It is my sad and great honor to give the eulogy for my dear friend and colleague José de la Torre. He leaves his wife Marta, son José, daughter Cristina, several grandchildren, and countless friends, including all those whose careers he helped with his trademark generosity. José was also an early champion for women in the Academy.
José was a giant and mainstay of AIB: President in 1999-2000, chair of the annual conference in Banff, a Fellow for decades, and the social and emotional heart of the Fellows’ meetings, although he did say to me when I was elected to not expect the AIB Fellowship to do so much for me. For once he was wrong…mostly!
I won’t dwell on the details of his career as those are in his biography on the AIB Fellows website, but I will focus on the essence of the man we held so dear. José lived a fuller life than almost any of us, a bon viveur to the end. I jumped to claim the privilege of giving this eulogy because I owed a lot to José including his bringing me to UCLA and supporting me for the AIB fellowship, but José owed me in one important way. In the mid-1990s, the strategy group at UCLA had a two-day retreat at a resort hotel somewhere outside the city. One night, I got a phone call at about 3:00 AM from José. He said, “George, I think I’m having a heart attack. What should I do?” I replied that he should call his doctor, but he said, “I don’t have his number”. I said, “All UCLA faculty and staff carry a medical card with their doctor’s number”. José looked in his wallet and said, “Yes I have one. I’ll call my doctor and then call you back”. Fifteen minutes later, he called me and said the doctor told him to go to a hospital. So, I drove him to the nearest hospital and he was admitted into emergency. After half an hour they let me in to see him and the first thing José said was, “George, I have had a minor heart attack. I need to change my life.” And he did, for a while.
In terms of research, José focused on relevance for practitioners, true to his doctoral education at Harvard Business School. He was the author of over 65 books and articles and more than 30 case studies in the field of international business and strategy, as recently as a paper in Journal of World Business in 2018. He wrote on the management of multinational firms, the relationship between corporate strategy and government policy, and on foreign investment in developing countries.
His career passion was to internationalize business school curricula and programs. For example, at UCLA’s Anderson School, José developed a really in depth International Management Fellows program for selected MBA students that combined studying in one foreign language and a study exchange and an internship in the relevant foreign country. He looked after the Spanish track and recruited me to look after the Chinese and Japanese tracks, which involved our hands on involvement to call on companies in those regions to arrange internships. This IMF program epitomized José’s approach to work–he substituted his personal energy to make up for the limited resources at his disposal. He was a true academic entrepreneur, constantly innovating. Even his last major activity after retirement was like that, when he was the Founding Executive Director of the (global, multi-school) EMBA Consortium for Global Business Innovation. His dedication to education was recognized by being named Outstanding Educator of the Year by the Academy of Management in 2013, including for his work as Dean of the Graduate Business School at Florida International University. Similarly, six business schools in Europe and Latin America had him serve on their International Advisory Boards, and various international companies on their boards.
Born and raised in Havana before coming to America, he stayed in touch with his cultural roots. Indeed, sometimes when the two of us worked together, we represented the two extremes of a Hofstede cultural dimension.
I will illustrate his dedication to teaching with one anecdote. When he was teaching at INSEAD, one day’s class was about political risk. But another professor showed up and said that Professor de la Torre was ill that day and that he would take the class instead. After a few minutes, José burst into the classroom with a Che Guevara beret on his head, a bandolier of bullets across his chest, a cigar in his mouth, and a fake machine gun. Shouting “viva la revolucion”, he fired the gun at the students. That’s how to teach political risk!
The epitome of an international business professor, José also loved to experience foreign cultures and to travel, but in the right way. As he once said, there are few things better than, after the hectic rush to make it to the airplane on time, to turn left on boarding, to settle in a comfortable seat and to accept the glass of champagne offered by the flight attendant. Indeed, when the two of us were hired by Singapore Airlines to teach nearly all of their senior executives, José insisted that we would do this only if they guaranteed us business class flights across the Pacific. Actually, all our flights were upgraded to first class. I like to think of José looking down on us now from a first class seat with a glass of champagne in his hand.
George Yip, AIB Fellow
Emeritus Professor, Imperial College Business School
Distinguished Visiting Professor, Northeastern University