HBS Sociology Professor Dies, 89

Longtime Harvard Business School sociology professor and leader in the field of organizational behavior Paul R. Lawrence died last week of prostate cancer at a retirement community in Bedford, Mass, according to a HBS press release. He was 89.

Lawrence’s research on organizational change and design legitimized the field as being “worthy of study at a business school,” HBS professor Michael L. Tushman said. Tushman currently holds the Paul R. Lawrence Professorship, a chair position named in Lawrence’s honor in 1999.

“With a remarkable lifelong intensity about his research, he never let up in his quest for understanding organizations in our society,” Tushman said.

Lawrence received his MBA degree at HBS in 1947 along with a doctorate in commercial science in 1950, according to the press release.

In the following decades, Lawrence shed light on organizational issues such as race relations and urban governance, health care, and the management of research and development.


He was known not only for this research, but also for his prolific authorship of books and articles. In 1967, Lawrence coauthored “Organization and Environment: Managing Differentiation and Integration.” The work, which was named the best management book of the year and has been cited over 2,000 times in journals, challenged the conventional idea that there is a single recipe for organizational effectiveness.

In addition to his research, Lawrence taught first-year MBA classes for 18 consecutive years and participated on some 60 dissertation committees for Harvard doctoral candidates, according to the press release.

“Paul Lawrence’s legacy comprises not only his seminal writing and the large number of students he advised and guided to their doctorates, but a fundamentally different way of thinking about what constitutes good management research,” Ranjay Gulati, head of the organizational behavior unit at HBS, said in the press release. “He believed it was the responsibility of researchers to shed light on the management issues of the time.”

Even when he was well into his eighties, Lawrence strove to develop a new unified theory of human behavior.

“Dad was intensely curious,” his daughter Anne T. Lawrence said in the press release. “He saw himself as a synthesizer, someone who could draw on many fields to craft a fresh way of looking at the world.”

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria called Lawrence an “extraordinary person in all facets of his life.”

“Paul will long be remembered as a giant in the history of Harvard Business School,” Nohria said in the press release. “He will be greatly missed by all of us who had the privilege of knowing and learning from him,”

A memorial service will be held Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. in the Story Chapel at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.