Accounting Professor Emeritus John T. Wheeler, whose thought leadership in accounting education contributed to the development of management sciences and computer-based business games at UC Berkeley’s School of Business Administration in the 1960s, died Oct. 21 in Oakland, Calif. He was 92.
Wheeler was born in Minneapolis, Minn., and earned his PhD in industrial economics at MIT in 1947. He began his academic career teaching at the University of Minnesota before coming to UC Berkeley in 1954 as a professor of business administration, teaching managerial accounting.
His arrival in Berkeley coincided with a time when business education was gaining popularity at university campuses. In 1947, the Ford Foundation took a particular interest in business education, which the foundation believed was held in low esteem for its lack of scholarship and advanced study, and granted $28 million to five private business schools so they would serve as successful models.
Wheeler evaluated these programs in 1956 and later said, “The purpose of the major institutional grants was to establish centers of excellence which would become standards for developments in other institutions and from which new faculty, research results, and teaching materials would emanate and be spread throughout the schools of business.”
In subsequent rounds, Berkeley’s business school received significant foundation grants to support its faculty research and academic development, including a program of economic advising with the Indonesia Ministry of Finance and of teaching Indonesian students at Berkeley, who later became known as the Berkeley Mafia.
Wheeler also played a role in UC Berkeley's early interest in computers and business games. In November 1958, he introduced the concept of computer-based business games and simulation exercises as a basic teaching technique for graduate business education. Initially the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in the Berkeley hills housed the IBM 650 for four teaching programs. Within three years more than 200 undergraduate and graduate students participated in the all-day sessions, held on Saturdays because of the lack of available facilities on the campus.
Wheeler's teaching and research focused on preparing business students for the accounting profession. He studied accountants’ personality types and their roles within organization management. Wheeler co-authored the book Competition and Its Regulation (1954) and wrote the chapter “Accounting and Economics” in the Handbook of Modern Accounting Theory by Morton Backer (1955).
Former General Motors Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz, BS 61, MBA 62, worked closely with Wheeler for one year as his research associate at the Institut pour l’Etude des Methodes de Direction de l’Entreprise (IMEDE, now IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland.
"Professor Wheeler was at the vanguard of modern business education. I will always be grateful for the special attention he gave me," says Lutz. "His teaching and coaching contributed greatly to my successful business career. We will all miss him."
Between 1966 and 1968, Wheeler served as chairman of the Center for Research in Management Sciences, dedicated to applying economics and sociological analysis to business disciplines. Wheeler also served as associate dean for academic affairs (1969 to 1971), chairman of the Accounting Group and director of the Professional Accounting Program (1974 to 1978), and director of Summer Sessions.
From 1968 to 1969, Wheeler held the position of director of the school’s PhD program. “John Wheeler was one of the earliest chairs of the business school’s doctoral program. He led and expanded the program with energy and balanced judgment,” recalls Haas Professor Emeritus Thomas Marschak. "When he headed the Center for Research in Management Science, it sponsored a variety of research projects. Some of them generated papers that were quite fundamental and became classics.”
Wheeler retired in June 1991.
Accounting Professor Emeritus Alan Cerf recalls, “John was a devoted faculty member of the business school. He exerted much energy in course development. He was active in development of a beginning MBA core course which attempted to integrate economics, accounting, and finance.”
Wheeler is survived by his wife, Beatrice; four children, Ginny, James, Mary, Robert; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. The family plans to hold a private memorial service.