Campus & Community

Finance expert Gordon Donaldson dies at 87

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HBS professor played important roles as teacher, researcher, and administrator

Gordon Donaldson, an influential Harvard Business School (HBS) professor, mentor, researcher, and administrator from 1955 to 1993, died on Feb. 12 in Parkland, Fla., at the age of 87. An expert in corporate financial management, Donaldson was the Willard Prescott Smith Professor of Corporate Finance Emeritus at HBS.

Born on July 1, 1922, in Winnipeg, Manitoba and a graduate of the University of Manitoba at the age of 19, he earned a master’s degree in economics from the University of Toronto. In the midst of World War II, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving as an instructor to flight crews from England, Australia, and New Zealand. At the end of the war, he decided to come to the United States to resume his studies.

Donaldson took courses at Harvard Business School in 1950-51 before returning to his native Manitoba to teach and work on his doctoral dissertation. He was invited to join the HBS faculty in 1955, even before completing his doctorate in commercial science in 1956.

Donaldson’s pedagogical reach extended across Harvard Business School’s M.B.A., doctoral, and executive education programs, and his involvement in executive education included two stints in the School’s middle management programs, a year as head of a program for senior managers that then took place in Switzerland, and a six-year assignment in the Owner/President Management Program for entrepreneurs that ended upon his retirement in 1993.

“Gordon Donaldson was a great clinical researcher and a wise mentor to many young faculty members attempting to navigate their way through the promotions process at HBS, a process he led for many years,” said Baker Foundation Professor William E. Fruhan Jr. “He possessed remarkably good judgment and always had a balanced point of view. Over the years, his advice was sought out by successive deans on matters of great importance to the School. He was a pillar of the institution.”

Donaldson is survived by two daughters, Mary Louise Meier of Parkland, Fla., and Patricia Donaldson Smith of Bolton, Mass.; two sons, Richard E. Donaldson of Gorham, Maine, and Robert G. Donaldson of Brunswick, Maine; and six grandchildren. In addition to his wife, a brother, Desmond, also predeceased him.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that friends and colleagues consider a donation to organizations that were of special interest to Donaldson, such as the Salvation Army, the Humane Society, or any conservation group. A memorial service celebrating his life may be scheduled in the spring.

To read Donaldson’s full obituary, visit the Harvard Business School Web site.