05 Apr 2013

Gift to Harvard Business School Funds New Professorship on Gender, Work, Career, and Family

HBS Professor Emeritus Alvin J. Silk endows chair in honor of his late wife
LtoR: Alvin Silk, Nitin Nohria
Photo: Susan Young

BOSTON—As part of a two-day summit (April 4 and 5) celebrating the 50th anniversary of the admission of women to Harvard Business School’s two-year MBA program, Dean Nitin Nohria announced this morning that Alvin J. Silk, the School’s Lincoln Filene Professor of Business Administration Emeritus, has established an endowed chair named in honor of his late wife, Diane Doerge Wilson, an organizational sociologist and longtime researcher, author, and consultant on the impact of information technology on companies around the globe. Most recently, she was a senior partner at Accenture from 1995 until her death in 2003 at the age of 55 after a long and courageous battle with breast cancer. The new chair will support an HBS faculty member whose interests include the intersection of gender with work, career, and family issues, a passion of Dr. Wilson’s throughout her academic and professional career.

The first incumbent of the Diane Doerge Wilson Professorship of Business Administration is HBS professor Robin J. Ely, an authority on race and gender relations in organizations. In addition, as Senior Associate Dean for Culture and Community, she is heading an initiative at Harvard Business School to ensure that all members of the HBS community are able to thrive and reach their full potential for advancing the School’s mission of educating leaders who will make a difference in the world.

A member of the HBS faculty since 2001, Ely conducts research on race and gender relations in organizations, leadership, and organizational change. Her recent work includes studies of men and masculinity on offshore oil platforms, the impact of racial diversity on retail bank performance, and the experiences of professional women holding positions of power. Ely has taught MBA courses in leadership, diversity, teamwork, and statistics as well as doctoral courses in field research methods. She has also taught in the School’s Executive Education programs, including leadership programs designed specifically for women.

Among the many publications Ely has authored, coauthored, or edited are Reader in Gender, Work, and Organization; “Racial Diversity, Racial Asymmetries, and Team Learning Environment: Effects on Performance;” and “Taking Gender into Account: Theory and Design for Women’s Leadership Development Programs.”

Ely is a member of the Academy of Management, has served on the editorial boards of several academic journals, and is a past associate editor of Administrative Science Quarterly. A graduate of Smith College, she earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Yale University.

Diane Wilson was introduced to Harvard Business School while a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), from which she earned her doctorate in 1985. According to Professor Silk, she chose to study at HGSE because its doctoral program allowed her flexibility in planning her studies. As a result, she was able to enroll in the HBS field study course Creative Marketing Strategy, which required student teams to work on real-world problems and which was taught at that time by the legendary Professor Theodore Levitt.

“Diane came to HGSE with experience as a public school teacher and as an administrator and researcher focusing on public education issues and finance policy,” Silk explained. “Ted Levitt’s course turned her attention toward thinking deeply about the strategy of a European telecom company.” Wilson credited that experience with shaping the rest of her doctoral studies and the arc of her subsequent career, which concentrated on the impact of information technology on organizational change and strategy in business.

As a consultant, wife, stepmother, and elder sister to four brothers, Wilson also knew firsthand the importance of balance between career and family. In addition to seeking to achieve it in her own life, she frequently advised corporate clients on these issues and served as a mentor to other women in her firm.

“Diane believed strongly that it was a privilege to be part of the Harvard community and wanted to give something back,” Silk said. “During the later years of her illness, when we talked about the possibility of endowing a chair at Harvard Business School, where her professional life took on a new direction, her eyes lit up. And I know that nothing would have pleased her more than the appointment of Robin Ely as the first occupant. She is an accomplished and influential scholar who examines gender and race issues in the workplace. Thus, the focus of her teaching and research, along with her important administrative role at HBS, aligns perfectly with Diane’s abiding interest in work, career, and family.”

“I had the good fortune to first meet Diane more than twenty-five years ago when I was a graduate student at MIT and was hired to work with her as a summer research assistant on a project examining the development of successful strategic alliances,” Dean Nohria recalled. “Her interest in mentoring and helping others was evident to me from the outset. I am so grateful to Diane and Al for their wonderful generosity in making this professorship possible. It comes at an especially important time in the School’s history, as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of women in our two-year MBA program and as we make the creation of an inclusive culture a cornerstone of the School’s present and future.”

“I am honored to hold this new chair,” said Ely. “Diane served as a role model and inspiration for many other women. Through the research and teaching we do here and through the actions we take in response to the work of our Culture and Community Initiative, my colleagues and I want to make it easier for other women to follow in her footsteps.”

Born and raised in Ohio, Diane Doerge Wilson graduated from Connecticut College in 1970 with a degree in sociology and earned a master’s from the University of Denver in 1978. She taught English to junior high school students in the Denver area for several years before turning to a variety of positions in education administration, where she focused on creating greater public awareness and understanding of public education issues and finance policies. She planned and managed a five-year project directed at improving the quality of education in Colorado’s 181 school districts, for example, and then moved to Seattle to manage the start-up phase of a not-for-profit corporation funded by the Ford Foundation.

As she completed her doctorate, she took a job from 1984 to 1986 as program manager for the Management in the 1990s Program at the MIT Sloan School, an effort sponsored by several major corporations. She was responsible for watching over the budget, defining goals and objectives, negotiating sponsor contracts, and serving as a liaison between the faculty and the companies involved. In that role, she first met Al Silk, whose twenty-year career at MIT (1968-88) included service as deputy dean from 1981 to 1987. They were married in 1991.

From 1986 to 1989, she served as Principal Research Associate at MIT Sloan, a senior research position connected with the Management in the 1990s Program. That position also made it possible for her to teach courses on business transformation and information technology in a number of Sloan executive education offerings.

After stints with the consultancy of Nolan, Norton and Company and MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research, in 1984 Wilson launched her own firm, D.D. Wilson and Associates, where she consulted to the top management of Fortune 100 companies. In 1995, she joined the information and technology strategy practice of Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), concentrating at first on the uses of electronic data bases and reservations systems in the airline industry.

From 1986 until her death, Wilson also taught as a visiting professor and lecturer in the MBA and executive education programs at Hochschule St. Gallen in Switzerland. Her research also led to the publication of articles in several journals, including the Journal of Innovation and New Technology and Strategic Information Technology Management.

Al Silk was a visiting professor at Harvard Business School from 1987 to 1988 before joining the HBS Marketing Unit from MIT in 1988 as a full professor. He was named to the Lincoln Filene chair in 1990. His research focused on the economics of the advertising industry, especially the evolution of the organization and structure of the advertising and marketing services sector (including the effects of scale and scope on advertising agency costs and intermedia competition in the U.S. national advertising market). His earlier work had focused on developing model and measurement systems to support decisions in the areas of new product development and marketing communications.

A prolific scholar, Silk has published numerous journal articles, book chapters, case studies, and working papers, and he was a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Marketing Research, the Journal of Marketing, and Marketing Science, among others. He co-chaired the School’s Marketing Unit for many years and also served as a Visiting Research Associate at the Marketing Science Institute.

An honors graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Silk earned both his MBA (with distinction) and Ph.D. from the Kellogg School of Northwestern University. He retired from the active HBS faculty in 2001.

“In every facet of her life – academic, professional, and personal – Diane characteristically combined solid substance with grace, style, and a smile,” observed Stephen A. Greyser, the School’s Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration Emeritus and a longtime family friend. “Beyond this gift, Al Silk has had a significant and lasting impact on HBS during a distinguished quarter-century career through his own research and teaching, his mentoring of younger faculty, and the guidance he has provided to junior and senior colleagues alike.”


Jim Aisner

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 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.