Professor Alan Pearson – obituary

March 5, 2019

Professor Alan Pearson

13 July 1934 – 11 January 2019

As founder of the R&D Research Unit at Manchester University, the R&D Management Journal, the R&D Management conference, and RADMA itself, Alan’s contribution to domain of R&D management cannot be overstated.

Active and interested even in the last years of his life, since his sad passing, tributes have been received from his many colleagues and friends, at home and abroad. He is remembered as pioneering, collaborative, supportive, humorous, and always conscious of the need to bridge practice and academia. His own research publications on the planning of R&D and the organisation of R&D groups are recognised as classics, characterised by three key attributes: ‘rigorous, relevant and revealing’. In 1993 he was awarded an honorary PhD in economics by the University of Kiel, the first Englishman to be so recognised since Maynard Keynes.

Alan’s start in life was not in the most advantaged conditions. Liverpool in economic recession, his father dying when he was 2 years old, wartime bombing causing the family to move home several times. However strong support from his mother and the extended family ensured a happy and secure upbringing. He attended Prescot Grammar School and left when in the sixth form to direct employment as a trainee chemist at Pilkingtons. He cycled to work from home, and developed a great love for that sport. Pilkingtons put him through an HND in chemistry at what was then Liverpool Polytechnic.

Alan moved on to Henry Simon Engineering, and while working there the opportunity arose to study at London University, where he gained a first class honours degree in Mathematics and Physics. This was a key stepping stone in opening the door to academic life, and in 1965 he took a lectureship in the Econometrics Department at Manchester University. He was a natural fit to be part of the foundation of the Manchester Business School in its early years. Moving through the fields of economics, statistics, operations research and decision analysis, by 1981 Alan was the Director of the R&D Research Unit (founded in 1967), and by 1991 was the Professor of R&D Management.

Key milestones during this time were the founding of the R&D Management journal in 1970 (as co-proprietors with Blackwell, now WileyBlackwell, at Oxford) and the start of the R&D Management conference series in 1980. These initiatives represented an internationalisation of his work, and were pioneering in their field at that time. Many leading researchers in the fields of R&D management, innovation and technology management, made their early contributions in the journal, and gathered at the conference. This led directly to the founding of RADMA, the charity which benefits from the surplus generated by the journal, and uses this to further support the field of R&D management in theory and practice. Until October 2013 Alan was Chairman, and retained a strong interest in our work until the end.

In addition to the honorary degree, his distinctive contribution was recognised with several prizes throughout his career, including the IEEE Centennial Medal for contributions to engineering management in 1984, and the Max Planck Research Award for excellence in research (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation) in 1991. He was also a fellow of the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Arts.

Alan combined this professional achievement with many voluntary and charitable activities in his local community, and with a strong and loving home family environment.

Everyone who knew Alan will miss him, but his contribution to all our lives continues and we shall remember him gratefully.

(David Probert 05.03.2019)