This past year, I had the pleasure of working closely with Professor David A. Garvin to develop Becoming a Better Manager, a new online course from HBX. David was a brilliant and selfless mentor who gifted me with countless lessons on management, leadership, and how to live a life of impact and fulfillment. I was therefore deeply saddened to learn that, on April 30, 2017, David Garvin had passed away from a prolonged battle with cancer. More than that, however, I was in complete shock.

As late as mid-April, our team at HBX held a call with David to discuss the course. At that point, David had been sidelined at home for a few months due to his illness. Nevertheless, he was adamant about continuing our work together over email and telephone to finish what we had started. “What else would I do?” he used to say, “Just sit at home and twiddle my thumbs?”

I should not have been surprised. Aside from his wife and two daughters, teaching was David’s true love. Anyone who saw him lead a case discussion could tell how much he enjoyed it. David had a gift for teaching; and, despite his illness, was eager to be one of the first HBS professors to experiment with bringing his management content online in a new form to participants around the world.

The topic for the phone call that day was how we might get the word out about the course. David indicated that he wanted to be “very involved” in the process in the months to come and provided some great suggestions for how we might market the course to have the widest reach possible. He was so proud of what we had made and wanted to make sure managers of all functions, levels, organizations, and industries could benefit from it.

Thus, I couldn’t believe it when I heard only a week and a half later that David was gone. 

Looking Back 

David and I became very close during our time together working on Becoming a Better Manager. As lead content developer for the course, I’d get together with him to chat about course design, case studies, simulations, expert interviews, and other topics about once a week. Right off the bat, I could tell he was a gifted man.

At first, our talks covered mainly course content: decision-making, delegation, managing change, conducting retrospectives, and other essential management skills. As we got to know each other, however, our conversations slowly turned to topics of all sorts—sports, politics, psychology, my own career goals…even dating! (Although on this last topic, he cautioned me to choose my advisers a bit more wisely. Even so, I don’t think I ever got a bad piece of advice from David Garvin on anything).

After about six months of collaboration on the course, I could tell I was working with, and learning from, someone truly special. The way David thought about problems, asked questions, and listened to people left a lasting impact on how I now approach interactions with other people—not only at work, but at home too. David taught me to be more effective as a decision-maker, communicator, negotiator, and manager in all aspects of my life.

And yet David’s own successes and gifts never once went to his head. On the contrary, David Garvin was the most modest person I have ever met. Even more, he believed he himself had as much to learn from me and the rest of the HBX team, as we had to learn from him (though I vehemently disagreed with him about that).

“To learn, one must be humble,” he once said in class. 

David Garvin practiced what he preached.

Sad News

Towards the end of last year, David let me know that his illness had re-surfaced. I was troubled when he told me—after all, in his early sixties, he was still so young! Nevertheless, he said that, despite the bad news, we still had “work to do.”

I was amazed he wanted to continue on with the course, and promised to do everything I could to help him make it a success.

Over the months to come, our team continued to work on the course together: writing content, creating a makeshift studio to film videos, getting sound pickups with David in his living room, and—dare I say—having some fun along the way, despite less-than-ideal circumstances. Even as David’s health went up and down, he remained positive about the work we were doing. He also found ways to compliment us and give feedback whatever the task—classic David Garvin.

In many ways, David acted like the best managers—he created the context and environment for other people to succeed and made everyone around him better in the process. And I like to think that David helping me to develop my research and teaching skills helped him take his mind off of the pain and hardship he was experiencing.

I must say, however, that even though David’s physical health was deteriorating, his mind still stayed sharp as a tack. A true academic and scholar until the end.

Becoming a Better Manager

The HBX course we built together is called Becoming a Better Manager. The program teaches essential tools and tactics that all managers—from CEOs to project managers—can use to get things done in their organizations. On behalf of David, I invite you to come join us to see what we have created. You won’t be disappointed.

Becoming A Better Manager — Get the job done — Learn More!

In reflecting on my own experience working with David Garvin, I have no doubt that I became a better manager in the process. The things I learned from him about decision-making, implementing projects, experimentation and learning, and managing change, have truly changed the way I see the world. They have made me more effective in my role as a project manager and shaped my own decision to pursue a career in academia studying and teaching similar topics.

Working with David Garvin made me a better manager. Even more than that though, I became a better man in the process. I hope the course we’ve made can do the same for you as a professional and a person.

Patrick Healy

About the Author

Pat is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team and currently works on the Economics for Managers course for the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program. He is also currently working to design courses in Management and Negotiations for the HBX platform. Pat holds a B.A. in Economics and Government from Dartmouth College. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and strumming the guitar.