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Juan Antonio Pérez López: A visionary business theorist and professor

Conference honors IESE’s former dean on 25th anniversary of his death

Juan Antonio Pérez López at IESE.

March 9, 2022

Decades before it became common currency to talk about corporate purpose, putting people first and moving beyond profit, Juan Antonio Pérez López was developing business theories that incorporated many of those elements, creating a vision of the company as a community of people working for their own benefit and for the benefit of their employer.

To mark the 25th anniversary of Pérez López’s death, the conference El futuro de la dirección de empresas: Personas, decisiones y aprendizajes examined the ways that his theoretical insights can be adopted by companies today. The conference brought together academics from around the world, including many from IESE’s associated schools, who were impacted by the work of the late professor.

To further that legacy, IESE has announced the creation of a new Juan Antonio Pérez López Chair, which will be held by Prof. John Almandoz. The objective of the chair is to contribute to research on human action in companies, in dialogue with the theoretical and applied contributions of Pérez López.

“For him leading is mobilizing a series of people so that they act freely to do something that is best for them and for the company. For that reason, we need to win people over, for people to feel integrated in the company, to live in unity with the company, and as a consequence do what is best,” said Emeritus Prof. Antonio Argandoña, one of the conference organizers.

Pérez López created a body of work that brings economic, sociological, anthropological and ethical elements together. It touched many areas, including:

  • The importance of a deep study of decision-making processes in understanding companies and society.
  • The encompassing dimension of decision-making processes. A business decision cannot be appropriate from one viewpoint and erroneous from another, because of the effects that current decisions have on future decisions.
  • A complete theory of action and learning which emphasizes the richness of the person taking action, with a variety of motives and learning resulting from interactions among people.
  • The use of control systems as management tools.
  • The need for corporate purpose and the social responsibility of companies.

A career dedicated to IESE

Pérez López studied actuarial insurance at Madrid’s Escuela Central Superior de Comercio, and worked five years in electricity company Hidroeléctrica Española SA.

In 1961, a few years after IESE’s founding, he began teaching in the school’s Department of Quantitative Analysis (today the Department of Accounting and Control). He received his PhD from Harvard Business School in 1970 with a dissertation titled Organizational Theory: A Cybernetical Approach.

He was dean of IESE from 1978 to 1984. During his tenure, IESE saw major growth in its international diversity, including students, alumni and faculty. He oversaw the launch of the bilingual MBA in 1980, and the Master’s Degree for Experienced Professionals (now called the Executive MBA) in 1982. IESE also helped found two business schools during this time: the School of Management at the University of Piura (PAD) in Peru in 1979 and the Associação de Estudos Superiores de Empresa (AESE) in Lisbon (Portugal) in 1980.

He was a visiting professor at PAD, INALDE Business School in Colombia and IAE Business School in Argentina.