Campus & Community

Beloved teacher Rukstad dies at 51

4 min read

HBS professor expert in corporate strategy

Michael G. Rukstad, a member of the Harvard Business School (HBS) faculty for many years, died May 17 at Massachusetts General Hospital after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 51.

An acclaimed and beloved teacher, Rukstad was an expert in the fields of corporate strategy, comparative business-government relations, international economics, and geopolitics. He also made a lasting mark on management education by working on innovative ways to teach strategy to both students and executives at Harvard and beyond.

Among his most important contributions, noted Cynthia A. Montgomery, head of the HBS strategy unit, is a DVD he developed with the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration Stephen P. Bradley. “It captures in a very powerful way our senior faculty talking about the fundamental principles in the field,” she said. “Since companies around the world are using this DVD to train their executives, it has already had an enormous and lasting impact.” Rukstad also created an effective and influential exercise to help companies codify strategy statements based on the objectives, advantages, and scope of their business. “Mike was truly on the leading edge of management education,” Montgomery said.

During his career, Rukstad held a number of academic positions at HBS, most recently as a senior research fellow, an appointment that began in 1998. From 1981 to 1991, he served successively as an assistant and associate professor at the School, teaching the required first-year M.B.A. courses in “Competition and Strategy” and in “Business, Government and the International Economy (BGIE).” In addition, he developed and taught the second-year elective course “Economic Policy and Business Decisions.” He also taught more than 1,600 participants in the School’s Executive Education programs.

“Mike was an extraordinary teacher who motivated his students to attain the highest level of learning,” said Max and Doris Starr Professor of International Business Administration David B. Yoffie. “He was passionate in everything he did, whether he was teaching a course or trekking in Patagonia.”

Before returning to Harvard in 1998, Rukstad held appointments at a number of other institutions, including the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, the National University of Singapore, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1997, he received the Outstanding Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Faculty Marshall Award, and the Friend of the Students Award, all from the Darden School. He was a finalist for the Helen Kardon Moss Anvil Award for Excellence in Teaching at Wharton in 1998 and received the Wharton Executive M.B.A. Outstanding Teaching Award in 2001.

The author or co-author of more than 70 cases as well as teaching notes on strategy and international macroeconomics, Rukstad also wrote “Macroeconomic Decision Making in the World Economy: Text and Cases” (Dryden Press, 1992; third edition) and “Corporate Decision Making in the World Economy: Cases in Strategy and Management” (Dryden Press, 1992).

With an interest in entrepreneurial ventures, Rukstad founded and led several organizations. From 1982 to 2001, he was president of Rukstad & Associates, a strategy consulting and executive education firm. In January 1995, he launched Peripherals Direct Inc., a computer equipment brokerage company based in Boston. After it recorded first-year revenues of nearly $3 million, he sold the operation in 1996. Beginning in 1998, he also served as a partner and board member of Brand Leadership Company, a brand-strategy consulting firm located in New York. He joined the board of AbCRO Inc., a medical contract research startup, in 2000.

Rukstad earned a master’s degree and Ph.D., both in economics, from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1978 and 1981, respectively. In 1975, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the University of South Dakota, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. As an undergraduate, he also studied at the London School of Economics.

Rukstad was active far beyond the classroom and the workplace. He enjoyed a wide array of outdoor activities, from sailing and hiking to jogging and playing tennis. An expert pilot, he flew his own plane and held certified flight instructor and instrument instructor ratings for both single- and multiengine aircraft.

He is survived by his parents, Virgil and Georgia (Bauer) Rukstad, of Watertown, S.D., and his brother, Jim, of Hilo, Hawaii.

A memorial service was held May 19.