USC professor Warren Bennis passes at 89


USC University Professor, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and leadership scholar Warren Bennis died on July 31 in Los Angeles. He was 89.

“Warren Bennis was a visionary whose transformational contributions to the business world have shaped the fundamental concepts of effective leadership,” USC President C. L. Max Nikias told USC News.

Bennis is widely regarded as a world-renowned authority on leadership. In 1996, Forbes named him the “dean of leadership gurus.” In addition to his work in academia, Bennis served as an adviser to CEO’s of major national and international corporations, and several United States presidents, including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan, according to the New York Times.

He wrote nearly 30 books on business administration, management theory and organizational leadership throughout his life. The majority of Bennis’s books were published during his tenure at USC, one of which, An Inverted Life, earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Still Surprised, his memoir, was published in 2010.

Bennis was born in New York City, though he grew up in Westwood, N.J. He served in World War II as an infantry officer and was awarded both a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service.

Known as a lifelong scholar, Bennis received his bachelor’s degree from Antioch College in 1951 and his Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955. Before arriving at USC, he served as provost of the State University of New York at Buffalo and as president of the University of Cincinnati for seven years. He also held professorships at Harvard, Boston University and MIT.

In 1979, Bennis began his career at USC as a professor of business administration. In addition to his appointments of Distinguished Professor and University Professor, he received USC’s highest honor, the Presidential Medallion, in 2001

Most recently, Bennis had been working with USC President Emeritus Steve B. Sample on a book about the importance of experiencing failure in leadership. For the last 14 years, Sample and Bennis co-taught a course called, “The Art and Adventure of Leadership.”

“Warren once told me that he believed each person contained ‘many selves,’ and that the key to a successful life was to draw out our best selves and our best talents,” Dean James G. Ellis of the USC Marshall School of Business told USC News. “Rather than focusing on our shortcomings, he focused on our capacities as individuals. This belief guided his work, his relationships and his life, and is one of the main reasons that he so deeply affected everyone who had the privilege of knowing him.”

He is survived by his wife, Grace Gabe; his adult children Katherine, John and Will; and grandchildren Luke and Anya Movius, Devin Bennis, Daniel, Adam and Hanna Bennis; and stepdaughters Nina Freedman and Eden Steinberg; and step-grandchildren Nathan and Oliver Muz and Eliana and Abraham Freedman, according to USC News.

  • Thekatman

    I remember Warren from my days at the USC School of Business 1980-82. I worked Ob tbe LTE for 2 years and got to know most of the undergraduate and graduate professors. He was a visionary. His Experiental Learning Center was awesome and on the forefront of leadership education. God rest his soul.