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  • Writer's pictureBarie Carmichael

Dr. James R. Rubin: Scholar, Jazz Bassist, Author, Professor, Mentor, Colleague, Husband, Father

Note: Darden’s James R Rubin, Ph.D. tragically died shortly after completing his first draft manuscript for RESET Business and Society in the New Social Landscape. While he cannot engage in the launch of this important book, I am focusing this blog post on getting his presence and influence more visible. In addition to my thoughts below on James, I am including links to some of his published work and research as well as other tributes to his impact.

Just after submitting his first draft manuscript for RESET, the late James Rubin had well over a dozen books at his bedside at the time a tragic accident ultimately claimed his life. Spy novels like Alan Furst’s Night Soldiers shared the table with jazz gems like Ben Ratliff’s The Jazz Ear and Patti Smith’s M Train. Winston Churchill biographies joined autobiographies like Roger Angell’s account of getting old, This Old Man: All in Pieces. Always present at beside was Wodehouse Nuggets by Richard Usborne and what Jane Perry, James’ wife, calls one of his perennial favorites -- Michael Wex’s Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All its Moods.

In the midst of this diverse bedside collection, James also had Stephin Merritt’s 101 Two-Letter Words to improve his score in Words with Friends.

A testimony to his wide range of interests, this bedside reading pipeline demonstrates the difficulty of finding just a word or two to sum up this man so beloved by his family, Darden Graduate Business School’s MBA students, colleagues and friends. If James were still with us, I can envision a sly smile emerging on his face and a quiet chuckle at the irony that a book to improve his Words with Friends score would share equal billing with the rest of his bedside reading.

A faculty member of the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate Business School for some 25 years, James was the Area Coordinator for Darden’s Management Communication. As a Darden Batten Fellow, I had collaborated with James for more than a decade. Together, we refined our thinking about a new business model --- inherent negatives --- to anticipate risk in the new social landscape. We researched, led class sessions and co-authored case studies. As the radical transparency of a web-empowered public auditing corporate behavior became more prominent, daily headline stories illustrated the timely relevance of this new model.

But like James’ diverse bedside reading collection, his strategic business insights extended in many additional directions: Corporate identity, corporate culture, corporate brand as a social contract to name just a few. A quiet and humble scholar, James’ intelligence and disposition made him an exceptional collaborator as his many co-authored publications and work with multiple professional and faculty colleagues demonstrate. His MBA students quickly learned from his constantly inquisitive mind that instinctively connected seemingly disparate concepts and sparked new insights for his students. He connected the dots. He was the first recipient of the Federick S. Morton Award, which recognizes a Darden student for excellence in leadership and the faculty member who contributed the most to that experience.

Beyond his recognized skills as an educator and mentor, James was also an accomplished jazz bassist with regular gigs at places like Boston’s Parker House Hotel prior to coming to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. That interest never faded. James was a founding member of BluesJam, a band comprised of Darden faculty and students, which frequently played at Darden events and was an active player in Charlottesville’s jazz scene.

A person like James R. Rubin defies being confined to any single category. Except perhaps this one: sui generis.

For more information on James R. Rubin

Articles and Blog Posts

“Corporate Accountability: How a Company Proves its Character,” Darden Ideas to Action, James R. Rubin and Barie Carmichael, December 2017

“The Coke Bottle: The Plan to Use a Plant to Help the Planet,” Darden Ideas to Action, James R. Rubin and Brian Moriarty, April 2016

"Making a Case for a Corporate Conscience" - Case in Point, Washington Post, January 21, 2012 James R. Rubin

“Stakeholder Theory in B-Flat,” like a fish in water blog, April 28, 2010 (Darden jazz/blues band)

“The Hermeneutics of Branding,” Journal of Brand Management, James R. Rubin and Mary Jo Hatch, September 2006

“Managing a Company’s Reputation,” Ronald Alsop, Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2005 (James Rubin’s comments about teaching corporate communications in business schools)

Case Studies

Aetna Inc: Managing Inherent Enterprise Risks Through Stakeholder Management, Case BC-0218 Barbara Carmichael and James R. Rubin, November 27, 2009

UPS and Corporate Sustainability: Proactively Managing Risk, Case BC-0213 James R. Rubin and Barbara Carmichael, December 23, 2007

Biography and Tributes


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