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Bach, founding dean of Carnegie Mellon's business school, dies at 79

STANFORD -- George Leland Bach, the founding dean of Carnegie Mellon University Business School, one of the faculty members who brought the Stanford Graduate School of Business to prominence, and a scholar whose goal in life was increasing the nation's understanding of economics, died Sept. 29 in Portola Valley. He was 79.

Bach's vision of what management education should be was one of the strongest forces in the field's evolution from narrowly focused schools that taught the current best business practices to modern institutions built around academic disciplines that stress effective problem solving and academic research. Bach first put his vision into practice when he became founding dean of the Carnegie Mellon University Graduate School of Industrial Administration in 1946. One of the first faculty members he hired there was Herbert Simon, who went on to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science.

After resigning as dean in 1962, he came to Stanford as a visiting scholar and eventually accepted the invitation of Graduate School of Business Dean Ernie Arbuckle to teach. At Stanford, Bach created the course "Business and the Changing Environment," which studied the interrelationships among business, government, and other sociopolitical groups and the public. It became one of the school's required courses, with its content and title changing gradually over the years as research in the field matured.

Bach was also known at Stanford as a masterful teacher with a “magician's touch” who taught the basic undergraduate course in economics to auditoriums of 300 to 400 students. He received the university's highest award for teaching, the Walter J. Gores Award, in 1979.

His textbook Economics: An Introduction to Analysis and Policy, first published in 1954, has gone through 11 editions and became one of the world's basic economics texts, translated into four languages. "Who else can say they've taught 3 million kids?" he once mused. "How many people have a chance to discuss with that many students how our economic system works and how we might make it work better?"

Born in Victor, Iowa, he majored in economics at Grinnell College and enrolled at University of Texas Law School in 1936, but decided he didn't like law's adversarial system for determining right and wrong. He moved to the University of Chicago where he earned his doctorate in economics in 1940.

Bach's view of economics was a much more applied, practical subject than he found in his first economics classes at Grinnell. As an undergraduate, Bach recalled, he found “the professor was explaining that theoretically there couldn't be a lasting depression in a competitive, capitalist-type economy. I looked out the window at a long line of unemployed men waiting to apply for two WPA jobs the town government had managed to get. There must be a better way for either the economists or the 'practical' men who ran the system, I thought.”

Throughout his career Bach devoted energy as a teacher and a policy maker to increasing the understanding of economics in the general population, ranging from elementary school children to the “average” college graduate.

He also had a long relationship with the Federal Reserve Board, beginning during World War II when he worked as a research economist. In 1963, William McChesney Martin, then chairman, asked Bach to take on the task of opening channels of communication between the board and leading academic economists. Bach organized regular seminars between the two groups over a period of more than 20 years.

When Bach first began creating the management program at Carnegie Mellon, business schools in many parts of the United States were seen as trade schools and ranked at the bottom of the academic ladder. Bach's vision that management education should be based on more rigorous academic standards attracted the attention of the Ford Foundation, which commissioned a landmark report on management education. The Gordon- Howell Report, written by Aaron Gordon of University of California-Berkeley, and James E. Howell, the Theodore J. Kreps Professor of Economics at the Stanford Business School, was a catalyst in changing management education, increasing the quality of both faculty and students, and adding economics, behavioral science and quantitative methods to the study of business.

“Words are inadequate to express the tremendous impact Lee Bach has had on management education throughout his entire career,” said Arjay Miller, who was dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business when Bach retired from active teaching in 1983. “Lee Bach's name is synonymous with improvement in management and economics education. He has contributed more to both than anyone I now,” said another former dean, Robert K. Jaedicke.

“Lee Bach was a wonderful colleague and a great leader,” said current Dean A. Michael Spence. “Lee and Herbert Simon brought conceptual and empirical rigor to management education in the late '50s and onward. They were the leaders of the most significant changes in schools of management since the creation of these schools in the early 20th century. Lee's impact on Stanford and on all of us who were privileged to be his colleagues was enormous. When I returned to Stanford in 1990, Lee spent many hours helping me, just as he had helped my predecessors.”

Bach was the first recipient of the Bower Medal for distinguished service to economic education, presented by the Joint Council on Economic Education. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and won the Dow Jones Award for contributions to Economic Education.

He is survived by Ruth Jacqueline Bach, his wife of 55 years, and four children: daughters Susan Louise Nolan of Palo Alto and Barbara Kathleen McCardle of Pebble Beach, Calif.; sons Christopher Leland Bach of Springfield, Va., and Timothy Lee Bach of San Francisco; and eight grandchildren.

No services will be held. The family asks that memorial donations be made to a favorite charity.


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