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Take That, You OBs

August 30, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ At a time when better management is seen as the key to restoring American business competitiveness, some key professors of management are earning close to a million dollars a year as consultants.

But, oddly, most of their counterparts in management research are never sought out by business. Not only is business uninterested in them and their ideas but, oddly, they may be equally indifferent to business.

The mutual disrespect stands in bold contrast to what is happening in other areas of business education - in accounting, finance and sales and marketing - where college professors are having a field day as consultants.

Why not management professors?

The explanation, says one professor-consultant, lies in an odd twist taken by management instruction back in the early 1970s that took them away from the practical world of business into that of sociology and psychology.

Prof. Eugene Jennings of Michigan State University, a man who for years has advised corporate chairmen and chief exectives and who has at times actually taken the helm as chairman, traces the phenomenon to the early 1970s.

At that time, he says, consulting firms were so eager for knowledgeable management people that they grabbed not just the graduating classes but their professors, too. They drained the well.

Deans of schools of management became so hard up, says Jennings, they hired away sociologists and psychologists from other colleges in the universities. They were able to succeed because they offered higher salaries.

But, says Jennings, these people were more interested in using business to advance their understanding of psychology and sociology than in using their disciplines to understand and inform business.

In fact, says Jennings, author of many books on management, they turned away from any commitment to business and developed instead their own ethic ″that says anything to do with business, especially research, is tainted.″

They were more interested in organizational behavior than in business behavior; they preferred to analyze management style because they were unable to critique management substance; they measured success by the correctness of methodology rather than the relevancy of findings.

They were not the first to become professional elites and withdraw from the real world of practice, says Jennings. It happened in medicine, law and education at one time or another.

In each instance, he says, they left voids that needed to be filled, and they were - by osteopaths in medicine, by certified public accountants in the field of law, by concerned, practical teachers in education.

The results of management professors turning their back on business, says Jennings, are:

1. Tremendous incomes and unusual stature for the relatively few management professors with national standing as good researchers and consultants. Moreover, these professors advise at the highest levels in the corporation.

2. A loss of constituency at business schools.

Business schools seek funding from constituencies of graduates and admirers in business. But, he says, ″these OB (organizational behavior) people aren’t capable of maintaining or building a constituency.″

As for the OB folks, Jennings contends they have evolved into neither fish nor fowl, that they have an identity problem, that they are frustrated by the difficulty of proving themselves, and that they tend to be negative critics.

Obviously no admirer, the professor contends they have created a straw ideal of what constitutes good management, and use the ideal to judge who is and who isn’t acting correctly.

For Jennings, there is some satisfaction in his analysis. He recalls the time when he was honored at a famous institution for his authorship of ″The Mobile Manager,″ a seminal work in describing the corporation.

The faculty of the great institution rose in applause, he said. And then, he relates, he saw a cluster of professors ″sitting on their fat ideals,″ their hands in their laps. They were OBs, of course.

End Adv PMs Tuesday Aug. 30

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