Henry B. Reiling

Henry (Hank) B. Reiling, who passed away on Jan. 21, encouraged his students to achieve success “with good judgment and the right way.”

Photo by Stuart Cahill

Campus & Community

Henry B. Reiling, HBS professor emeritus, dies at 80

6 min read

Noted for ‘extraordinary teaching abilities and course development’

Henry (Hank) B. Reiling, Harvard Business School’s Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, and an authority in law, taxation, and finance whose extraordinary teaching abilities and course development had a profound impact on thousands of M.B.A. students and business leaders, died on Jan. 21 in Belmont, Mass. He was 80 years old.

Reiling joined the Harvard Business School (HBS) faculty in 1976 and was appointed the first Goldston Professor in 1978. He retired in 2005 but remained active as a Baker Foundation Professor until 2012.

Reiling taught finance in the School’s M.B.A. required curriculum and a number of elective M.B.A. courses, including the popular Tax Factors in Business Decisions. He co-designed and taught Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA), the School’s first required course to examine the ethical, legal, and economic responsibilities of corporate leaders. It embodied a management philosophy shared deeply by Reiling, who encouraged his students to achieve success “with good judgment and the right way.”

Reiling believed “that great leaders are motivated by their concern for other people, or by causes greater than themselves, and that our nation’s social problems will not get solved unless innovative businessmen, who sense a changing world and feel challenged, react in a fashion likely to produce profit, as well as imaginative response to social need.”

“Hank Reiling was a gifted colleague who left an indelible mark on the School over four decades,” said HBS Dean Nitin Nohria. “Working closely with him on the development of LCA, I saw firsthand how he leveraged his expertise and experience to help students understand not just the legal issues business executives face, but also the ethical responsibilities and qualities of business leadership required in a constantly changing world. Hank was a beloved professor who guided and mentored generations of students. He also was a true gentleman scholar, who touched all who had the privilege of knowing and learning from him.”

In addition to teaching M.B.A. students, Reiling was actively involved in the School’s executive offerings. For years he taught and chaired Finance for Senior Executives, and co-chaired Strategic Finance for Smaller Businesses. He also taught in the School’s program for international senior managers, held in Boston and Vevey, Switzerland.

Reiling brought a unique set of interests to the School that reflected his multidisciplinary training in law and business. He had a wide and deep knowledge of the legal process and how it evolves and changes, and a keen understanding of tax issues and matters of corporate finance.

His research focused on the intersection of law, accounting, and finance. He most recently studied the complex issues confronted by family businesses as their leadership transfers between generations.

He is the co-author of “Business Law: Text and Cases” (1982) and articles in Harvard Business Review, Michigan Law Review, the Journal of Accountancy, and other leading journals. A prolific case writer, he produced dozens of HBS case studies, notes, and other teaching materials.

Henry B. Reiling was born Feb. 5, 1938 in Richmond, Ky. He spent his college years on Chicago’s North Shore at Northwestern University, where he received a degree in history. He went on to earn an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1962. He received a J.D. from Columbia in 1965.

Prior to joining the HBS faculty, Reiling was a professor at Columbia Business School, where he won several distinguished teaching awards, and was a visiting professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

A dapper man known for his immaculate dress and Southern charm, Reiling was widely admired and respected by students and faculty alike.

With his aphoristic wit, he leavened even the most complex course material. “Hank communicated dense and at times dry subject matter clearly, simply, and with homespun charm,” recalls former student Sam Mencoff, M.B.A. ’81. “But what I remember most was not finance and tax theory, but Hank’s consistent emphasis on the importance of maintaining one’s ethical compass in business and in life,” adds Mencoff, who carried Reiling’s legacy of influence into his career. To honor Reiling, Mencoff and Greg Wendt, M.B.A. ’87, established the Professor Henry B. Reiling Fellowship Fund at the School in 2011. The fund held special meaning for Reiling, whose father died when he was 4 years old, and mother worked countless over time to pay for his and his sister’s higher education. “I’m sure there are many prospective HBS students today who will appreciate this fellowship as much as I did the financial support I received,” he said.

Reiling’s lessons on life and leadership were published in the 2004 book “Remember Who Are: Life Stories that Inspire the Heart and Mind,” by Daisy Wademan, M.B.A. 2002, a collection of essays on personal leadership by 15 HBS faculty members.

Reiling made many important contributions outside the classroom. He chaired a variety of University and professional committees, including Harvard’s Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibilities, and a Task Force of the American Bar Association, which effected a change in the federal taxation of stock purchase warrants.

He co-founded a successful financial services company, and served as a director or advisory board member of more than a dozen for-profit (publicly traded and privately owned) companies and nonprofit organizations, including Northwestern University, where he was a trustee.

After retiring from HBS, Reiling continued conducting research on family business succession while serving on several business, foundation, and educational institution boards, including the Board of Visitors of Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. For years, he was Northwestern’s Boston-area Regent.

A long-time resident of Lexington, Mass., Reiling is survived by his wife Carol and by children Christina R. Breiter, M.B.A. ’93, and her husband Hans C.R. Breiter; Maria H. Reiling, M.B.A. ’96, and her husband Reza Jamei; and Alexis Reiling Lessans and her husband Gregory P. Lessans; and nine grandchildren.

Visiting hours will be Friday (Jan. 25) from 4 to 7 p.m. at Douglas Funeral Home, Lexington, Mass. The service will be held on Saturday at 1 p.m. Hancock Church in Lexington, with a reception to follow at the family house 28 Meriam St., Lexington. In lieu of flowers the family has requested donations be sent to the Professor Henry B. Reiling Fellowship Fund, by mailing to HBS Development Operations, Soldiers Field, Boston, MA 02163. Checks made payable to: Harvard Business School.

For more information, visit the HBS website.