15 Sep 2022

Harvard Business School Professor William J. Bruns Dies at 87

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William J. Bruns

Professor Emeritus William John Bruns Jr., the Henry R. Byers Professor of Business Administration, passed away on September 1, 2022, at his home in Plymouth, MA. Bruns was highly recognized as a distinguished scholar and teacher in the field of accounting.

Bruns first visited Harvard Business School as an associate professor in 1969 following appointments at Yale University and the University of Washington. After joining the HBS faculty, he was named the Henry R. Byers Professor of Business Administration in 1993. A member of the Accounting and Management Unit (known at the time as Control and then as Accounting and Control), he was the author of well over 100 cases, notes, exercises, and teaching notes, a number of which remain bestsellers today. He also authored Accounting for Managers and a companion instructor’s manual, reprinted into its third edition, among other books.

In a message to the HBS community, Dean Srikant Datar noted, “In everything he did, Bill brought equal measures empathy and rigor, holding himself and others to high standards with kindness and compassion. He was beloved by his students and recognized as a generous and caring colleague.”

Bruns taught the required Financial Reporting and Control course in the MBA Program, in the Owner/President Management Program, and in a host of focused programs, including Strategic Finance for Smaller Businesses. He was known for his skillful case method teaching and often shared those skills with other faculty through numerous teaching seminars. He served as unit head for Control, course head, and chair of the Academic Performance Committee; additionally, he was among the pioneering group of faculty engaged in the School’s International Senior Managers Program in Vevey, Switzerland, serving as its director for a number of years in the 1980s.

“Bill was the consummate HBS teacher who set the standard for the rest of us,” said Robert Simons, Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus. “He had an uncanny ability to stand in the shoes of students as he crafted lesson plans to make complex topics both interesting and understandable. Not surprisingly, his cases were favorites among faculty and students. Bill was also a generous mentor to younger faculty (including me), helping us develop our case writing skills and providing feedback and suggestions to improve our classroom teaching.”

Krishna Palepu, the Ross Graham Walker Professor of Business Administration, said, “Bill was a kind mentor and colleague for me when I joined HBS as a junior faculty member. He was an accomplished scholar who cared deeply about impacting the world through his research and teaching. He brought a lot of warmth and commitment to the classroom. He was also a very creative case writer—I still use some of his cases in teaching. I will miss him greatly.”

Following his retirement from HBS in 2001, Bruns joined the Northeastern University faculty at the D'Amore-McKim School of Business, teaching undergraduates financial and managerial accounting. Bill earned his degrees in business administration at the University of Redlands and the Harvard Business School. He attained his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.

Bill is survived by his first wife, Barbara Dodge; his second wife, Sharon (Shay) McKinnon; his children, Robert, John, David, Michael, and Anastasia Catherine; five of their spouses; and four grandchildren.

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.