A Tribute to a Supervisor : Professor Bernard Gumb

Bernard Gumb
Our colleague and friend Bernard Gumb passed away on October 13th, 2015.

There are many parallels between life and a Doctorate in terms of the journey, the mystery, and the spirit. We say life is a mysterious journey with unpredictable outcomes, but we go through it with the spirit of overcoming its challenges and achieving our goals whatever they may be. A Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) is a journey within our lives that starts with the spirit of gaining new insights, adding new or alternative dimensions to existing body of knowledge, and achieving a lifelong passion. As time passes by, the mystery and the uncertainties of the DBA journey intensify only to finally, somehow come together in the shape of a dissertation. This does not happen by accident or by miracle. It happens with hard work, perseverance, support, and the dedicated guidance, encouragement, and cajoling of a supervisor.

Raffi
By Raffi Chammassian, DBA Candidate at Grenoble Ecole de Management

Professor Gumb was my DBA supervisor; hence, an important part of my DBA journey. A relentless academic, deeply intellectual with a very unassuming self, he was an expert in controlled self-doubt and low-key sophistication. He became part of my DBA life with (what appeared to be at the time) an impression of contradictions. “There is no such thing as an organization. It does not exist” he said, while looking to get a reaction from me. Looking back to my DBA infant years, it now makes all sense: he was essentially nudging me to the realities of academic mysteries – his way.

 

Over the years I began to understand (and respect) Professor Gumb’s comments better; what it takes to pursue a DBA, how to encounter challenges along the way, and how to address unpredictable outcomes. When the discussions became too deep or impassioned, they were lightened by his sharp sense of humor as unpredictable and wry as a Black Swan (one of his favorite phrases from Taleb’s book with the same title). He was unimpressed with fancy fonts, flashy titles, and commercial, populist expressions. They somehow reminded him of uninteresting decadence. For instance, he did not like Coca Cola because the content of the drink was “too mysterious; the product, “unworthy;” and the brand, “propagandist.” He caught me drinking it a couple of (rare) times, and made sure to convey his humorous dislike of the product to the point that every time I think of drinking one now, I feel like I would be swallowing my pride…

 

As my DBA journey progressed and uncharted academic crossroads became key decision points, I could always count on Professor Gumb’s guidance to paths unbeknown to mortal business folks – directions that would make any business person run the opposite way. Yet this was all part of the spirit of academic learning, camaraderie, and in good faith. His dedication was selfless and unassuming; the mystery, omnipresent throughout and up until his last days with us. His health condition and passing were as mysterious as everything else, but like his coaching it all eventually made sense, “somehow”. After all, he passed away the same night I had my first call with an appointed faculty member (whom he respected and trusted) to coach me while he was physically unable to do so. The symbolism was fitting: he carried his responsibility unassumingly up to the last moment ensuring that he passed the baton to the right person.

 

Professor Gumb is and will be missed as a mentor, a colleague, and an exemplary supervisor, but his spirit will always remain alive with us, especially with my doctoral thesis.

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