31 Aug 2009
Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus Louis “By” Barnes Dies at 81
Longtime faculty member was master teacher and expert on family businesses
ShareBar
Louis B. Barnes Professor Louis B. "By" Barnes
Photo: Richard Chase

BOSTON — Retired Harvard Business School Professor Louis B. "By" Barnes, an expert on organizational behavior, family-owned businesses, and teaching by the case method, died on August 22 at the Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor from complications from kidney failure. He was 81 years old. A member of the HBS faculty for more than 40 years, at the time of his death he was the School's John D. Black Professor Emeritus.

Barnes's research focused on small groups and their function within an organization, career paths, interpersonal relationships, and organizational change. He was one of the first academics to look at the dynamics of family companies in the 1970s, helping to lay the groundwork for Harvard Business School's long tradition of research in this area. Through his exemplary teaching and insightful writings, he helped countless students and practitioners understand the human side of enterprise.

"By had an extraordinary ability to phrase questions that drew thoughtful insights from his students," recalled Senior Lecturer John A. Davis. "He would carefully listen to their answers and respond, helping them refine their arguments and fostering a lively discussion." In a 1997 interview, he characterized his philosophy of teaching as "the discipline of listening extracarefully before making interventions in the discussion."

Barnes taught courses in the School's MBA and Doctoral programs as well as the Advanced Management Program for senior executives; the Program for Management Development, offered for many years to middle managers; and the Owner/President Management Program for entrepreneurs, which became the focus of his attention from 1989 until his retirement from the active faculty in 1998.

In 1997, Barnes co-created and taught a new second-year MBA elective, Management of the Family Business, and an executive program, Families in Business, which explored topics critical to family-owned companies, including succession, ownership control, and governance. "We spend much of the time wrestling with the knotty interpersonal issues that families bring to company situations," he once said.

Barnes worked closely with the late C. Roland Christensen, a longtime HBS colleague and legendary case method teacher, to improve the quality of classroom instruction at HBS and other parts of Harvard University, offering faculty seminars on participant-centered learning at Harvard Business School as well as at Harvard's Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In 1998, he won the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award from the International Association of Family Business Programs.

Barnes's expertise in human behavior and development led him to teaching assignments at the Laboratory of Community Psychiatry, a multidisciplinary training program in community mental health at Harvard Medical School. He also taught a Harvard College undergraduate course called Group Psychology and Team Development. "By was very psychologically oriented and always looking for new ideas and theories to support his work," said Jay W. Lorsch, the Louis E. Kirstein Professor of Human Relations at HBS.

Barnes authored or co-authored nine books and many articles on organizational development and leadership. His last book, published in 1994, was a revised version of Teaching and the Case Method, coauthored with Christensen and Abby J. Hansen. It remains popular to this day. His 1991 volume, Organizational Transitions for Individuals, Families and Work Groups, is a collection of family business-related cases and readings.

Orientation and Conflict in Career, published in 1970, analyzed the career problems of a group of scientists and engineers at the same facility, examining, among other things, connections between early childhood experiences and career performance in adult life.

Among his other publications are The Distribution of Authority in Formal Organizations, which reported the results of a two-year study assessing the impact of changes in organizational structure at a research and development center. It won the Academy of Management Best Book Award in 1968.

An influential article titled "Transferring Power in the Family Business" appeared in Harvard Business Review in 1976. "The Hidden Side of Organizational Leadership" won the Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize for the most outstanding Sloan Management Review article on organizational development published in 1986.

Barnes also wrote dozens of case studies, many of which were staples for students in the School's various educational programs. "The Graham Family and the Washington Post Company," for example, describes how Katherine Graham and other members of this prominent newspaper family overcame a variety of problems.

Outside the classroom, Barnes provided advice, support and guidance to countless MBA and doctoral students. "A soft-spoken, gracious, and kind gentleman, By was eager to help his students and was always very generous with his time with them," said John Davis.

One of the highlights of his career, Barnes once noted, was the opportunity to serve as president of the then-Harvard-affiliated Iran Center for Management Studies in Tehran from 1975 to 1977. He was also a consultant for the International Management Development Institute in Lausanne Switzerland, and he advised major companies in Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, England, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Spain.

He was a member of numerous professional associations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association, the Society for Applied Anthropology, and the Society for General Systems Research.

Louis Byington Barnes was born on August 6, 1928, in St. Paul, Minn. He moved with his family to Williamsville, NY, near Buffalo, in 1941. As a child, he spent summers on Minnesota's Gull Lake - the beginning of a lifelong passion for living near the water.

After graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., in 1946, Barnes went on to major in English at Amherst College, where he was captain of the varsity football team and president of his class. He earned his MBA and doctorate in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1952 and 1958, respectively.

Barnes began his teaching career in 1952 at MIT's Sloan School of Management as an instructor in industrial management. He returned to HBS as a research associate in 1956 and served for a time as well as a teaching fellow in a Harvard College course on life cycles taught by the late Professor Erik Erikson, the renowned psychologist and psychoanalyst. He was also a protégé of the late HBS Professor Fritz Roethlisberger, who, along with the late Professor Elton Mayo, was one of the fathers of the field of organizational behavior.

Barnes became a full professor with tenure in 1968 and was named to the John D. Black Professorship in 1995. After retiring from the School's active faculty, he continued to teach seminars on case method teaching for a number of years.

A former resident of Concord, Mass., Barnes spent the final years of his life on the Maine coastline in the little town of Brooklin - appropriately enough, in a house overlooking the water.

He is survived by his wife, Julie Wang, of Brooklin, and two ex-wives, Florence Eggleston of Wellesley, Mass., and Wendy Slattebo of Concord, Mass. He also leaves two brothers, Harry Barnes of Peacham, Vermont, and Jim Barnes of Crawfordsville, Ind.; a daughter, Linda Barnes of Cambridge, Mass; two sons, John Barnes of Readfield, Maine, and Ted Barnes of Wayland, Mass; a stepdaughter, Alisa Pascale of Arlington, Mass; five grandchildren and a stepgrandchild. Another daughter, Lisa Murphy, died in 1996.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Sept. 5, at 3:30 p.m., at the Barnes home at 3 Flye Point Rd. in Brooklin. According to his wife, "We will toast him with chocolate milkshakes - his favorite food!"

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in his honor to the Peninsula Ambulance Corps, Water St., Blue Hill, ME 04614.

About Harvard Business School

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.​​​​