UC Berkeley News


John Freeman

12 March 2008

John H. Freeman, a professor at the Haas School of Business, died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Lafayette on March 3. He was 63.

Tom Campbell, dean of the Haas School, called Freeman "a great scholar, a leader in the field of entrepreneurship, a devoted supporter of our school, and an inspired teacher. Most of all, he was a good man, husband, and father. We will miss him deeply."

A native of Rochester, N.Y., Freeman earned his A.B. degree from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., in 1966 and his master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1970 and 1972, respectively. All of his degrees were in sociology.

Freeman joined the Berkeley faculty in 1975 as an assistant professor at the School of Business Administration, which predated the Haas School. He went on to serve as the Helzel Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Haas School and was a member of the school's Organizational Behavior and Industrial Relations Group.

In 1989 he co-authored Organizational Ecology with Michael Hannan, now a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford.

In their book, Freeman and Hannan said that organizations that are reliable and accountable survive but also are beset by a high degree of inertia and resistance to change. The authors also proposed that change is so disruptive that it can put many firms out of business. The book's scholarly examination of how business enterprises emerge, grow, and dissolve is now a central text in organizational studies.

Since 1993, Freeman served as faculty director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Jerome Engel, executive director of the Lester Center, worked closely with Freeman over the past 20 years. He credited Freeman for helping to develop the still young, cross-disciplinary field of entrepreneurship and for emphasizing its applications for start-up businesses. The latter emphasis has added greatly to the international success of the Haas School's entrepreneurship program, he said: "At Berkeley, entrepreneurship is a team sport. John was a leader of our time, and his contributions will live long after him."

In 1997, Freeman founded the Berkeley Entrepreneurship Laboratory, an off-campus business incubator for Haas School students and recent graduates starting their own businesses.

Before his death, Freeman had been heading a team of 14 Berkeley professors from different disciplines who are conducting research on the causes and consequences of entrepreneurship in the United States. They are exploring areas such as job creation and destruction, differing processes through which companies are started and developed, and the impact of a pool of stakeholders that extends beyond company founders. The project, funded by a two-year grant to the Lester Center from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, is expected to continue for four years and reach a funding total of $1.2 million.

During his career, Freeman served as an editor of several top journals in sociology and business, including the Administrative Science Quarterly, American Journal of Sociology, and the American Sociological Review. He also advised many start-up businesses.

Freeman was fond of fishing, camping, skiing, and international travel, his family said.

He is survived by his wife, Diane, and five children: Chris Freeman of Centennial, Colo.; John Freeman Jr. of Iowa City, Iowa; Jennifer Freeman of Denver, Colo.; Sarah Freeman of West Hollywood; and Amanda Bielskis of Walnut Creek. Other survivors include a sister, Mary Freeman-Dove of El Granada, and eight grandchildren.

A remembrance celebration in Freeman's honor is being planned by his family and the Haas School. His family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the American Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 11454, Alexandria, VA 22312.

- Kathleen Maclay

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