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In Memory of James R. Rubin

By Bob Bruner-
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Our colleague and friend, James R. Rubin, passed away yesterday, saddening the Darden Community. He was a member of the Darden School faculty for some 25 years, teaching and writing in the area of management communications. He brought leadership to faculty teams and was a devoted teacher. Many knew him as a gentle and humble colleague; as one came to know him better, James shared a wry wit and a passion for written and oral expression. He reminded us that leadership is nothing without the ability to express ideas in a way that binds people together and mobilizes action. His passion resonated with students and changed lives. He was the first faculty recipient of the Frederick S. Morton Awards for Leadership in 1996, given at graduation to an outstanding student in leadership and to the faculty member who made the most significant contribution to that student’s life.

James touched his colleagues as well. Each of us has our own stories of the impact he made. Early in my years as Dean of Darden, I sought the benefit of James’s expertise in corporate branding, identity and reputation. I had been getting some unsolicited advice about how Darden needed to present itself as more of this and less of that. These people said that Darden needed a re-branding, a cosmetic makeover that, regardless of the veracity of the new brand, would create a wonderful new reality for the School: if you say it, everyone will believe it. To me, this advice sounded like baloney, but what did I know? I was just a Dean.

So I consulted James, whose expertise was in corporate identity. He responded with alacrity, walking into my office with a bulging three-ring binder of background material to read, and an oral briefing for me. The gist of his advice was that great corporate identities spring from deep values and strong competencies. Strong brands are built upon a bond of trust between the organization and its stakeholders: you say what you are going to do, and then you deliver on it. Therefore, James said that Darden should frame its brand around what it cares about and does well—and then should communicate that identity relentlessly. This advice got us on the right track, and after good work by teams of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, prompted solid expressions of our mission, vision, values, and norms, all of which became the foundation of Darden’s branding.  Ever since then, we’ve been hammering away on the message that Darden is about superb teaching and leadership development. Rankings, applications, student satisfaction, and fund-raising affirmed that this message was on-target. James helped us get the right orientation at the right time.

James leaves a lasting legacy of wisdom, student-centered teaching, and collegiality. He will be missed. We all extend our condolences to his wife, Jane Perry, his son, Edward, and family members.