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  • A170 Tom Rozman Reflects on Dean George S. Odiorne—An Experience with a Professor and Leader of Note

A170 Tom Rozman Reflects on Dean George S. Odiorne—An Experience with a Professor and Leader of Note

Above: Dr. George S. Odiorne

Article by A170 Tom Rozman

In an academic career one meets many types of faculty.  Some are uniquely inclined to the academic function as lecturers or professors.  Some indicate innovation.  Some indicate a sense of the leader and do prove exceptional mentors.  I had the privilege to engage one such person in the latter category at the University of Massachusetts’ Isenberg School of Management while a graduate student. Dean George S. Odiorne was very much the innovator. Among other life accomplishments he was the conceptual force behind the then significant and cutting edge Management by Objectives (MBO) approach to management.  As well, he was a great mentor in my view.

My experience with Dr. Odiorne began when I approached him to agree to support an independent study under his tutelage.  After outlining my intent for the study’s objective, he graciously agreed and thus began our mutual adventure.


Some background concerning Dr. Odiorne is appropriate.  A native of Merrimac, Massachusetts he was born there in 1920 but grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts with his three siblings, a brother and two sisters, experiencing the Great Depression Era situation that Americans faced at the time.  Just prior to World War II he was working as a foreman with the American Can Company in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Post World War II he would complete undergraduate studies at Rutgers University.  He would earn his masters and doctorate at New York University where he would study under Peter Drucker.

This academic work would be leavened by instructor work at Rutgers, and consulting work with the American Management Association and General Mills.  In the former organization he would serve as the manager of the personnel division.  Interestingly, he would develop management courses and standards in this role.

He would transition to a long academic career the high points of which involved the following.

  • Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Michigan (1958-68)
  • Dean David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah (1968-74)
  • Dean Isenberg School of Management, University of Massachusetts (1974-63)
  • Harold D. Holder Chair Professor, Eckard College (1983-89)

Over this substantial 30 year academic career he wrote and published 26 books and 300 articles.  This published work articulated and developed the theory of management referred to as “Management by Objectives (MBO).”   The concept had a number of features I found important for consideration in future work and one particularly so in my view.  The idea of establishing organizational team objectives mutually developed between leader levels was in keeping with my sense of an effective approach to organizational leadership.  In my experience it was superior to a top down directed approach

As a serving Army infantry officer at the time sent by the Army to pursue graduate studies, ideally to support my then alternate specialty of supply and logistics, the MBO concepts were of great interest and the opportunity to engage in work under the primary conceptual mind behind the ideas was an opportunity that could not be passed up.

My proposal to Dr. Odiorne when interviewing for his agreement to support an independent study was to examine the MBO concept from a military officer career development and leadership perspective.  The idea was to develop a paper that might translate into a professional article in a military journal.  Dr. Odiorne was intrigued and agreed to support the independent study.

This began a semester long research, discussion and review relationship in the development of the paper.  Early in that process I learned something about the professor that added significantly to the sense I had of his value for the project.

In an early joint session we had gotten off on a bit of tangent.  Somehow my father’s World War II background came up. This led to comment to my father’s serving in the 43rd Infantry Division and the division’s sojourn at Camp Shelby, Mississippi in 1942 as it pursued its grueling pre-deployment training.

On learning of my father being in the 43rd Dr. Odiorne warmed.  He said he had been a lieutenant in the 43rd after completing Officer Candidate School when the unit was at Camp Shelby in 1942.

Dr. Odiorne stated that in May of 1942 he was part of a draft of officers detailed from the division to be reassigned to Fort Huachuca, Arizona to begin the activation and organization of the 93rd Infantry Division.  He would serve in that latter unit in the work to organize and train its units and he would then deploy with it to the South Pacific Theater.

93rd Infantry Division

Knowing some of the history of the 93rd Infantry Division, the trajectory Dr. Odiorne had taken with the development of the MBO concepts was intriguing in that respect. The thought occurred  to a degree that his experiences with the 93rd had been a source of some of his conceptual thinking in his work regarding MBO. To provide this conjectural context a summary of that unit’s World War II experience is worth noting.

Mr. Robert Jefferson’s summary of the division’s World War II service published in the 11 July 2008 issue of “Black Past” is I think instructive.  I have provided it here.  (It will be noted that the division fought in combat in France in World War I.  The 25th Infantry Regiment referred to by Mr. Jefferson in his summary of service was a veteran Regular Army regiment formed at the end of the U.S. Civil War with a distinguished record of service.)

“Activated on May 15, 1942, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the U.S. Ninety-third Infantry Division was the first segregated division-size infantry unit mobilized during the Second World War.  Composed of White general staff officers and African American junior officers and enlisted men, the Ninety-third was made up of the draftee 369th and the veteran 368th and the 25th Infantry Regiments along with an assortment of field battalions and companies.

After its formation, the division conducted its basic training at Fort Huachuca, before heading to Louisiana during the spring of 1943 where the unit staged field operations against the Eighty-fifth Infantry Division during the Third Army Maneuvers.  In late 1943, the Ninety-third moved westward to California where the unit went through desert training exercises before departing from the United States for the South Pacific Theater of Operations in January, 1944.

After being placed under the command of the Fourteenth Corps, the Ninety-third division was largely deployed in combat support positions throughout the theater, relieving companies and regiments of the Americal Division and the all-white Thirty-seventh Infantry Division on Guadalcanal, Bougainville, New Georgia, and Green Islands in what are now the Solomon Islands, and Bougainville Island which is part of New Guinea.

While in the area, senior army commanders heavily criticized the division and Washington officials after one of its companies allegedly became disoriented after encountering heavy enemy fire during a routine combat mission on Bougainville Island in April of 1944.  Although an inspector general’s investigation of the incident had cleared the troops of misconduct, rumors surrounding the incident followed the unit as it moved throughout the Pacific area during the war.

During the summer of 1944, elements of the Ninety-third passed through the Southwest Pacific Theater of Operations, relieving the Forty-first and Thirty-first Infantry divisions stationed on New Guinea, Treasury, Los Negros, and Morotai Islands of base security and service support duties as they advanced towards the Philippines islands and Japan.  While serving on Morotai Island, division troops engaged in subduing and capturing Japanese forces stationed in the area.  There, division patrols earned the distinction of capturing Colonel Muisu Ouichi, the highest-ranking Japanese prisoner of war in the Pacific war. Upon arriving in Mindanao and Leyte of the Philippines at the end of 1945, the men of the division boarded troop transport ships heading for the United States.  The 93rd Infantry was deactivated at Camp Stoneman, California, on February 3, 1946.”

Soldiers of the 93rd Infantry Division on patrol on Bougainville May 1944

As my research and our discussions progressed the outline for the paper was confirmed and the paper began to take form.  Good progress was made and I found my engagement with Dr. Odiorne congenial and beneficial.  It was a productive partnership toward a product that might have extended benefit.

The experience with Dr. Odiorne that developed was very consistent with Henry Beam’s characterization of the man in George Odiorne published in 1996 (Dr. Henry Beam at the time was a professor of management at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan).  Several comments from that biographical piece follow to expand on the applicable aspects of Dr. Odiorne experienced by those who engaged with him.

“A management system should provide a framework for picturing the major factors in the situation as an integrated whole. It should be realistic. It should simplify the complex rather than complicate the simple.” 

–George Odiorne

“I first came in contact with George Odiorne when I was a student in the MBA program at the University of Michigan and he was a professor of industrial relations. I took Industrial Relations 562 from him during the winter semester of 1969, his last at Michigan before he became dean of the business school at the University of Utah. Because of his reputation as an exceptional teacher (he earned teaching awards at both Utah and Michigan), students flocked to his course in even greater numbers than usual that semester. “

“Although he was a marvelously entertaining lecturer, he preferred to involve his students in what he called action-type learning. He organized our class into five-person work groups or teams, using the procedure he had described in the preface of his 1963 Personnel Policy: Issues and Practices. The focus of the class was case studies in personnel, which would be called human resource management today. Typically he lectured on Monday, had groups prepare their assigned cases on Wednesday, then had group leaders present their group’s findings on Friday. The class required weekly written assignments from each student. The group leader was responsible for preparing the group’s written report of the case, while the other members prepared a research report for the leader on a topic pertinent to the case. The process repeated itself each week, but with a different set of group leaders. In effect, the students were put in the position of participating in a mini-organization with the purpose of producing written reports of work situations. Each person acted as a group leader three times during the semester and prepared 12 research reports–a significant amount of work for one course.”

“Professionally, George Odiorne is best known for popularizing the system of managerial leadership to so many situations that some managers quipped that MBO really meant “Management by Odiorne.” “

“Odiorne’s introduction to the idea of managing by objectives came when he took an evening course in 1951 from Peter Drucker at New York University. Three years later Drucker published his best-selling management book, The Practice of Management, in which he proposed a system of managing by objectives and self-control based on his studies of General Motors. GM was then considered the model of how to run a large industrial corporation. Odiorne studied and further refined the system Drucker had proposed. He got a chance to put it to work when he was personnel manager at General Mills from 1958 to 1959. “

“In 1974, while I was a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, one of my part-time jobs was to help coordinate the MBO seminars at the business school’s Division of Management Education. These highly popular three-day training sessions had been offered practically every month since their inception in 1959. Odiorne would return from Utah to be the featured speaker in the monthly programs. I sat through many of his presentations and was able to see firsthand how well he could interact with a group of managers. A master at simplifying complex management concepts, he would outline his lectures one point at a time on a blackboard to facilitate note taking.”

“Odiorne warned managers of the perils of what he called the activity trap: spending time and money on activities that were not directly related to attaining mutually agreed-upon performance objectives. To (his behavior). This was a break with the human relations school of management, popular in the 1950s, which evaluated managers primarily on their human relations skills rather than on their performance.”

“Odiorne was always a strong proponent of training, which he saw as a necessary investment in human capital rather than an expense. He tied training to MBO through what he called self-development objectives. These objectives were not directly related to a person’s current job but were helpful in preparing for promotion or increased responsibilities. They could involve activities such as reading or taking self-development courses and were typically done off the job. For George’s contributions to the field of training, he was one of the first inductees into the Human Resource Development Hall of Fame.”

“Many people who worked with George Odiorne for long periods of time say he was the single most important professional influence in their lives. George could also have a significant impact on people who only knew him for a relatively short time, such as myself. I remain particularly indebted to George for helping me develop my own writing style. I much admired his clear, direct style of writing. He told me, “If you are going to write for managers, write so they can understand you.” George would gladly take time to say to me, “Get two cups of coffee, one for you and one for me, and meet me in my office.” “He would then take out his red pen and show me how to improve what I had thought was a good paper. When he was done, I could see that my ideas were stated much more clearly than before.”

“Overall, Odiorne’s contributions to training and human resource development were widely recognized. He was the recipient of many honors during his career. In my view, though, his most important honor is the fondness and reverence by which he is remembered by nearly five decades of students.”

Dr. Beam well captures in this inventory of comments my sense of Dr. Odiorne during the semester at the University of Massachusetts that I engaged in my independent study with him.  The last three of the comments proved very much the case during the study.  In this sense the “master of mentoring” made a substantial contribution to my work in progress and its compilation into a viable paper with potential for a published article.

The resulting paper proved a worthy product.  Continuing to refine the work with a United States Military Academy classmate, William A. Saunders, a fellow graduate of the Masters in Business Administration program at the university, the paper was transformed into the intended article of the independent study.  It was published as a cp-authored article, “The True School of the Lieutenant” in the July-August 1980 issue of Infantry Magazine.

The experience with Dr. Odiorne was a bit of a personal milestone on a personal leadership journey.  He combined many aspects in his orientation and style that I had been developing over a leadership career then spanning some 15 years of practice and development adding significantly to the store of perspective and application.  But most significantly he was a good hearted mentor of value and he never talked down to me during all of our interfaces, he treated me as a colleague.

While he had refined much of his perspective and applications regarding management, training and leadership post war, I sensed an underlying aspect of his work and perspective that seemed connected to his experience during the war as an officer assigned to the 93rd Infantry Division.  In that sense and in his life work of teaching and mentoring, he made a significant contribution to the enhancement of leader effectiveness. The legacy of this work continues to the present through his writing and the many students and faculty affected and influenced during his academic career who have “paid it forward.”

In my view, Dr. Odiorne was a leader of significance whose work and contribution to leadership echoes into the present.

43rd Infantry Division