07 Apr 2023

Honoring the Life and Legacy of Dean Jay O. Light


by Shona Simkin

Photo courtesy Hensley Carrasco.

On Monday, April 3, the Harvard Business School (HBS) community of current and former faculty and staff, students, alumni, and family and friends gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of Dean Jay O. Light, who died on October 15, 2022, with panel discussions and video tributes.

Light, who served as the ninth Dean of the School from 2005-2010, joined the faculty of HBS in 1970 after earning his doctorate from the joint HBS-FAS program in decision and control theory. He was named the George Fisher Baker Jr. Professor of Business Administration in 1988, and in 1994, the Dwight P. Robinson Jr. Professor of Business Administration, before assuming two leadership roles: senior associate dean and director of faculty planning and senior associate dean and director of planning and development.

Dean Srikant Datar welcomed the attendees and members of the Light family to Klarman Hall, noting the many achievements of the “visionary leader and treasured friend,” including winning the inaugural Excellence in Teaching Award, opening the first international University center in Shanghai, and overseeing the School’s centennial celebration alongside the coinciding global economic crisis in 2008, through which he navigated the School with “compassion and decisive action.”

Professor Luis Viceira, senior associate dean of Executive Education and HBS Online, led a panel discussion with four of Light’s former students: Ray Dalio (MBA 1973), Jamie Dimon (MBA 1982), Seth Klarman (MBA 1982), and Steve Schwarzman (MBA 1972, joining remotely).

Reflecting on their relationship with Light and his impact on their careers, the four noted his infectious energy level, love for good debate and conversation, sense of curiosity, extraordinary listening skills, trustworthiness, and seemingly effortless command of the fields of financial markets and investments. Summarizing their takeaways from their enduring friendships and collaborations, they highlighted Light’s ability to model rather than dictate lessons, his remarkable people skills, and how he treated everyone with respect. “Always doing the right thing was a constant with Jay,” remarked Schwarzman, “even if it was the hardest thing to do.”

Angela Crispi, executive dean for administration, then moderated a discussion with HBS Deans Kim Clark (joining remotely), Srikant Datar, and Nitin Nohria.

Recalling his essential qualities as Dean, they noted his keen strategic insight, his ability to work with everyone throughout the institution, and his love of mentoring. “Jay cared deeply about developing others, and saw mentoring as a joy and privilege—a relationship in which one gained as much as they gave,” said Dean Datar.

Discussing his stewardship of the School through the financial crisis, Crispi recalled Light’s prescience in placing recession indicators into School planning well before the collapse. “Jay being Jay, he had the ability to look around corners and see shadows where others might not have,” she said, noting his insistence on continuing to make investments into the core values of the School—faculty and staff development and student financial aid—always putting the organization and our community first.

“Jay’s legacy is us—all of us,” said Dean Clark. “Like all great teachers, his impact extends to people he’ll never know. People who are true leaders do not need positions of formal authority to effect extraordinary influence. His influence began before he became Dean and will ripple for a long time to come.”

“In the end, your influence lives through the next generation,” concurred Dean Nohria. “Jay’s support will forever be at the core of what this institution is; he lived the mission of the School.”

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