Campus & Community

Business School’s John Dearden dies at 84

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Longtime faculty member pioneered in teaching information technology

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Professor Dearden’s memory to the Alzheimer’s Association, 919 North Michigan Ave., Suite 1100, Chicago, Ill. 60611-1695 or the charity of one’s choice. A memorial service will be held at Harvard Business School at a later date.

John Dearden, a professor at Harvard Business School (HBS) for more than 30 years, died on Jan. 9, at a nursing facility near his home in Woodstock, Conn., after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 84.

An authority on managerial accounting and a pioneer in the use of computers in business, Dearden joined the Business School faculty as a lecturer in 1959 after a decade in Ford Motor Company’s finance department. Promoted to full professor in 1964, he was named the first holder of the Herman C. Krannert Professorship of Business Administration in 1969. He retired from the active faculty in 1990.

“When I first came to Harvard, programming and computers were just emerging,” Dearden said in a 1994 interview. “Since I was one of the few people who knew about this technology and its application to business from my work at Ford, I developed a course in management information systems.”

Dearden served as a mentor to a number of HBS students who went on to become members of the Business School faculty, including F. Warren McFarlan, the Albert H. Gordon Professor of Business Administration. “The creator of the first HBS course on information technology in 1962, John Dearden was one of the early visionaries regarding both the potential impact of IT [information technology] and the special management challenges and opportunities it would pose,” said McFarlan, a student in the first class Dearden taught at the School and later his research assistant. In 1966, they co-authored the book “Management Information Systems.”

Dearden was also an important figure at the School in the field of accounting and control. He chaired the control faculty from 1968 to 1970 and served three times as head of the required first-year MBA course in that subject.

Dearden’s love of teaching was legendary. In 1978, for example, when the Northeast was immobilized by a blizzard, he cross-country skied eight miles from his home, then in the Boston suburb of Lexington, to HBS to teach a class in the executive education program. He followed the same route to campus the next day as well. “He was absolutely unstinting in his devotion to his students,” said Samuel L. Hayes III, who studied under Dearden in the Harvard MBA program and is now the School’s Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Investment Banking Emeritus.

During a leave of absence in 1966 and 1967, Dearden spent a year and a half in India, where he helped foster the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. In particular, he assisted in developing faculty, curricula, and research programs in the areas of control and management information systems. From 1979 to 1981, he taught in HBS Executive Education programs then held in Switzerland.

Dearden published 12 books during his career. His 1965 work, “Management Control Systems” (co-written with Robert N. Anthony, now the Ross Graham Walker Professor of Management Controls Emeritus), is still regarded as a classic and has gone through numerous editions. He also wrote more than 40 articles for academic and professional journals and was a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review.

John Dearden was born Nov. 19, 1919, in Lancashire, England, where his father was a weaver and his mother a spinner in the local textile mills. The family, including an older and twin sister, immigrated to the United States in 1924 by way of Ellis Island.

Growing up in western Massachusetts, where his father had found work in a steel mill, Dearden received a bachelor’s degree from American International College in Springfield, going to school during the day and working at night as a business equipment operator.

Having become an American citizen, he joined the U.S. Navy in 1943. Stationed in Philadelphia, Dearden once again managed to combine full-time work with study. “I ran tabulators, sorters, and punch-card equipment for the Navy from midnight until eight in the morning,” he recalled, “and studied business at the Wharton School during the day.”

After earning his MBA from Wharton in 1946, a month after he was discharged from the service, Dearden studied economics for two years in a doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania and taught accounting at Wharton at the same time. He became a CPA in 1948.

Although Dearden had planned on a career in teaching, the job offer from Ford diverted him for the next decade while he focused on implementing budgetary control systems in the company, starting its operations research activity, and supervising the analysis of control reports for top management.

An invitation from a Harvard Business School professor in 1959 to lead a discussion on transfer pricing for a group of executives studying at HBS rekindled his interest in academia. Ten years to the day after starting at Ford, Dearden began teaching at HBS.

In 1995, Harvard Business School honored Dearden with its Distinguished Service Award. In 1971, he received the Wharton Graduate School’s Fiftieth Anniversary Gold Medal for his “outstanding contributions to education.” He also held an honorary doctorate from American International College.

Dearden is survived by his wife of more than 58 years, Helen Marie (Borden); their sons, John C. of Chelmsford, and Thomas A. of Watertown; their daughters, Rachel Rothstein of Easton, and Ruth Anne Rieker of Avondale Estates, Ga.; and four grandchildren.