‘33. Ph.D. ‘34
H. Schiff Professor
Investment Bunking. Emeritus
In 1949, when Bert Fox decided to resign from the Williams College faculty, it took only two days for word to reach Donald K. David, dean of the Harvard Business School. Dean David promptly telephoned Fox and repeated an offer he had explored several times previously—to join the Business School faculty as a professor and later as director of the School’s Division of Research. This time, Fox accepted without any hesitation.
knew a lot of people on the faculty at the School and had a lot of respect for
them,” Fox recalled recently. “I also had great respect for Dean David and
for what he was trying to do at the
Business School. He was stressing the kinds of things, including a rigorous
research program, that were very attractive to me.
lot of people on the faculty also knew Bert Fox and had great respect for him.
He had spent four years in Washington during World War II in charge of the
economic, statistical, planning. and programming staff work of the War
Production Board. In this position he
had come in contact with several members of the HBS faculty, including Stanley
Teele (who would later succeed David as dean), Georges Doriot, Charles Gragg.
and Ed Learned. Fox had become known for his research, aimed at producing the
kind of information needed by decision makers for making policy and taking
action. Indeed, the mobilization of American production—in large part a
result of the W.P.B.’s efforts—was one of the most important factors
contributing to the eventual Allied victory.
the war, Harvard’s Dean David became aware of Fox’s efforts at Williams to
collaborate in establishing an academic program in political economy. This was
an ambitious attempt to recombine the related fields of politics and
economics, which had become disassociated in university curricula. Fox felt
strongly that these fields were the key
to the emerging American approach to
at that time, was a trustee of the Merrill Foundation for the Advancement of
Financial Knowledge. Impressed with Fox’s accomplishments, he helped arrange
for Fox to become the foundation’s part-time administrator. As a result, the
two men had increasingly frequent contacts; David, on several occasions,
explored with Fox the idea of joining the Business School faculty.
1948, Fox took a year’s leave of absence from Williams, to serve as economic
advisor to defense lawyers in an antitrust case against seventeen investment
banking firms in New York.
After a year and a half on the case—during which he performed an exhaustive
study of the securities industry—Fox could see that it would continue even
longer. For this and other reasons, he decided to resign from the Williams
faculty. Although he was quick to accept Dean David’s offer two days later,
he was not free to break away from the antitrust case at that time. In the
fall of 1950, when the preparation of the case was further along, Fox joined
the Business School faculty.
the time he arrived, war had broken out in Korea, and the nation was
once again mobilizing armed forces for
both Korea and the newly assumed NATO commitments in Europe. Dean David, in
order to assist in the war effort and to avoid again losing individual faculty
members to posts in Washington, established a temporary Mobilization Analysis
Center to carry out needed research projects in Washington, and Fox was asked
to lend his war production experience in managing one of the center’s two
was not until several years later, therefore, that Fox assumed the role of
Director of the Division of Research. the post for which Dean David had
recruited him. It was in this
position, which he was to occupy for the next f if-teen years, that Bert Fox
made his most distinctive and significant contributions to the School, and to
the field of business administration. During his tenure there, more than 150
volumes were published, most of which had prefaces written by Fox himself.
commenting on Fox’s contributions as head of the Division of Research, many
of his colleagues say today that he was the perfect man for the job. But like
many important figures in the School’s history. Fox did not begin his career
with the aim of coming to the Harvard Business School.
first chance episode that set the stage for Fox’s HBS career occurred in
1929, when he was a senior at Northwestern majoring in mathematics and
astronomy. He had enjoyed great success academically, and was elected to Phi
Beta Kappa: he had also done very well outside the classroom, being on the
varsity track team and a quarterback of Northwestern’s football team.
outstanding grades and a strong athletic record are the stuff of which Rhodes
Scholars are made. Fox applied for a scholarship: ultimately, he was named an
alternate, rather than a recipient. As a result, he was ready to listen when a
friend of his father, Homer S. Vanderblue—then a faculty member at the
Business School—suggested an alternative: going to work as a statistician
for the Harvard Economic Society, a non-profit, Cambridge-based research firm
of which he was a key member.
joined the firm in the fall of 1929. While the Society did not survive the
Great Depression, Fox’s affiliation with it led
to graduate study in economics at Harvard. It also led to his first contacts
with the Business School, since several of the firm’s principals were
Business School faculty members, and a number of the younger staff lived at
1935, after receiving his PhD in
economics and teaching a few years at Harvard, Fox began his fourteen-year
tenure on the Williams faculty. While rising to the rank of full professor.
Fox earned his stripes as a teacher and as a researcher, publishing several
well-received articles on various aspects of monetary economics before coming
some ways, Fox’s position as director of the Division of Research was an ideal spot from which to
launch the major changes in the School’s research program that both he and
Dean David thought necessary. As director, he had the power both to fund, and
to publish, all the research being done at the School.
the other hand, because the position was
so visible it was also a logical target
for those faculty members who might oppose a substantive change. Moreover, Fox
brought to the job two potential liabilities. First, he was an “outsider,”
and not a product of the MBA program. Second, he was an economist—a matter
of no small concern at a time when the School was still struggling to avoid
being mistaken for a school of applied economics.
knew there was likely to be resistance,” recalls Fox. “I was advised of it
in no uncertain terms by many people at the
School. But there were also a great many faculty members who felt as I did—that
the School needed to take a much more rigorous approach to research.”
says Fox, he never proposed to ignore all that had gone on before. “I was
trying to introduce a series of approaches that would build up the quality of
the research. At the same time, I wanted to take advantage of the things the
School had already developed, especially the emphasis on field research and
its superb rapport with business. Combining that access to data with a more
rigorous methodology was a terrific challenge.”
says he never conceived of his role as trying to shape the nature of the
research program at the School. He did. though, make choices among projects.
To this extent, he was in a
position to influence both the kind of research that was done and the careers
of numerous faculty members.
If Fox’s position
allowed him to lend support to promising individual faculty members, it also
gave him a broader capacity: helping to promote new areas of research. One
area that drew his early attention was quantitative analysis.
Schlaifer was already on the faculty when I got here,” recalls Fox, “and
Bob also believed strongly that we
needed greater quantitative
capabilities. Then we got Howard Raiffa to come here from Columbia, and he and
Bob teamed up, created the field of Managerial Economics, and recruited others
to help develop it.”
while Fox was able to
help nurture such developments through his power to say “yes,” there were
also times he was obliged to say “no.” It was the part of the research
director’s job that he liked least. Nevertheless, says his colleague,
Professor Keith Butters, Fox was
very successful at saving “no”
without stirring deep antagonisms.
think absolutely everybody regarded Bert as thoroughly fair and totally
aboveboard.” says Butters. “He had no hidden agenda, no tricks up his
was also a very successful course developer and teacher. When the faculty
voted in the early fifties to increase the first-year social, economic, and
political dimensions of the Public Relationships and Responsibilities course,
Dean David asked Fox to head that effort in collaboration with Bob Austin and
John Lintner. The resulting course constituted a systematic introduction into
the first-year MBA program of economic, politico-economic, social, and ethical
analysis of many business problems. All three men taught the course for
several years and participated in its evolving development.
Much later, using the
background acquired in the investment banking antitrust case and in response
to the endowment of the Jacob H. Schiff Professorship of Investment Banking.
Fox developed and taught a new second-year MBA course in that field. It
represented a reintroduction of teaching in a field of finance which had
lapsed at the School after the 1920s and early 1930s.
Fox, affairs of the Business School were the primary focus during his
twenty-three years at the institution, but they were not the only one. For
roughly the first half of his association with the School, he continued as
administrator of the Merrill Foundation for the Advancement of Financial
Knowledge, which sponsored nearly fifty separate research projects in a broad
range of topics in finance. He was also continuously active as a consultant in
a broad variety of antitrust actions. And in 1958, he took on what was very
nearly a second full-time job, serving as chief of staff and research director
for the prestigious National Commission on Money and Credit. That undertaking
meant commuting to New York for four days a week, and keeping up with his HBS
responsibilities by working long hours when he was back in Boston.
Fox was nearing retirement in 1974,
Professor Emeritus Edmund P. Learned
wrote a letter that listed, in highly abbreviated form, some of his major
contributions to the School. Among them:
“Your wise counsel in committee after committee;”
“Your gracious guidance and assistance to doctoral candidates and
those who published with the Division of Research;”
“Your capacity to perceive the need for the introduction of new
methods and new people with different points of view or skills
“And most of all, your capacity to maintain an evenhanded balance and
empathy with all elements of the faculty.”
sum,” Learned concluded, “you have been one of the great change agents of
the Harvard Business School.”
Front row: Keith
and Helena Butters, Pat and Bert Fox
Second row: Ann and Marty Gulbransen, Sarah Fowler, Joan Fox, Peter Fox, Phil Fox
Third row: Ken and Jane Fox, Tom and Elizabeth Fox