HBS History Professor Dies

Thomas K. McCraw Sr.
Courtesy of Cullen Schmitt

Long-time Harvard Business School professor Thomas K. McCraw Sr. died in Cambridge, Mass. on Saturday, Nov. 3. McCraw, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is remembered at HBS for strengthening the business history program.

Thomas K. McCraw, Sr., who expanded the teaching of business history at the Harvard Business School and won the Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Prophets of Regulation,” died in Cambridge, Mass. on Sat., Nov. 3.

He was 72.McCraw, who joined the HBS faculty in 1978 and retired in 2006, led the School’s Research Seminar in business history and developed the curriculum for many MBA courses—including a popular elective called “The Coming of Managerial Capitalism.”

“When he arrived at HBS, business history teaching as such was relatively limited for the MBAs,” said Geoffrey G. Jones, a professor and faculty chair of the HBS’s Business History Initiative.

“McCraw was a leading part of the team which took a course of 30 people and turned it into a course which had between 300 and 400 MBAs a year doing American business history.”

While managing the School’s department on Business, Government, and the International Economy, McCraw actively recruited outside historians, economists, and political scientists guided by the vision that MBA students “needed an interdisciplinary view of the global environment,” Jones said.

“The fact that we have a strong group of seven, maybe eight historians here at the Business School...that’s thanks to Tom,” said Richard H. K. Vietor, a professor of business administration at HBS.

McCraw used biographical narrative throughout his own research to represent economic concepts such as capitalism, innovation, and regulation.

In “The Prophets of Regulation,” McCraw told the stories of four American intellectuals who shaped public policy by addressing economic regulation in different time periods and government sectors.“

It was beautifully researched,” Vietor said. “[McCraw] went through, and each paragraph and sentence he made as clear and readable as possible, so that the book would not only be of great value to scholars and graduate students, but very readable for, say, an undergraduate student.”

McCraw continued to write books after retiring from the Business School; his most recent work, “The Founders and Finance,” was published in October of this year, and he was planning a book about immigrant entrepreneurs to be published in 2015.“

McCraw recruited me here and then he oversaw my first years here,” Jones said.

“It’s always been challenging for historians to build a credible identity at the Business School, so he was important as a mentor and then as a confidant.”

McCraw is survived by his wife, Susan, his son Thomas, Jr., his daughter, Elizabeth, and three grandchildren.

—Staff writer Brian C. Zhang can be reached at brianzhang@college.harvard.edu.

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