Derrick Ball, 1930-2017

Academic whose expertise spanned economics and chemistry remembered

April 6, 2017
Derrick Ball

The UK’s first professor of research and development management has died.

Derrick Ball was born in Hampstead, North London, in May 1930 and educated at Stockton-on-Tees Secondary School before going on to study chemistry at the University of Sheffield in 1947. After national service in the Royal Air Force, he worked in industry, first in the laboratories of Ashmore, Benson and Pease, a company engaged in process engineering, and then at the British Iron and Steel Research Association.

At this point Professor Ball decided to embark on his academic career, initially as assistant lecturer in chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, where he also completed a doctorate in molecular spectroscopy. He moved on to the University of Salford for 20 years, where he became the director of the UK's first bachelor’s degree in chemistry and business studies, while also serving as a visiting senior research fellow at Manchester Business School and as a member of the visiting faculty in Cranfield University’s department of mechanical engineering.

In 1982, Professor Ball joined the department of economics and accounting at Leicester Polytechnic, where he was highly unusual in teaching both chemistry and economics at degree level. When the polytechnic became De Montfort University in 1992, he was appointed the UK’s first professor of research and development management, although he retired and became emeritus the following year.

Throughout his academic career, Professor Ball maintained his links with industry. He was a visiting scientist at the Institut de Recherche de la Sidérurgie in Metz and a consultant for more than 20 companies ranging from Shell Refining to Blinab in Sweden. His books such as Agglomeration of Iron Ores (1973), Process Plant Contracting Worldwide (1985) and R&D Professionals in Their First and Second Managerial Appointments draw on his early industrial experience and his shift from engineering into management.

John Coyne, former vice-chancellor at the University of Derby, recalls Professor Ball as “the best mentor a young academic could wish for. He was very precise in his structured thinking, merciless when it came to academic rigour and a great editor of papers under review. Had he not had such a warm character he could have been frightening.

“As a confident but relatively inexperienced dean [at Leicester Business School] I benefited from the ‘quiet word’ that Derrick would generously offer – usually advising that I might wish to ‘think again’! He was seldom wrong.”

Professor Ball died of heart disease on 22 January and is survived by his wife Joyce, four sons and five grandchildren.

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