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Jay O. Light, Former Harvard Business School Dean, Dies at 81

Former Dean of Harvard Business School Jay O. Light died at 81 on Oct. 15.
Former Dean of Harvard Business School Jay O. Light died at 81 on Oct. 15. By Webb Chappell
By Paul E. Alexis, Crimson Staff Writer

Jay O. Light, who served as dean of the Harvard Business School from 2005 to 2010, died of cancer earlier this month at his home in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. He was 81.

Light, who earned his undergraduate degree from Cornell University and his doctorate at Harvard, served on the HBS faculty for 40 years between 1970-2010.

Light was the first HBS faculty member to receive the school’s Excellence in Teaching Award, which he received for his work in the first-year MBA program.

Light’s former students remember his wisdom and commitment to teaching, which they say allowed them to foster meaningful connections with him.

“Jay was extremely smart, self-deprecating, had great judgment and an impish sense of humor,” wrote Stephen A. Schwarzman, the founder and CEO of the Blackstone Group, who met Light in 1970 as a first-year at HBS. “He was a marvelous teacher who impacted many thousands of students over his career.”

Former University President Lawrence H. Summers appointed Light the dean of HBS in 2006, after he served as acting dean following the departure of Kim B. Clark the year prior. During his deanship, Light expanded HBS’s international footprint by helping to spearhead the Harvard Center Shanghai and took steps to bolster the school’s financial stability during the Great Recession.

“His wisdom, judgment, and ability to foresee and manage risk were invaluable to our school and our university during the financial crisis,” Joshua D. Coval, whose professorship is named after Light, wrote in an email.

Colleagues lauded his reliability and commitment to the University.

“Those who worked for him, with him and those he worked for could always count on [Light],” Summers wrote in a statement. “Jay taught me about the values HBS embodies, about the management of university endowments and most important through his example about how to stand up for excellence and foster community at the same time.”

“His optimism, deep empathy, and unique sense of humor made him a treasured colleague, mentor, and friend, ” Coval wrote.

Light is survived by his wife, Judy, and two children, Anne and James.

—Staff writer Paul E. Alexis can be reached at

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