Gifted university teacher served governments in many public roles


John Murray:JOHN MURRAY, who has died aged 62, was a gifted teacher renowned for his piercing intellect and charm. As the established professor of business at Trinity College, Dublin, he was one of the leading business academics in the country and was well known throughout the business community.

John A Murray was born in Co Kildare in 1948 and was brought up on the Curragh. He was educated at St Joseph’s Academy Kildare, and entered University College Dublin in 1965 to read commerce graduating in 1968. A year later, he achieved a first class honours masters degree in economic science.

A scholarship from the Friendly Sons of St Patrick of Philadelphia brought him to perhaps the most prestigious business school in the world – the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated from Wharton’s two-year MBA programme in 1971, making the dean’s honours list in both years.

He returned immediately to a lectureship in marketing at UCD, aged 23. In 1972, he married Jane (née Devin) also from Kildare, whom he met as a fellow undergraduate.

Murray taught marketing at UCD for 17 years during which time he earned his PhD from the National University of Ireland and the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management.

He won many awards for his teaching and published work, and as his scholarly reputation grew, was offered prestigious visiting positions across the globe – spending semesters at IMD in Switzerland, at the University of Toronto, and at Harvard Business School. He taught for one year at the University of Keio in Japan, and developed a lifetime interest in and love of Asian culture.

In 1988, he was appointed to the Chair of Business at Trinity College. He set about building the college’s fledging school of business. He renewed the undergraduate curriculum, adding language options and developing student exchanges with universities in Asia, Canada, and the United States. He expanded the fulltime MBA and developed new masters degrees for a senior management audience.

He was elected to the College Fellowship in 1991 and continued to give outstanding service, serving as the university’s senior lecturer on two occasions. Until his departure on vacation to Italy in August of this year he was teaching the summer term with the MBA class of 2010.

His academic specialisms were in the areas of marketing, business strategy, and industry evolution. He was especially interested in strategic renewal and his scholarly work is to be found in academic business journals such as T he European Journal of Marketing,and the Strategic Management Journal.

In 1994, then taoiseach John Bruton invited him to take a lead advisory role in the government’s Strategic Management Initiative. He invested enormous effort in the initiative and served successive governments in many public roles.

He was on the boards of Health Service Executive and of Tallaght hospital; he was chairman of the Institute of Public Administration, and president of the Marketing Institute of Ireland.

The high regard in which he was held in all these spheres is a testament to his intellect, his decency and integrity, and his unwavering commitment to every task he undertook.

But it was his contribution to Trinity College’s school of business and its students that will be his lasting legacy. Under his skilled and shrewd leadership, he made the school a centre of excellence that stands high in the world rankings. He was an outstanding teacher both in the classroom and with his doctoral students.

When teaching business cases he was like a conductor. His students will recall that using only chalk, he could take an industry’s business system apart, set it out across an 8-metre blackboard and reassemble it to show where opportunities for innovation were to be found.

And his students always rose to the challenge; colleagues could see they realised just how much he contributed of himself and increased their own efforts so as not to disappoint him. It was a standing joke in the school of business that the worst teaching slot was to be scheduled after Murray – not just because he was such a hard act to follow, but because the students would have devoted all their preparation time to his class and none to yours.

Murray was a wonderful family man with a marvellous sense of fun and creativity. He shared all his passions with his family: renovating old cars, swapping and discussing books with his daughters, Italy, family trips. And with Jane, his constant navigating companion, he competed in classic car rallies across Europe.

In 2008 he was diagnosed with cancer. It was characteristic that throughout his treatment he continued to teach and to research. The way in which he dealt with the illness revealed bravery, strength of mind and above all humility.

He is survived by his wife, and by his daughters, Sinéad and Niamh.

John A Murray: born July 10th, 1948; died September 22nd, 2010