Derek Pugh, 1930-2015

One of the world’s leading experts on organisational psychology, known for representing how organisations work with “detail, breadth and rigour”, has died

February 26, 2015

Derek Pugh was born in London on 31 August 1930 and studied psychology at the University of Edinburgh (1949-53). One of his formative experiences, he later recalled, was “the selection of boys as printers’ apprentices [in which the university was involved]… administering the tests, conducting the interviews, writing evaluations and participating in selection decisions. This really caught my interest; psychologists doing a real job in a practical situation that I could relate to.”

After his degree, Professor Pugh was taken on as a research assistant in Edinburgh’s Social Sciences Research Centre (1953-56), working on an analysis of inspection issues within British industry that formed the basis for his MSc dissertation (1956). He was then appointed assistant lecturer in public health and social medicine (1956-57) before moving on to what eventually became Aston University as lecturer in human relations (1957-60), senior research fellow in the Industrial Administration Research Unit (1960-67) and reader in industrial administration (1967-68).

It was during this period, said his former colleague Patrick Tissington, now head of the organisational psychology department at Birkbeck, University of London, that Professor Pugh and his team “launched the Aston Studies in 1960. This series of projects is seminal in organisational psychology, representing the first time that ‘how organisations work’ had ever been studied with such detail, breadth and rigour. To give you an idea of their impact, in the 1960s alone, Derek had five papers in the prestigious Administrative Science Quarterly, when many would be happy with one in a lifetime!” Perhaps equally influential was the book Writers on Organizations (with David Hickson, 1964), which went on to sell more than a quarter of a million copies and is now in its sixth edition.

Moving on to the London Business School, Professor Pugh served as reader in organisational behaviour (1968-69) and then professor of organisational behaviour (1970-82). He finished his career at the Open University as professor of systems (1983-88) – delivering his inaugural lecture on “The Management of Complex Systems” in the form of a 50-minute television programme – and professor of international management (1988-95) before retiring in 1995 to become a visiting and then emeritus professor. He also collaborated with Estelle Phillips on How to Get a PhD (1987). A sixth edition is due for publication later this year.

Professor Pugh died of prostate cancer on 29 January and is survived by a son, a daughter and five grandchildren.

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