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February 24, 2006

Whisler remembered as business research pioneer, avid musician

Dr. Thomas Lee Whisler, professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Business, died February 6 in Highland Park Hospital. During his 37-year tenure at the University, he was among the first researchers to study the impact of computers on business. He was also an avid musician, working to master a number of different instruments and arranging music for his singing group, the Jinglelos.

In addition to making great strides in the field of economics, students also remember Whisler as an inspirational teacher and friend.

“I obviously have great admiration for Tom. He was working on a research project when I was a doctoral student, and it was because of him that I ended up coming here. He was a very committed teacher,” said Harry L. Davis, the Roger L. and Rachael M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.

Whisler began his studies at Miami University in Ohio, where he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology. After completing the degree, he took a brief hiatus from academic work to serve in the Navy during the Second World War.

Following the war, Whisler returned to academia, finishing his MBA in 1947. He then left Chicago for the University of Missouri, where he remained for five years, teaching business. Whisler came back to the U of C in 1953. He earned his Ph.D. in economics and began teaching the same year.

In his time at the University, Whisler published several books and many articles. In 1960 he and George Schultz co-authored Management, Organization, and the Computer. This was followed by another book 10 years later, The Impact of Computers on Organizations. His research interests later expanded to include corporate and organizational governance. In 1980 he published, Rules of the Game: Inside the Corporate Boardroom.

“[He] had broad interests in topics that were very cutting edge…the impact of computers…on organizations at the very early stages on computers in the 1960s,” Davis said. “He was looking at corporate governance 25 years ago. He was a very curious and inquisitive person.”

In an interview with the Tribune, his wife Judy said, “He was an insatiable reader who needed to know about everything.”

She also said that he was “a very eclectic kind of guy” citing his many varied interests and added, “he was very, very funny with a dry, wry sense of humor.”