OMT WebOrganization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management
I have long been honored to count myself among Mayer’s friends and intellectual running buddies, a group that extends around the world and includes most of my favorite people. It is a sad day for all of us. Mayer was a profound intellectual, a truth-teller, an institution-builder, a mentor, and a great and loyal friend.
Mayer also had a remarkable capacity to see things that the rest of us missed. He found deep sociological significance in the damnedest things, like professional sports, the structure of leveraged buyouts funds, the YMCA, hip replacements… and he was always right. We all know his blockbuster contributions to social movements and organization theory. But some of us have made careers out of mining Mayer’s overlooked insights, like the fact that social movements happen INSIDE organizations in ways that look like “real” social movements (Zald and Berger, 1978). I expect generations to be mining his oeuvre for more gems to be polished.
Mayer took me under his wing in 1986 when he was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford and I was an unrestrained and over-caffeinated grad student. He and Bob Kahn had embarked on a project to save the world from nuclear Armageddon by using organization theory. It was a modest agenda, and they were persuaded we could pull it off. (Vindication: since that work was published, there have been no nuclear wars.) Mayer and Bob graciously offered to take me on as a co-author, and I learned that Mayer’s sweet impishness and evident goodwill allowed him to be forthright in telling people things that might sound bracing (not to say devastating) coming from other people. First comment: “Have you ever read Strunk & White? You should. You use long words when short ones will do and you are too show-offy. Your reader doesn’t have to know everything you know to get your point.” I don’t actually recall the subsequent points, for some reason… but he had swiftly conveyed messages that needed to be heard. (Note the lack of an object in that sentence — some habits die hard.) Generations of students received the same benefit.
Omnivorous curiosity, a capacity to see meaningful patterns that others overlooked, and a commitment to telling it straight, combined with a sweet impishness and generosity to make Mayer one of a kind. Our community mourns his loss.
Jerry DavisUniversity of MichiganAugust 20, 2012
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