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Professor Don Conlon remembered as prolific scholar, wonderful colleague

By Chelsea Stein
Monday, January 30, 2023
Don Conlon

Don Conlon, Gambrel Family Professor in Management, leader and friend

On Jan. 16, the Broad College lost a cherished faculty member: Don Conlon, Gambrel Family Professor in Management.

Conlon was a renowned scholar who had been a faculty member at Michigan State University since 1998. He led the college’s Department of Management as its chairperson for two terms, from 2005 to 2011 and from 2015 to 2021. While at the helm, he made significant strides to keep the department at the forefront of research productivity, earning top placements in the Texas A&M/University of Georgia rankings.

He led the creation of two endowments, with support from faculty and alumni, for research and the management Ph.D. program. He also oversaw the development and launch of the department’s online M.S. in Management, Strategy and Leadership, which has become a highly regarded online graduate degree program in the college with more than 1,000 graduates.

“Don Conlon contributed in so many ways,” Kent Miller, chairperson of the management department, said. “He was an exemplary researcher, teacher and administrator. What most impressed me about Don was how he shaped a positive and productive culture in the department.”

Conlon was recognized internationally for his scholarship in organizational justice, managerial decision making, negotiation and dispute resolution. He published articles in a variety of peer-reviewed journals, including the Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes and the Journal of Applied Psychology.

“Don was the best department head I ever worked with, never saying no to any request without pursuing every possible alley,” John Hollenbeck, associate dean of research and Eli Broad University Professor of Business, said. “He was a preeminent scholar in the area of negotiation, and his contributions to this topic area are legendary.”

Throughout Conlon’s prolific career, he received numerous prizes and awards for service and excellence in teaching and research, including best paper awards from both the Academy of Management and the International Association for Conflict Management — two professional associations where he was an active member. He was president of the International Association for Conflict Management and a past division chair of the Conflict Management Division of the Academy of Management.

At MSU, he was honored with the Withrow Teacher-Scholar Award in 2014, marking the highest university distinction for service through excellence in teaching and scholarship. In 2021, he received the William J. Beal Outstanding Faculty Award, one of the most prestigious faculty honors, recognizing a select 10 recipients each year.

In the classroom, Conlon taught in every Broad program: undergraduate, master’s, MBA, Executive MBA and Ph.D. He was an innovator, using experiential exercises and interactions. He even devised a process for behavioral examinations to provide feedback about what students do, not just what they know. In addition, much of his research was coauthored alongside doctoral students because of his commitment to providing students with solid research and publishing experiences.

His teaching impact is evident in the recollections of former students like Dustin Sleesman (Ph.D. Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management ’12). “Don was a shining example of how research can be both rigorous and fun at the same time. He cared deeply about his students and did everything he could to help them succeed,” Sleesman said.

Liz Karam (MBA ’06, Ph.D. Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management ’12) commented, “Don was a master mentor and guide who inspired countless students. He had an exceptional capacity to encourage others and build community, and he was always dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of those he touched. He exemplified the kind of professor that I aspire to be, but more than that, he was the kind of person that I aspire to be — kind, compassionate, thoughtful, creative, with a magnetic joie de vivre.”

Rob Davison (Ph.D. Organizational Behavior Studies ’12) noted that “Don gave of himself. Never one to take himself too seriously, Don always put the well-being and success of those around him front and center. Don cared. He was a natural at it. MSU has lost a respected scholar and colleague. I have lost a cherished mentor and beloved friend.”

“Anyone who had the pleasure of working with Don knew that they had a good working partner and an even better friend.”

Conlon also cohosted the Broad College podcast for its first two seasons, elevating impactful research from the college’s six departments. He was a friend to all and established camaraderie with peers throughout the college at every turn.

“Don could build lasting friendships with people across all the fault lines that normally keep us apart,” Bob Wiseman, Eli Broad Legacy Fellow of Management, said. “He did this by finding common ground even when it seemed impossible. His legacy for me is how he brought people together and made them feel valued for who they were. In my view, he was the heart and soul of the department.”

Hollenbeck added, “Don was the center of so many social networks that, beyond the personal loss we all experience, his boundary-spanning role expands this loss to many communities where he was the key broker. Don was always the life of every party and always made sure that anyone sitting on the sideline was always welcomed.”

Gerry McNamara, John H. McConnell Professor in Business Administration, also reflected, “Anyone who had the pleasure of working with Don knew that they had a good working partner and an even better friend.”

Conlon had a larger-than-life personality and an incredibly warm spirit. He loved and had an encyclopedic knowledge about music. He could not only sing along with almost any song but also tell you who played bass and when the song was released. He was a legendary mixologist of Spotify playlists that he enjoyed and shared with others. He also loved to travel, visiting numerous cities and countries for conferences, concerts and exploring the world with family and friends.

He was a dedicated husband, father and grandfather. He and his wife, Karin, spent 34 wonderful years together as husband and wife. They raised two children, Kevin and Kelly, together, and found joy in seeing them build their own lives with their spouses, Amy and Erik, respectively. He reveled in being a grandfather to Kelly and Erik’s children, Ben and Eli.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A memorial for Conlon is being planned for this spring to allow as much attendance as possible from his friends across the world. In lieu of flowers, donations are asked to be directed to rarecancer.org/donate.

The Broad College has created the Donald E. Conlon Doctoral Research Scholarship Fund in Conlon’s name, to aid doctoral students to undertake research and develop as scholars. All management Ph.D. students will be eligible for the scholarship, with preference given to students building on and extending Conlon’s research in organizational justice, managerial decision-making, negotiation and / or dispute resolution. Visit givingto.msu.edu to make a donation.

Conlon’s passion and camaraderie will be deeply missed.

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