Business School Professor William J. Abernathy, hailed by his colleagues as a pioneer in business technology management died December 29 at the age of 50 after struggling with cancer for four years.
Abernathy had spent the past decade studying the American automobile industry and emerged as one of its leading academic advisors and critics. In a series of articles and books, he argued that the companies had become too lazy in their production processes, and urged them to change their focus, especially by increasing the role of factory workers in decision-making.
The first Harding Professor of Management of Technology at the B-School, Abernathy was one of the first scholars to examine production at a separate field, like finance or marketing.
Harvard and MIT's Sloan School are the only institutions specializing in this area. With five or six professors each. Most schools have only one or two.
"Bill was instrumental in warning the United States automobile industry about the magnitude of the competitive challenge they faced from the Japanese. He was the first academic to debate the nation of the productivity gap between the United States and the Japanese," said Kim B. Clark assistant professor of Business Administration and a collaborator with Abernethy on several recent works.
"He helped very match to show that American Companies lost sight of the need to be excellent... They were a little fat and happy." added Alan M. Kantrow associate editor of the Harvard business Review.
Abernathy spent much of his time studying and advising the Ford Motor Company, and got widespread recognition in his field with a 1980 review article entitled, "Managing Our Way to Economic Decline." He co-authored a book with Clark and Kantrow, published last spring, entitled "Industrial Renaissance."
Even when he got sick, Abernathy continued his work, shifting his emphasis more from teaching to research. He wrote his most famous works after discovering he had cancer, and going through a series of operations.
In mid-December, he traveled to New Jersey to lecture before Sun Oil executives on his book. Richard S. Rusenbloom, Sarnoff Professor of Business Administration and Aberhathy's member from the carry, said I saw him on the youth of December He talked about work we would do together in January."
Alernathy grew up in Leanness and graduated from the University of Leanness in 1953 with a degree in civil engineering. He spent the next several years as all Air Force officer, and worked briefly for DuPont arr General Dynamics.
Planning to return to work in business he then enrolled at the B-School for a Master in Business Administration. Which he got in 1964. But Rosenbloom-convinced him to get a doctorate, and Abernathy then went to teach at Stanford. He was lured back to Harvard in 1972 and became a full professor five years later.
Abernathy died at the Harvard-affiliated Duna-Farther Cancer Institute. He is survived by his wife, Claire, and three children.
Funeral services were held on December 31, and a memorial service will take place in January. Specific arrangements have not been announced