A Star Among Us

Jay R. Galbraith, whose Star Model™ transformed organization design, died on April 8, 2014, at age 75. Today he’s considered a world renowned expert on strategy and organization design, but Jay Galbraith came from meager beginnings. He always said his biggest culture shock and toughest transition was in 1967. A young, newly minted Doctor of Business Administration, he moved from Indiana University in Bloomington to Cambridge, Mass., to join the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as assistant professor. His doctoral dissertation (“Motivational Determinants of Job Performance: An Empirical Study”) had just won the McKinsey Foundation Doctoral Thesis Prize, but he was still unsure of his credentials amidst the sea of Nobel-winning faculty. That first summer at MIT, in addition to his regular teaching load, he received an assignment no else wanted – fix a matrix organization problem at Boeing in Seattle. But Galbraith had his own problem: he didn’t know what he was doing. He had been thrown to the wolves.

After two years, both Boeing and Galbraith emerged triumphant. Boeing settled into the recommended program-dominant matrix, which has survived – and succeeded – nearly 50 years. Galbraith hadn’t been eaten alive; he was hungrier than ever and primed for a lifelong, lucrative career that not only changed the trajectory of his own life, but transformed the way businesses around the world look at and apply organization design theory.

It was during the Boeing assignment that Galbraith began to develop his now-famous Star Model™ – the simple yet powerful, proven way to guide leaders as they align structures, processes, measures and talent to support strategy, particularly in the oft-dreaded matrix organization. That numerous academics and consultants have created variations on the Star Model only attests to its status as the most influential framework in the field. A humble man, Galbraith never ceased to be surprised by the thousands of organizations, from the modest to the mightiest, that have instituted his model – GE, Starbucks, Chevron and Procter & Gamble among them. But it’s perhaps the way in which he explained his theory that has made it especially applicable and appreciated; Galbraith used terminology and examples anyone can understand, helping leaders right their struggling ships and make matrix structures work. Even his seminal 1973 book, “Designing Complex Organizations,” continues to be required reading for management scholars.

Forty-five years of research and practical application gave Galbraith a breadth of experience that few, if any, management consultants can claim. His thorough understanding of the fast-changing world of global competition is exactly what today’s companies need to stay ahead of their competition. Even the academic community has taken note of his rare ability to translate empirical management theories into practical, real-world applications by awarding him the 2011 Academy of Management Outstanding Scholar-Practitioner Award. But it is not his numerous awards and accolades, nor his 15 published books and plethora of journal articles, nor his more than 30,000 citations that served as Galbraith’s driving force. He was passionate about his work. He lived it and loved it until his last breath.
Seeing the effects of what he was doing take hold was the fire in his belly.

A self-made man who instilled pride in his father – a blue-collar worker at GM who had never graduated high school – Galbraith worked his way through college, held several appointments in academia including MIT, the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California and the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and founded his consulting firm Jay Galbraith Management Consultants, Ltd.

Galbraith’s cancer diagnosis in late 2013 barely slowed him down. He continued to work with clients, write and amass material for his next book about the impact of Big Data on organization design. It’s only fitting, perhaps, that Galbraith’s most recent book – the third edition of his “Designing Organizations: Strategy, Structure and Process at the Business Unit and Enterprise Levels,” a complete rewrite of the second edition, hit shelves in February. And the day after his death, his article on Big Data was published in the Journal of Organization Design.

After all, Galbraith often said, “Retirement is for people who hate their jobs.”


A web page has been set up to accept comments about Jay. You can post them here.

In lieu of flowers, Jay’s favorite charity would welcome donations:

Animal Rescue of the Rockies
PO Box 5531
Breckenridge, Colorado 80424
www.animalrescueoftherockies.org