Cover photo for John H. McArthur's Obituary
John H. McArthur Profile Photo
1934 John 2019

John H. McArthur

March 31, 1934 — August 20, 2019

John H. McArthur, a member of the Harvard Business School community for more than six decades—as student (MBA 1959 and DBA 1963), as faculty member (beginning in 1962), as Dean (from 1980 to 1995), and as Dean and George F. Baker Professor of Administration, Emeritus—died on August 20, 2019 outside Boston, Massachusetts. His energy and leadership kept HBS at the forefront of business education and laid a foundation of intellectual growth and development on which the School continues to build today. His contributions extended far beyond HBS, enhancing the greater Boston region as well as organizations and institutions around the globe, including in his home country of Canada.

McArthur's association with HBS began in 1957 when he arrived on campus from Vancouver. His standout performance in the MBA Program led to a scholarship in the School's Doctoral Program, launching his remarkable career as a scholar, teacher, and administrator and culminating with his appointment as the School's seventh dean.

McArthur's vision, passion, and unparalleled gift for building consensus transformed the School. "John felt strongly the responsibility he carried as leader of HBS," said Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School. "He cared deeply about every member of the HBS community and believed in the School's ability to transform lives. By encouraging us all to dream big dreams—in effect, spurring our intellectual ambition—he set the School on a remarkable trajectory."

McArthur is credited with building the faculty through the recruitment and promotion of outstanding faculty members, strengthening research, enhancing Executive Education, and launching important initiatives in ethics and social enterprise. He oversaw a major campus master planning and renewal effort and restructured the School's publishing arm to expand the reach and impact of the School and its thought leadership throughout the world. He launched "Leadership and Learning," a comprehensive MBA curriculum review.

During McArthur's 15 years as dean, endowed professorships rose from 50 to 81, the annual budget for research and course development increased from $10 million to $50 million, and the HBS endowment increased from $106 million to $600 million.

McArthur's impact extended far beyond the Harvard Business School. Over the decades, he held numerous corporate directorships, committee memberships, and consulting posts in business, government, education, and health care organizations around the world.

For many years, he served as chair of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), which sparked a lifelong passion for the health-care sector. He was the moving force behind the 1994 merger of BWH and Massachusetts General Hospital. He later served as the founding co-chair of the merged entity, Partners HealthCare System, Inc.

In addition to BWH, McArthur was a director of organizations including Chase Manhattan Corporation, Cabot Corporation, Rohm and Haas Company, Springs Industries, Inc., Telsat Canada, Bell Canada, and Teradyne Inc. He was a founding board member of the Canada Development Investment Corporation and a member of the Task Force on the Future of the Canadian Financial Services Sector.


John Hector McArthur was born in 1934 in Vancouver, British Columbia. His father was a grain inspector for the government and his mother was a nurse; McArthur was one of two sons. He grew up in a working-class environment in the suburb of Burnaby and attended Burnaby South High School, where he dated his classmate (and future wife) Natty Ewasiuk, played football, and worked part time in a local saw mill. After graduating from high school, McArthur enrolled at the University of British Columbia, earning a bachelor's degree in forestry in 1957.

McArthur was a star athlete in college. He briefly played for a semi-professional football team in Vancouver and received several offers to turn pro, but decided to channel his athletic drive into academics at HBS, earning an MBA in 1959. Although becoming a professor had never been part of his plan, McArthur was persuaded to stay on at the School, and in 1963, he completed his DBA.

He steadily moved up through the School's ranks—teaching courses in corporate finance and related fields in several HBS programs, engaging in research and course development in Europe and North America, and holding a range of important administrative positions.

In the 1970s, McArthur also took on a highly unusual assignment as a Trustee in Bankruptcy of the Penn Central Transportation Company. For much of that decade, he fielded a team that included future Secretary of State Warren Christopher and future IBM CEO Lou Gerstner to resolve the bankruptcy in a way that best represented and protected the interests of complex stakeholders.

By the time he became dean, McArthur had a reputation as a skilled negotiator with a talent for resolving thorny conflict, and a tough-minded but rational decision maker who worked with others in considerate and sensitive ways.

Although HBS was among the top business schools in the world, McArthur was not one to rest on laurels. The initiatives he launched during his deanship sought to maintain the School's preeminence, while steering the institution toward a new century.

Developing the Faculty

McArthur built an outstanding faculty by recruiting talent from a broad range of backgrounds and disciplines and adding more women and minorities. "As a result of John's leadership in this area, Harvard Business School today is an institution of far greater intellectual, social, and cultural diversity," said emeritus faculty member and former Dean Jay Light, who oversaw faculty planning during McArthur's tenure.

McArthur also committed unprecedented sums to research and course development. Under his leadership, the School carved out a reputation as a pioneer in both the pursuit of cutting-edge theories and the development of multidisciplinary approaches, breaking new ground in entrepreneurship, leadership, ethics, strategy and a host of other areas.

McArthur excelled at identifying promising generators of ideas and placing large institutional bets on them, leading colleagues to dub him "an intellectual venture capitalist."

McArthur's development of entrepreneurship at the School is just one example. He began by bringing former HBS faculty member, Howard H. Stevenson, back to Soldiers Field in 1981 to reinvent the entrepreneurship curriculum, and then took steps to institutionalize the field at the School. One of the first endowed chairs he established during his tenure provided a continuing base for research and teaching in entrepreneurship.

Another venture McArthur nurtured was the Social Enterprise Initiative, launched in 1993 with a gift from the late John C. Whitehead (MBA 1947 and former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs). Over the past 25 years the Initiative has grown significantly and continues to serve as a catalyst for building social value through teaching, research, and programs related to social enterprise.

Beginning in the mid 1980s, McArthur also placed increasing emphasis on helping individual faculty members plan their careers, including peer reviews for tenured faculty members at five-year intervals to provide feedback and assist them in establishing or clarifying professional directions. He also paved the way for the creation of the Senior Faculty Center for emeriti professors after Harvard phased out mandatory retirement in 1994 in accordance with changes in federal law.

Executive Education: A Vital Component

McArthur saw executive education as vital to the School's success as a result of its capacity to broaden faculty members' perspectives through sustained exposure to high-level, front-line executives.

McArthur launched a multi-pronged strategy in 1991 that included revisions in HBS's comprehensive general management programs (e.g., the Advanced Management Program) and an expansion of focused programs (e.g., short, topic-specific offerings).

In 1995, the School offered more than twenty executive education programs, many of which had been developed in the previous five years.

The Creation of Harvard Business Publishing

McArthur believed publishing was vitally important to the School's mission and for disseminating HBS research more broadly. Long before the World Wide Web and the explosion of electronic information, he also saw a need for the School to experiment with new technologies and forms of packaging intellectual content, which had emerged as part of the changing competitive landscape for business schools.

In typical fashion, McArthur made a bold move, launching Harvard Business School Press in 1984 to publish high-quality research on topics of broad managerial relevance. Harvard Business School Publishing was incorporated in 1993. Today, the School's publishing enterprise is one of the world's leading producers, in print and online, of books, cases, articles, learning programs, and other content that informs and inspires managers, corporations, and educators around the world.

The Campus: A Legacy for the 21st Century

The total renovation of Morgan Hall (a faculty and support staff office building), the addition of Shad Hall (a fitness center), and the construction of the Class of 1959 Chapel were milestones of the McArthur deanship.

McArthur personally collaborated with architect Moshe Safdie on the design of the non-denominational chapel, which was a gift from the dean's own MBA class. The small but striking chapel serves as a daily reminder of the importance of spiritual values, which McArthur argued must remain paramount.

McArthur also effectively banned most vehicular traffic from Soldiers Field, turning roads once dominated by cars and trucks into lush green spaces. Over the years, often in partnership with Harvard's Arnold Arboretum, he directed the planting of thousands of flowers and scores of trees.

Reaching New Constituents

Under McArthur's deanship, the School made explicit commitments to engage new constituencies, including the local Allston-Brighton and Boston communities. Several hundred people from the School were involved in these outreach programs, which included opportunities to interact with students at a nearby middle school through tutoring and field trips, and a Saturday morning athletic program at the School. HBS alumni clubs and associations around the world also sponsored hundreds of outreach activities in their regions.

Another important initiative McArthur helped develop included Summer Ventures in Management, a program to introduce rising college seniors from groups underrepresented in corporate America to management education. The program continues to thrive today, hosting on average more than 75 students at the School for a week every June.

The MBA Program

McArthur understood that the School needed to admit students from all walks of life who reflected the complexities of a contemporary global society. Under his leadership, the classes of the 1980s and 1990s became increasingly diverse among multiple dimensions, including gender, home country, and socio-economic background.

McArthur focused as well on further strengthening the MBA curriculum. An initial review of the first year of the program in 1982 led to changes in student workload and faculty assignment patterns. In addition, in 1985, HBS became the first business school to require the use of personal computers in its MBA Program.

A larger review, called Leadership and Learning, was carried out in the early 1990s. At its conclusion, the faculty voted to adopt a stronger focus on teamwork, skill-building, and field-based learning delivered within a more cross-functional context. A pilot January cohort was introduced as an experiment, allowing a group of students to complete the curriculum in 18 months and fostering innovation in teaching and learning.


McArthur was awarded honorary doctorates from Middlebury College, Queens University, Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Western Ontario, Saint Mary's University in Halifax, and the University of Navarra in Spain. Other awards included a Management Achievement Award from McGill University, the Harvard Statesman Award from the HBS Club in New York, the Canadian Business Leadership Award from the combined Harvard Clubs of Canada, the Harvard Medal from Harvard University, and the Alumni Achievement Award from Harvard Business School. In 2013, McArthur was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada.

McArthur received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Corporate Directors. BWH named McArthur a Lifetime Trustee, and also established the John H. McArthur Fellowships in Medicine and Management.

In recognition of his strong support over the years, McArthur was selected as Honorary Coach of the hockey team at Harvard College. Like many Canadians, McArthur was an avid hockey fan, and he regularly attended the Harvard men's hockey team games. He also took the Crimson players under his wing, inviting them to have lunch with him at the Business School on several occasions.

A Warm and Generous Man

McArthur was easy to spot on campus, often clad in a blue short-sleeved shirt. He had a genuine interest in others and cultivated warm relationships with scores of individuals from all walks of life.

He generously thanked people for their efforts on behalf of the School, sending handwritten notes in distinctive longhand. McArthur also was there for members of the HBS community in good and bad times. He often appeared unannounced in hospital rooms and at family celebrations of faculty and staff. One employee who was seriously injured in a car accident was astonished to receive a visit from McArthur in the hospital even before his family could get there.

"While part of this was about managing an institution, it equally was about John's humanity and fundamental decency," said Executive Dean for Administration Angela Crispi, a mentee and close friend of McArthur. "John had a big heart. He was a warm, kind and generous man who made friends easily, and was intensely loyal to them. It is this quality—above all others—that has endeared him to so many."

Among the many who admired and respected McArthur were legions of HBS alumni. Joe O'Donnell noted, "Early in my career John took a chance and hired me, and we became lifelong friends—our families were literally intertwined. I've since had the privilege of serving in many roles at Harvard, and I've come to appreciate even more his quiet but important leadership. John was an incredibly impressive person who was never interested in impressing people."

Shortly after announcement of McArthur's decision to step down as dean, a group of HBS alumni organized an effort to pay tribute to his leadership with a special gift to the School. In a relatively short period of time, the group raised $38 million, a portion of which was used to create the John and Natty McArthur University Professorship, established in 1997, with the remainder earmarked to target some of the School's activities that held special meaning to McArthur. In 2002, a group of Canadian alumni announced the creation of the John H. McArthur Canadian Fellowship to provide financial assistance to Canadians wishing to attend Harvard Business School and acquire the leadership skills to make a lifelong contribution to Canadian society. In honor of McArthur's 60th reunion this spring, his classmates announced the MBA Class of 1959 John McArthur Fellowship fund to support students from developing countries or talented underrepresented student populations.

McArthur Hall, an executive education residence hall, was dedicated at HBS in 1999 in recognition of McArthur's many contributions.

Post Retirement

After retiring in 1995, McArthur continued to take on new challenges. For roughly the next decade, he spent a day or two a week helping HBS classmate James Wolfensohn, then president of the World Bank, with the major reorganization of one of the world's most important financial institutions. McArthur was actively involved with several boards, including Koç Holdings, A.S., one of the largest companies in Turkey, and Koç University in Istanbul, and many in the healthcare field where he had a continued interest. In Canada, he chaired the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada until 2015. He also helped a half-dozen start-ups get off the ground.

McArthur, a resident of Weston, MA, leaves his wife of 63 years, Natty; daughter Susan Radovsky; daughter Jocelyn Swisher and her husband Dan Swisher; four grandchildren, Katarina and Isabella Radovsky, and Jack and Charlotte Swisher; and brother Kenneth McArthur.

A family funeral and burial has been planned. A memorial service will be held at Memorial Church, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) at 2pm on October 30, 2019 with a reception to follow at Harvard Business School (Boston, MA).

Donations may be made to Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Business School, or University of British Columbia.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Service

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

2:00 - 3:00 pm (Eastern time)

Memorial Chapel - Harvard

2 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138

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