David Teece describes himself as a “practicing business intellectual.” That's not an oxymoron.


In a sense, it all began with a note from the late Ed Mansfield.

At the time, David Teece G’73 Gr’75 was a graduate student at Penn, having come to Philadelphia from New Zealand to study international economics and industrial organization. That turned out to be the bailiwick of Mansfield, the economics professor who was internationally recognized for his systematic studies of industry. He had gotten his hands on a paper Teece  had written on foreign direct investments, and apparently liked what he saw.

“I got this note in my box, saying would I have lunch with Ed Mansfield,” recalls Teece, sitting in the lounge off the Faculty Club during a recent visit to campus. “No other faculty member had ever asked me to have lunch. He said that he was interested in my undergrad thesis and was interested in being my advisor.”

Mansfield, Teece recalls, was something of a loner in the economics department, which was then dominated by such legends as Dr. Lawrence Klein Hon’06, now emeritus professor of economics, who would soon win a Nobel Prize for his work in developing the Wharton Econometric Forecasting Model. As Mansfield saw it, some of the theories that then held sway among economists didn’t always hold water in the fast-changing field of industrial research.

“Ed openly displayed almost a disdain for modern economic theory because of the field’s infatuation with static analysis, and its abject failure to embrace the study of technology and technological change,” wrote Teece in a 2005 article in the Journal of Technology Transfer honoring Mansfield and his contributions. While it was a “daunting task” to undertake research in an area where very little scholarly exploration had been done, Mansfield’s advice that it was “sometimes a little easier to receive recognition if you were the first into a field” resonated. Besides, Teece added: “As a young graduate student, I wanted to believe that the hard problems of the world were solvable.”

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