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David and Judy Messick
David and Judy Messick
The 'right' guy goes home

Ethics professor David Messick retires, having enriched Kellogg with his passion for bridging business and psychology

By Rebecca Lindell

David Messick's many awards, books and other honors testify to the impact he has had as a professor of business ethics at the Kellogg School. 

The Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management has been a star in the classroom, earning one teaching award after another. He's published scores of articles and been a sought-after speaker at universities in the United States and abroad. He helped create the school's Ford Motor Company Center for Global Citizenship, one of the foremost centers for research on corporate responsibility.

And in an era when business ethics was often the top item on the evening news, Messick became the Kellogg School's oft-quoted expert on Enron, Worldcom and other corporate scandals.

Given this influence, it's a little surprising to realize that when Messick first joined the Kellogg faculty in 1992, he had never before taught a management course.

"I had no background in business whatsoever," he confides with a laugh. "I couldn't even balance my checkbook."

In truth, the self-deprecating Messick, who is retiring this year, had an extensive background in psychology, having taught and researched the subject for nearly 30 years at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

"I was a straightforward, card-carrying social psychologist, with a focus on fairness and justice," Messick recalls. "This was a wonderful opportunity to apply the theories of research psychology to business problems."

Messick found the switch from pure academia to the more practical area of business "a bit hard for the first year or two," but his Kellogg students helped him to re-orient.

 "They weren't interested in psychology as an academic endeavor; they were interested in knowledge that would help them run better organizations," he said. With their feedback, he built an ethics and leadership curriculum that drew raves from students and faculty. He also collaborated with students to create the popular Social Impact Club, which focuses on socially responsible business.

"Someone once told me that to be an effective teacher, the most important thing is to like the students," Messick says. "And I did. I found the students at Kellogg to be smart and interesting, and I've really enjoyed working with them."

The feeling has been mutual. Messick repeatedly has been voted one of the school's top teachers, earning the Sid Levy Teaching Award, the Executive MBA Program's Outstanding Professor Award, and the Best Teacher Award from the Kellogg-WHU Executive Program in Germany.

Now Messick will return to Santa Barbara with his wife, Judy Messick, a clinical associate professor of communications who left her own mark on the school before retiring in 2001.

Like her husband, Judy Messick had never taught a business course prior to arriving at Kellogg in 1992. She, too, found Kellogg a fertile place to expand her skills. In addition to creating a for-credit business writing program at the school, she served as director of the Global Initiatives in Management program from 1998 until 2001.

"Going to Kellogg was absolutely the best thing either of us ever did professionally," Judy Messick says. "We loved the atmosphere, the faculty, the students and the staff. Kellogg gives people opportunities they wouldn't have had otherwise, and that was very true for us. Our time there was a horizon-expanding experience in so many ways."

The Messicks have few firm notions for the next stage of their lives. David Messick says he may teach occasionally for Kellogg, but for now the two are anticipating reading, hiking and bird-watching back in their old home of Santa Barbara.

"I have absolutely no formal plans," David Messick says. "I'm looking forward to getting caught up on things I haven't had a chance to read and taking advantage of the opportunities that each new day brings."

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