27 Oct 2021

Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus Richard Walton Dies at the Age of 90

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Richard Walton

Dr. Richard Eugene Walton (Dick) of East Orleans, Massachusetts, a trailblazer in the fields of organizational behavior, labor relations, and negotiations, passed away on July 6, 2021, at the age of 90. Walton joined the Harvard Business School faculty in 1968, teaching courses in general management and organization. During his 29 years of tenure, he served as the Director of the Division of Research (1969 – 1976) and the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration.

Walton’s research focused on issues central to the competitiveness of business firms. The author of eleven books, numerous case studies, and more than six dozen articles, his interests included social innovations that elicit high employee commitment, enhance business performance, and promote human development. His impact on individuals, organizations, and entire fields of study, is profound. He was on the leading edge of workplace reform as both an architect to new systems, and a researcher.

“While Dick Walton was a dominating figure in labor relations, I knew him far better for his pathbreaking work with Bob McKersie on negotiation, A Behavioral Theory of Labor Negotiation” said James Sebenius, Gordon Donaldson Professor of Business Administration. “This work presciently crystallized the cooperative and competitive aspects of negotiation along with their interactions while highlighting the largely ignored importance of what we now think of “internal negotiations”. While their work had major theoretical significance, Dick was always deeply grounded in the real world of people, companies, and institutions.”

His book, Innovating to Compete: Lessons for Diffusing and Managing Change in the Workplace (1987), presented a general framework explaining the innovative capability of the maritime industry, through analysis of work innovations, flexibility and participation. These shipboard innovations reduced crew sizes and helped shipowners compete for deep-sea shipping trade.

Another book, Up and Running: Integrating Information Technology and the Organization (1989), offered a practical theory for effective implementation of advanced information technology in plants, offices, and executive suites. It uses the experiences of a number of well-known firms to provide concrete illustrations of the ways in which information technology (IT) and organization dynamics can impinge upon one another.

In his book Strategic Negotiations: A Theory of Change in Labor-Management Relations (1994) with Robert McKersie and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Walton proposed a theory of strategic negotiation and uses it to analyze thirteen case histories of negotiated change drawn from three industries which offer especially instructive contrasts -- pulp and paper, auto supply and railroads.

“Dick was both an extraordinary organizational behavior scholar and administrator, providing great leadership to the Division of Research for a number of years” said Warren McFarlan, Albert H. Gordon Professor of Business Administration. “He was also central to formulating the design of the faculty retirement system. And off campus he was a talented and fierce competitor on the golf course.”

In the classroom he was known as a demanding but caring faculty member in teaching first year Organizational Behavior in the MBA program. He also led the faculty efforts to introduce a new required course in Human Resource Management.

“I had the privilege of being one of a limited number of doctoral students under Dick Walton’s supervision” said Professor Leonard Schlesinger, Baker Foundation Professor Chair. “He established himself as a global scholar/practitioner with his pathbreaking work on Employee Productivity and Quality of Work Life in both start up and existing manufacturing organizations. His work set the foundation for the academic and practice- based frameworks for both new organizational designs and the diffusion of successful experience.”

As a consultant, he helped firms across many industries move to a team-based model, giving employees a voice, enhancing their level of commitment and productivity, and promoting their personal and professional development. An endless source of enjoyment was engaging his students, peers, friends, family, and anyone he encountered along the way, in discussion and debate.

Walton was raised in Elkhart, Indiana, where he met his high school sweetheart and eventual bride Sharon. His unwavering work ethic took root at the age of eight with his first job weeding onions. After high school, Walton studied at Victor University, New Zealand (1953) as a Fulbright Scholar. He earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Purdue University (1953 – 1954) and his D.B.A. in Labor Relations from Harvard University (1959). He also earned a degree in Social Psychology from the University of Michigan (1963). Richard returned to Purdue, this time as a faculty member of the Krannert School of Industrial Administration, where he taught for nine years.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Walton loved music, specifically jazz and the blues, and was a dedicated Celtics fan. An avid competitor, he was a regular in a local men's basketball league for many years, an active squash player with HBS colleagues, a ping pong and poker ringer.

A loving father, husband, and brother, Walton is survived by his wife of 67 years, Sharon (Doty) Walton, and his children John Walton and wife Jill; Elizabeth Walton; Margaret Covell and husband Andrew; Andrew Walton and fiancée Alayne. He is predeceased by his sons Richard A. (1953) and Richard W., 18.5 years of age (1976).

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 70 open enrollment Executive Education programs and 55 custom programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. 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 make a difference in the world, shaping the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.