21 Feb 2013

HBS Professor Frank Aguilar Dies at 80

General management and ethics expert was known for his teaching and case writing skills
Francis J. Aguilar
Photo: Richard Chase

BOSTON—Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Emeritus Francis J. Aguilar, an authority on strategic planning and general management who also made his mark on generations of students as a gifted and caring teacher, died on Sunday, Feb. 17, in Portsmouth, NH. He was 80 and had been battling gallbladder cancer for the past three years. He was a member of the active HBS faculty for more than three decades.

"Frank Aguilar was a serious student and insightful observer of what general managers do and how they do it," said Stephen A. Greyser, the School's Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, and a longtime friend and colleague of Aguilar's. "For more than thirty years, Frank helped countless students and practitioners understand the complex responsibilities facing business leaders through his exemplary teaching and well-regarded books on general management issues. Beyond that," Greyser continued, "he was a wonderfully considerate person who treated everyone with kindness and respect."

At HBS Aguilar taught courses in General Management, Accounting and Control, Business Policy, and Ethics in the MBA program and several Executive Education programs. He was also involved in international education, teaching in and serving as faculty chairman of both the International Teachers Program, which instructed professors from other lands in the use of the case method, and the Harvard International Senior Managers Program (the international equivalent of the School's Advanced Management Program at the time). The latter assignment brought Aguilar and his family to Lausanne, Switzerland, for a year, followed by a sabbatical year in France.

From 1990 to 1994, Aguilar was deputy director of the Central and Eastern European Teachers Program, a cooperative effort between Harvard and other leading business schools to prepare academic leaders from former Eastern Bloc countries for influential roles as teachers of business in emerging free-market economies. He also taught executive programs and seminars in the United States, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Far East.

A prolific case writer, Aguilar authored or co-authored more than a hundred case studies during his career. He also wrote or co-wrote books and articles on corporate planning and business ethics, many with an international perspective reflecting his own experiences abroad as both an academic and traveler.

In his 1994 book Managing Corporate Ethics: Learning from America's Ethical Companies How to Supercharge Business Performance, Aguilar examined the ethical practices of more than 20 companies known for their high ethical standards, looking at ethics from a broad managerial point of view. He also dealt with these issues in a contribution to the 1998 Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics.

General Managers in Action: Policies and Strategies, published in 1992, was a revised and expanded edition of his widely regarded textbook for business policy courses and general management programs. The volume also served as a comprehensive reference for general managers.

Aguilar's 1967 book, Scanning the Business Environment, examined how companies acquire and use information about external events and trends to aid in strategic planning.

European Problems in General Management, which appeared in 1963, described various aspects of business policy, while accounting for the particular characteristics of European businesses.

Aguilar's involvement in business education also went beyond Harvard Business School. To increase the number of minorities embarking on careers in management, he helped create the Management Education Alliance (MEA) in 1992, an organization dedicated to improving business education in universities serving African-Americans and Hispanic Americans.

He served as MEA's executive director for several years. "It is an issue of national importance that minority communities achieve economic success," Aguilar noted in an article in the HBS Alumni Bulletin. "If we can help even two or three schools give their students a first-class management education, it will have a lasting impact on so many lives."

Aguilar retired from the active HBS faculty in 1995, but his love of teaching led him to join the faculty of the Harvard University Extension School in 2001, where colleagues and students alike lauded the high quality of his classes, the depth of his learning, and his extraordinary dedication to his "craft." Students consistently rated his course, General Managers in Action, which he continued to teach last fall in the throes of his serious illness, as one of the finest in the Extension's management curriculum. "Professor Aguilar has the unique ability to challenge students and get the most out of them," wrote one of his many student admirers. In 2008, he received the Extension School's Fussa Award for exceptional teaching in business and management.

In 2002, Aguilar was invited to deliver the Extension School's Commencement address, which he titled "Cleared for Take-Off." Using flying as a metaphor, the former U.S. naval aviator told graduating students to "do all you can to make your life's flight reach far and high. Most of us hold our destiny in our own hands." It was a message that rang true for Aguilar, who rose from humble beginnings to achieve success.

Born on Aug. 19, 1932, in New York City, Francis Joseph Aguilar grew up in the Bronx. His father, who emigrated from Mexico, was a waiter; his mother came to the United States from Germany. "My first language was broken English," Aguilar noted, "and while my parents were great cheerleaders, they could not point out goals and directions."

Aguilar charted his own course, graduating from Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx in 1950 and receiving a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute four years later. He then served as a pilot and squadron legal officer in the U.S. Navy in the waning years of the Korean War and beyond. Retiring from active duty in 1957, he worked as controller at the Northern Research & Engineering Corporation for three years, before going on to Harvard Business School, where he earned an MBA in 1959 and DBA in 1965. He joined the HBS faculty in 1964 while still a doctoral student and became a full professor with tenure in 1971.

Aguilar consulted with various firms on strategic planning and business ethics. He also served on several company boards, including Dynamic Research Corporation in Andover, MA, and he was a trustee of Bentley University in Waltham, MA.

He received an honorary degree (D.Ec.Sc.) in 1995 from Janus Pannonius University in Hungary.

In addition to his work, Aguilar had many other interests such as golf, skiing, ballroom dancing, painting, classical music, theater, opera, and reading.

An avid outdoorsman and hiker, he ventured up the hundred highest mountains in New England and in his forties climbed the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Mount Fuji. He especially enjoyed the time spent with his family at their summer home on Squam Lake in New Hampshire, where they went kayaking, canoeing, and sculling.

Back on firm ground, Aguilar could often be found clearing the rapidly growing brush in his back yard to uncover the hidden blueberry bushes he particularly fancied, along with the grapes and raspberries that grew in his garden in Belmont, MA, where the family resided for nearly four decades before moving to Portsmouth, NH, six years ago.

Aguilar is survived by his wife of 48 years, Gillian (Crawford); two sons, Bruce of Belmont, MA, and John of Arvada. CO; two daughters, Kim Harvey of Cape Elizabeth, ME, and Anne-Marie Aguilar of Portland, OR; a brother, Werner, of Waverly Hall, GA; and six grandchildren.

A funeral mass will be celebrated at the Immaculate Conception Church, 98 Summer St., Portsmouth, NH, on Saturday, March 9, at 11 a.m. A reception will follow in St. James Church Hall, 2075 Lafayette Rd., in Portsmouth.

Memorial donations may be made to Catholic Relief Services, PO Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21203, or Missionaries of Charity, 335 East 145th St., Bronx, NY 10451, or to a charity of one's choice.


HBS Communications

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