By staying, not going out, Dr. Wright’s career made him the ninth dean of Harvard Business School — a leader considered a stable influence during the 2008 economic crisis that battered the finances of universities across the country.
In October, he died of leukemia at the age of 81. 15 at his home in South Dartmouth.
Joined the Faculty in 1970, after earning a Ph.D. in a joint program at the School of Business and Harvard University, Ph.D. Light was an immediate hit with students and was the first faculty member to receive the Teaching Excellence Award for their work in the MBA program.
“Jay was a natural teacher,” Executive Dean Angela Crispi and HBS Dean Srikant Datar wrote in a message to the school community announcing that Dr. Light was dead.
PhD. They added that Light “was a fantastic colleague, a thoughtful mentor, and a close friend of generations of staff, students and alumni.” “He was not afraid of the seemingly difficult. He was not afraid to say no. He loved Funny and good story.”
He was also considered a consummate Harvard insider when then-President Lawrence H. Summers named him acting dean in 2005. Light, previously senior associate dean for planning and development, was not initially expected to be a candidate for the permanent dean position at HBS.
“Every dean paints his portrait,” says Dr. Wright’s wife Judy said. “He said he thought he would say, ‘2005-2005’.”
Within months of becoming interim dean, Dr. Light led a capital campaign that raised about $600 million to fund student aid, faculty recruitment, technology initiatives, a new global research center and building projects on school campuses.
The projects will provide students with “a better, more functional campus,” he told the Globe in early 2006, not long before he officially became dean.
During his tenure, Dr. Wright “advanced the school’s global engagement, opened a new research center in India, and launched the ambitious Harvard Shanghai Center,” Datar and Crispi said in their statement.
When the 2008 financial crisis hit, they said, Dr. Wright “acted quickly to manage expenses and generate additional revenue at the school, strengthening not only the financial structure of HBS but that of Harvard.”
Then in December 2009, he said the school was “safely on the other side of the Great Depression.” Wright announced that he would step down the following June.
“His wisdom and advice are far more important to me than I am,” Drew Faust, Harvard’s president at the time, told reporters that day. “His financial intelligence is important to all of us. My feelings are deep gratitude, and sadness at the end of his tenure.”
Jay Owen Wright was born in October. He was raised on March 3, 1941, in Lorraine, Ohio, the second and only son of Marian Lacey Wright and James Wright. PhD. Wright’s mother was a high school teacher, and his father oversaw a steel mill.
“His family lives in a small house on Lake Erie,” Judy said.
Throughout his life, she said, he pursued a passion that began in his youth: “He’s been sailing on Lake Erie every day since he was a kid.”
PhD. Wright also maintained close contact with friends from high school and college, including a teenage friend who visited him in the weeks before his death, she said.
“I think everyone who met him liked him very much,” she said.
After graduating from Lorain High School, he attended Cornell University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1963 and studied engineering physics in a five-year program.
“This is the Sputnik generation, where everyone is thinking about science,” she said of the era when the Soviet Union put the first Sputnik into Earth orbit. “He really wanted to be an astronaut.”
Instead, he kept his feet on the ground and headed to California to work as an analyst at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, researching space missions.
Feeling that he needed management training, he applied to HBS’s MBA program, and was recruited as one of the first students in a fledgling doctoral program jointly run by HBS and the Harvard College of Arts and Sciences.
He graduated in 1970 with a Ph.D. in Decision and Control Theory.
That year, he met Judith Hodges, then a computer programmer, through her roommate.
“He had an amazing sense of humor,” she said, which lasted until his last illness.
“I actually wake up every day smiling and thinking about what he said,” she added. “He’s really a funny guy, very smart, very smart.”
PhD. Wright and his wife spent their time at their homes in South Dartmouth and Jupiter Island, Florida.
After joining Harvard Business School, Ph.D. Wright’s final roles included serving as a director of the Harvard Management Company, which handles the university’s endowment investments. But when asked in a Harvard Gazette interview what he is most proud of during his decades at the school, he talked about his years as a professor.
“I love my time in the classroom,” he said. “As a faculty member, I have created a series of courses that challenge students to think about important issues in new and different ways.”
Via Harvard, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon. and one of Mr. Wright’s former student, said Dr. Wright “earned a great deal of respect” as a professor. “He was strong and analytical, but had a big heart and great character – a natural force, but in a subtle way.”
and Dr. Light doesn’t just offer courses to students.
“I value our conversations and learn a lot from them,” Summers said of the Ph.D. Light sent her condolences to Judy Light in an email. “I admire Jay very much and take our friendship very seriously.”
Except for his wife, Dr. Light leaves behind a daughter, Anne of Irvine, California. One son, James of Boulder, Colorado. an older sister, Joan of Michigan; and a grandson.
A party to celebrate Dr. Light’s life and work will be published.
To better understand the complexities of business school, Dr. Wright told the Harvard Gazette that, as dean, “I found that I needed to constantly strive to get out of the office, walk around the halls, invite students to breakfast, get together with faculty and staff , and had a meeting with the staff. In the end it was great and I learned a lot.”
In a statement from Harvard, Nitin Nohria, a University Distinguished Service Professor, took over as Ph.D. As light as the dean, called him “a trusted advisor and sounding board. His dedication to the school was ingrained and he was a true servant leader in everything he did.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.