01 Aug 2001

Robert B. Stobaugh (DBA '68)

Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus


In June, the School conferred its highest honors, the Distinguished Service Award and the Alumni Achievement Award, on four professors emeriti and five alumni, respectively. This is a profile of a Distinguished Service honoree.

On his way up the corporate ladder in the 1950s and 1960s, chemical engineer Bob Stobaugh decided to pursue his true vocation: teaching. "As a manager in the oil and chemical industries, I often needed to explain complex business problems to my coworkers," Stobaugh says. "I found that I enjoyed the educational process." It was a discovery that would lead to a distinguished thirty-year career at HBS.

An Arkansas native who began his education in a two-room schoolhouse, Stobaugh entered Louisiana State University at 15 and earned his bachelor's degree in 1947. He then spent eighteen years working for Exxon, Caltex, and Monsanto in the United States, Venezuela, Bahrain, and England. While in Texas with Monsanto, he noticed that the top managers had technical degrees but little training in business administration and economics. Sensing an opportunity for advancement, he enrolled in night classes at the University of Houston. "This proved to be an important experience," states Stobaugh, "because I realized how much I had missed the academic world of discussion and ideas."

Encouraged by his professors, Stobaugh entered the Harvard DBA Program in 1965 at the age of 37. He earned his doctorate three years later and became a tenured professor in 1971. In addition to teaching in the MBA and Executive Education Programs, he chaired the School's Doctoral Programs for almost six years.

Postings on four continents with multinational corporations had given Stobaugh a practical foundation for his scholarly interest in global business issues. In 1971, he led an HBS team that found that overseas investment by American companies benefited the U.S. economy by increasing exports and creating higher-paying jobs in this country. His testimony on Capitol Hill helped defeat bills aimed at restricting U.S. foreign investment.

Stobaugh's other research and teaching activities have focused on technology, energy, and corporate governance. He has authored, coauthored, or coedited fifteen monographs and books, and he gained considerable renown as director of the HBS Energy Project from 1972 to 1983. Stobaugh coedited the project's groundbreaking book, Energy Future: Report of the Energy Project at the Harvard Business School. "We maintained that conservation could actually contribute to domestic economic growth - with less risk from the disturbances in the international oil markets," he says.

In his recent research on corporate governance, Stobaugh found that board members of the best-performing companies frequently owned substantial amounts of stock in the firms they oversaw. In 1995, he chaired the Blue Ribbon Commission of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), whose recommendations dramatically increased stock ownership by corporate board members.

Retired from the active faculty since 1996, Stobaugh continues to write, consult, and serve on NACD Blue Ribbon panels. He is also a trustee of the French Library and Cultural Center in Boston.

Stobaugh became a teacher because he enjoyed delving into difficult issues and finding workable solutions. "I am grate-ful," he says, "that my decision to change careers many years ago led me to this extraordinary place."


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