest honors, from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was captain of the wrestling team and inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. While at Berkeley, he was an I.W. Hellman Scholar, as well as Teaching Assistant to Robert Aaron Gordon. From 1942 to 1948, Bill was the Supervisor of Industrial Engineering at Union Asbestos and Rubber, Cicero, IL. It was here that he came into contact with the asbestos dust and fibers that led to the mesothelioma he endured at the end of his life. Bill received his MBA degree from Northwestern University (1945) and his PhD degree from the University of Chicago (1954). He held a Carnegie Foundation Fellowship in 1949.
When Bill assumed the Academy's presidency on December 11, 1970, its membership roster listed 1,500 names. At the time, membership was growing at roughly 400 members a year. Circulation of the Academy of Management Journal – the Academy's only journal – was 3,400. Paradoxically, the most common complaint of the Academy's membership was the manner in which it was managed. In advance of his presidential year, Bill traveled over 25,000 miles to meet with Academy members throughout the country and spent countless hours on the phone and in meetings to address the members' concern. In response to their concern, as Academy President, Bill initiated various actions of which all current Academy members are beneficiaries. Most notably, he established the Academy's initial 11 Professional Divisions. As Bill wrote in a Presidential Letter to the membership, these divisions were “created to advance the profession by encouraging scholars of similar specialized interest to come together to recreate the old camaraderie which seems to be slipping away as the organization has grown bigger.”
Looking back across time to 1970, there is little doubt that the Academy was at a crossroads. The Academy's 31st annual meeting in Atlanta, August 15-18, 1971, was the first year that Professional Divisions met to determine their structure and future activities. The 550 members who registered for the meeting experienced a renewed vigor in the academy as an unprecedented array of leadership roles were opened to the membership. George A. Steiner, Bill's successor as Academy President, attributed this upsurge in vitality “to the stimulus of the new Professional Divisions.” This stimulus was felt not only within the Academy itself, but also throughout the USA, as regional associations soon emulated the new Professional Division structure as a mode for organizing their own programs. The Academy's history over the past 40 years shows that Bill was, indeed, prescient in his thinking and hopes. Today, the Academy has 18,611 members organized into 24 divisions and interest groups.
The emergence of the Academy in its present-day form is Bill Wolf's legacy. It is a legacy borne of a deep involvement and concern with challenges first faced by the Academy over 40 years ago. More than anyone, the Academy's current success is due to Bill's farsighted efforts to make the Academy responsive to its membership. He was especially proud to note that his dream for the Academy had blossomed into an international association of professionals from 109 nations.
Beyond his contributions to the Academy, Bill will be remembered for many things – his eclectic mind, his ability to breach disciplinary boundaries to create unpredictable connections, his good cheer and decency, and his respect for the wisdom that age and experience impart. Bill left many friends and family, including three sons, John Peters, Steve Hay, and Richard Kingsland and his daughter-in-laws Marilyn Rose Ferguson-Wolf, Mabelle Angeles Wolf and five loving grandchildren: Sarah Nicole Wolf, Ann Louise Ferguson Wolf, Simon Emmert Wolf, Melissa Anais Wolf, and Olivia Inez Wolf. He was preceded in death by his wife, Anne MaComb née Peters, who passed away in 1968. He will be missed by the many students, colleagues, and friends whose lives he touched. His final gift to all who knew him will remain the model of a life well lived. Memorial donations may be sent to The Wolf-Barnard Library in c/o of Peter Wolf (4819 45th Ave. SW, Seattle, WA 98116-4416, USA or firstname.lastname@example.org) or Patrick Cooley (4037 Francis Ave. N, Seattle, WA 98103-7728, USA).
Arthur G. BedeianJune 28, 2009