Remembering Myer Brody’s Contribution

Myer Brody passed away a few days ago. He made a major contribution to the Department of Management at UTSC during the period I was chair. I knew something about his contribution from my interactions with him over the years, but learned more at his funeral and Shivah.

Myer earned his Ph.D. in Economics at Wharton in the late Forties. He didn’t have an opportunity to embark on an academic career then because, as an only child, he had to take over the family’s paper manufacturing business in Scarborough. The business thrived, and Myer’s family thrived. After the death of Myer’s first wife Florence (Faegie), Myer’s close friend (and my cousin) Steve Borins introduced him to a single friend, Mimi Fullerton, and soon Myer and Mimi were an item, and then married.

In 1990, at the age of 64 Myer sold his business and by then his children from his first marriage were adults and on their own. Myer had no need to work but was not willing to settle into traditional retirement. Myer thought of resuming the academic career that had been interrupted at the start. Steve Borins once again played the role of matchmaker, introducing me to Myer. Steve’s timing was perfect. I was the founding chair of the Division of Management and Economics, as it was then called, at the University of Toronto at Scarborough. We had lots of courses to staff but, more than that, I was looking for people who could connect the department to the world of business.

Myer and I hit it off right from the beginning. I forget which course I first asked him to teach, but within a few years he was teaching courses in three areas: entrepreneurship (which he knew intimately from personal experience), finance (his dissertation field), and strategic management. Myer was in effect teaching a full course load for tenure stream faculty. Stipends for part-time instructors are set so low that Myer was doing this for love, not for money.

Mimi told me that on Myer’s teaching days he woke up all charged up with energy and purpose. A relative of Myer’s, Harold Wadlinger, gave the first eulogy at the funeral, recounting that Myer invited him in to give a guest lecture in his entrepreneurship class about the challenges of selling a business. Harold said that the connection between Myer and his students was palpable, and that it was obvious that Myer was a born teacher. One of my colleagues, Chris Bovaird, told me that he shared an office with Myer and that on days they were in together, they didn’t get a great deal of work done, but had wonderful conversations. As chair, I knew that Myer enjoyed teaching, but what Mimi, Harold, and Chris all told me came as news to me.

The second thing Myer did for the department was organize a Business Advisory Committee. Most of the members of the committee were entrepreneurs and executives whom Myer knew. The group met every six months and proved enormously helpful to me as chair as a sounding board on whether we were delivering courses and programs that adequately prepared our students for management careers. The group was also very helpful on providing advice about the department’s strategy within the university. When resistance from the Economics Department at the St. George Campus to our management-focused vision forced us to find new partnerships for graduate appointments, the business advisory committee was strongly supportive of our decisions. Finally, then Principal and Dean Paul Thompson frequently attended the committee meetings, which enhanced our credibility and his support.

I regret that the Department no longer has a Business Advisory Committee. Our strong Co-op program, which was just getting launched when Myer was on the faculty, now provides considerable input on how to ensure that our students have the skills organizations seek. But we lack strategic advice coming from a non-academic practitioner perspective. One of the other roles of a Business Advisory Committee is to help with fund-raising, and unfortunately our Department has had an ongoing weakness in that area.

Myer continued his retirement career for a decade. Then one day he came to me and said, quite definitively, that he was turning seventy-five, and it was now time for him to retire. We celebrated Myer’s contribution at our end-of-year party and gave him an original photo by Bev Abramson, a well-known photographer who had, in her first career, worked as co-ordinator for our Co-op program. I was delighted to see that the photo of a man enjoying a cigar, taken by Bev in Cuba, had a place of honour in Myer’s home. I admired Myer’s sense of timing, in knowing when it was time to move on, and then moving on.

The Department of Management at UTSC has now been in operation for 22 years, and has grown and thrived since its founding. Many of the faculty and staff who were there at the outset have moved on to other programs or retired. Many new faculty and staff have joined who are only dimly aware of our history. We have achieved our current position because of the contributions of our founding generation. Hearing the things I heard about Myer reminded me that any organization’s leaders have limited knowledge of all that is happening in the ranks. I’m delighted to learn, in retrospect, how much teaching at UTSC Management meant to Myer, and I want to recognize how much he contributed.

 

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