Louis E. Davis 1918 -1998
Professor of Management, Emeritus
During his career, Lou Davis was an important member of an international community which focused on 'quality of working life'.
Born in 1918, in New York, NY, Lou Davis earned a B.S.M.E. from the Georgia
Institute of Technology in 1940. He then went to the University of Iowa, for a M.S. in psychology-engineering, which he received in 1942. At Iowa, he was fortunate to study
under Kurt Lewin, a distinguished social-psychologist who had recently fled Nazi Germany.
After a two-year Assistant Professorship at the Georgia Institute of Technology, he
took several positions in private industry, working as an industrial aircraft engineer with Bell Aircraft, Western Electric and finally Commar Products. In 1947, he was appointed
to Berkeley's Department of Industrial Engineering, rising to Professorship in 1960. At Berkeley, he published highly original research about the human impacts of automation and coined the term 'job design' to embrace the notion of efficient and more socially
effective alternatives to the prevailing industrial paradigm of scientific management. He helped impliment these ideas during the post war industrial recovery period, when he
served as a senior advisor to O.C.E.D. countries under the Marshall Plan.
As an industrial engineering professor, Lou made fundamental contributions to the
evolution of 'the unit operations'
concept that proved to be a fundamental building block of the Socio-Technical Systems (STS) method. In 1962-63, he was honored by an
appointment to the Lucas Professorship in the Department of Engineering Production at the University of Birmingham, England.
In 1965-66, he was a Visiting Fellow both at
London's Tavistock Institute and at Oslo's Work Research Insititue where he worked closely with the founders of Socio-Technical Systems theory. In 1966, he and Tavistock's Eric Trist joined UCLA's Graduate School of Business Administration to provide leadership for a large
number of junior faculty interested in this new interdisciplinary filed. Later, as Chair of the Department, he presided over the largest influx of new faculty in the history of the
school. During his term as Chair, 17 new faculty were appointed, most of whom had strengths in disciplines that supported the Socio-Technical Systems development.
Lou's shop floor expertise provided an intimate knowledge of the American trade union movement and permitted him to draw support from both the United Auto Workers
and various corporate sponsors in developing UCLA'S Quality of Work Life (QWL) Program. Initially funded in 1972 by the Ford Foundation, the QWL Program continued with further funding from Ford the the US Department of Commerce. In 1975, it became
the Center of Quality of Working Life at UCLA's Institute of Industrial Relations.
Under Lou's direction, the center's work blended concerns for the impact of work on life and life on work and is one of the many foundations of current 'Work/Life' programs.
For the next 5 years, the center drew national attention to the pioneering work being
done in the creation of highly effective organizations: entities designed along radical different principles - flatter, more responsive and economically viable, based upon intensive worker participation
and balance between the requirements of people and technology. The hundreds of managers, union leaders, policy makers, and academics
who attended the center's annual 'short course' on organizational design between 1974 and 1980 would make a good 'Who's Who' list of leaders in organizational innovation in
the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Australia. Lou and his Center's colleagues were at the forefront of innovations that had a lasting impact on many US corporations.
As a respected author, Lou published 44 professional articles and 11 book chapters. He was most acclaimed for his classic "Coming Crisis of Production
Management" (1971) and his three books:-
Design of Jobs, co-edited with James Talyor (1971);
Quality of work life, Volumes 1 & 2, co-edited with Albert Cherns (1972).
In addition to his academic contributions, Lou was known also for his less academic
and colorful 'war stories' about industrial life. This example is amongst the most poignant. In the first years of World War II, Lou was working at AT&T's Bell Labs in lower
Manhattan. They had just received one of the first radar devices, secretly transported from Britain by submarine. The need to get this radar into large-scale production was
urgent. Lou was part of the team responsible for quickly establishing the Bell Lab's assembly line for manufacturing these devices. Having no information but the parts list and
electrical schematics, Lou and his colleagues simply disassembled the device while phototgraphing the process 'step-by-step' (an approach that would be refined later to become 'reverse engineering'). An assembly line was then created with prominently
displayed photos at each workstation. Next appropiate parts were piled at each station, along with simple tools required. The final step in this work system was to position newly
hired, inexperienced and largely unskilled workers (often wives and mothers of servicemen) at each station. There was neither training, nor any particular safety
standards, but plenty of encouragement to work hard for the war effort. Hours were long, conditions strenuous, and minor injuries plentiful but the radar devices were produced.
While proud of their patriotic spirit, Lou said that he also felt ashamed to be the
designer of the repetitive, tedious jobs these women were forced to perform. In the words of his former UCLA colleague, Jim Talyor, "Lou's view of his profession changed
forever at that time. In a way, his subsequent efforts to improve 'job design' became his attonement. He succeeded magnificantly, but his many achievements in supporting and
creating systems for improving the quality of working took him, and us, far beyond the mere design of jobs."
Even after retirement, Lou stayed firmly connected to his academic roots and his
intellectual passions. His retirement years were ones of continued activity in consulting and acedemic pursuits. In addition, he joined the Plato Society and was very active in the
educational program at Temple Sinai. Lou survived his first wife, Edith, and in turn, he is survived by his son, John, and his daughter, Carol, wife Nancy, and some wonderful grandchildren.