BOSTON—Joseph Auerbach, a distinguished Boston attorney who joined the Harvard Business School faculty in 1980 at the age of 64 at the request of then-Dean John H. McArthur to pursue a long-standing love of teaching, died on April 28, 2013, at the Leonard Florence Center in Chelsea, Mass. He was 96.
A renowned expert in securities and railroad law and the architect of some of the most famous corporate reorganizations in history, at the time of his death Auerbach was the School’s MBA Class of 1957 Professor of Business Administration Emeritus. Beginning in 1952, he was a member of the Boston-based law firm of Sullivan & Worcester, serving as a partner, senior partner, and counsel.
Auerbach taught the MBA elective course Law and the Corporate Manager, which focused on the intersection between business and law in order to make students aware of the areas in which legal considerations such as antitrust issues and corporate governance might have to be addressed during their careers.
He also forged an intellectual alliance with Samuel L. Hayes III, now the School’s Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Investment Banking Emeritus. One result was their 1986 book, Investment Banking and Diligence, which provided the first historical overview of the evolution of the American due diligence concept in the federally regulated securities industry.
The amiable and articulate Auerbach made a lasting mark at HBS not only in the MBA program but in the School’s Executive Education offerings. When he retired from the HBS faculty in 1986, he continued to teach for nine more years in the Harvard Extension School. Sartorially splendid in his bow ties and suits, he was popular with students on both sides of the Charles River. In 1996, Harvard Business School honored him with a Distinguished Service Award to recognize his outstanding service to the School and the field of business.
Auerbach’s academic career was informed by a wealth of worldly experiences dating back to 1941 when, fresh out of Harvard Law School by way of Harvard College, he joined the public utilities division of the relatively new Securities and Exchange Commission. His efforts there – both before and after US Army service during World War II – were a harbinger of a lifetime dedicated to finding answers to complex problems. In addition, Auerbach recalled in a 1996 HBS interview, “Working on these SEC cases with teams of accomplished lawyers, accountants, and securities analysts gave me an extraordinary education.”
The expertise gained during his four years at the SEC in Washington, DC, made Auerbach a perfect choice in 1949 to participate in a project being undertaken by the Allies in postwar Germany – the decartelization of that country’s giant steel, coal, chemical, and banking combines.
Assigned to the Combined Steel Group in Dusseldorf, Auerbach was the principal author of the Allied law that turned mammoth operations such as Germany’s United Steel Works into independent, publicly held companies. Two years later, with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, he was ready to return to the United States, confident that Europe was on its way to a common market.
Opting to settle in Boston with his family, Auerbach, who had been born in New Hampshire on Dec. 3, 1916, joined Sullivan & Worcester. Specializing in corporate law, securities offerings, bonds, gas pipelines, and railroads, he was named special counsel to the trustees of the bankrupt New Haven Railroad in 1961. That appointment later made him a major player in the reorganization of the Penn Central, the company created in 1968 by the joining of the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads that went broke just two years later—the biggest bankruptcy in the United States up to that time and a case that took almost a decade to resolve.
In retirement, Auerbach continued to go regularly to his law office and remained active beyond that by serving on several boards and involving himself in arbitration cases as well as traveling and collecting rare books. For many years he was a member of the Boston Athenaeum, a private library on Beacon Hill.
Auerbach is survived by his daughter, Hope Pym, of Westerham Kent, England, seven grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. His wife of many years, Judith (Evans), and son, Jonathan, passed away before him.
Funeral services were private.
Donations in Auerbach’s honor can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, c/o the Joseph Auerbach Fund, 480 Pleasant St., Watertown, MA 02472, Attention Maureen Bosco.
A memorial service is being planned for September at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.
Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 200 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and doctoral degrees, as well as more than 80 open enrollment Executive Education programs and more than 60 custom programs. For more than a century, HBS faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching to educate leaders who have shaped the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.
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