Heather Höpfl was born in Cheshire on 29 May 1948 and educated at Helsby Grammar School for Girls (1963-77) before gaining a Higher National Diploma in business studies in 1969 at Bristol Polytechnic (now the University of the West of England) and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at the University of Bristol (1971). She then worked in research and development for an engineering company and as a teacher before continuing her education with a BA in social psychology and systems at The Open University (1976). She followed this with a PhD in organisational psychology at Lancaster University (1982), where she would begin her academic career as a research fellow and then senior research fellow (1983-89).
In 1990, Professor Höpfl moved to Bolton Business School as senior lecturer, winning promotion to reader in 1992 and to professor of organisational psychology (and research director) in 1993. She was also involved in projects helping British Airways to develop its safety culture and audit its brand image. After serving as head of the School of Operations Analysis and Human Resource Management in Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University (1999-2002), she became professor of management at the University of Essex in 2003, and would hold that post until ill health brought an end to her working life in late 2013. She was for several years head of the university’s management group and also took up visiting professorships in Poland, the Netherlands and Australia.
A pioneer in teaching management psychology at Essex, Professor Höpfl often brought insights from dramaturgical, psychoanalytic and feminist perspectives to the study of organisations. She had a deep interest in the sensibility and symbolism of Catholicism and introduced an unusual aesthetic and ethnographic approach into management studies. Her major publications include The Aesthetics of Organization (co-edited with Stephen Linstead, 2000), Interpreting the Maternal Organization (edited with Monika Kostera, 2003) and Belief and Organization (co-edited with Peter Case and Hugo Letiche, 2012).
In recent years, much of Professor Höpfl’s research focused on embodiment, women’s writing, the cultural significance of heroines and the relationship between gender, management and leadership. One of her publications recalls the notable occasion when she turned up for a formal lunch at a London gentleman’s club to receive a prize for a paper she had written on women in management, only to be told that she could not enter unless she was signed in by a male member.
Professor Höpfl died of cancer on 3 September and is survived by her second husband, political theorist Harro Höpfl, and her two sons.