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Edward B. Shils (W'36, G'37, Gr'40, L'86, GL'90, GrL'97):
The "Energizer Bunny" of Education.

In the early 1980s, before the repeal of a mandatory retirement law for university professors, Dr. Edward B. Shils began wondering what to do next with his life. "I didn't want to be described as someone who had retired," recalls the George W. Taylor Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurial Management. So, after four decades of teaching, he enrolled in Penn's Law School at age 68.
   Now 82, Shils is busy as ever, meriting occasional comparisons to the Energizer bunny. He maintains his economic consulting business and his entrepreneurial law practice in Center City, Philadelphia; continues to teach and advise students in the Wharton School; and in May, added a sixth Penn degree -- a doctorate in juridical science -- to his lengthy curriculum vitae.
   Last month, at the National Press Club, Shils also unveiled his two-year analysis of mega- retail discount chains and their detrimental effects on small businesses in various communities ( port/cover.html#cover). Wharton was bombarded with requests for the report after C-SPAN, CNN, and other networks aired his talk.
   When students complain about having too much work to do, he is, understandably, seldom moved to sympathy. "I tell them, 'You people don't work hard enough' -- but I do it in a nice, warm-hearted way."
Photograph of Ed Shils by Mark Garvin
In May, Shils, shown here with his daughter, Nancy C'77, G'86, added a sixth degree to his lengthy curriculum vitae. Photo by Mark Garvin

   The son of a cigar manufacturer who had immigrated from Russia, Shils had no intention of becoming a lifelong student when he enrolled at Wharton in 1933 on a scholarship-loan. It was the Depression, everyone was broke, and he just wanted the first business job he could find. But he grew bored selling records on the road for RCA Victor and returned to Penn to earn a master's degree and Ph.D. in political science. Shils also began his long career in economic consulting.
   After wartime service in the U.S. Army and a teaching stint at Temple University, he returned to Penn to teach industrial relations, eventually becoming chairman of the management department.
   In 1973 Shils founded the Sol C. Snider Entrepreneurial Center at Wharton, the first of its kind in the world, and served as its director until 1986. "I felt the way to get students interested in creating things was to hear from people who had been successful creating them," he explains. "I found that most of these huge corporations had all the seeds of bureaucracy in them. They really wanted 'me too' guys and gals rather than people who would challenge what they were doing. Today, with what we've been teaching in our program, we've begun to turn the big corporations around."
   Shils' desire to remain active and his interest in arbitration and mediation as alternatives to litigation eventually steered him to Penn's Law School, where he earned his first of three law degrees in 1986. "I tried to act just like a regular student," he says. Nevertheless, his seniority as a Penn faculty member led to a few odd encounters -- arguing once after class, for instance, with an assistant professor four decades younger about the purpose of the Agricultural Adjustment Act.
   "I learned a lot by being a student again," Shils says. "It helped me to be a better teacher." It also inspired his wife, Shirley, CGS'84, CGS'90, G'93, to enroll at Penn and pursue the college education that was unavailable to her growing up.
   After officially retiring in 1985, Shils taught political science for several years before returning to the management department, where he still teaches one popular course a semester. On the first day of his new Executive Leadership course, designed for 50 students, 75 showed up. Those lucky enough to secure seats will hear leaders in the non-profit sector, government, and corporations describe how they've overcome great challenges to find success. Shils also carves room in his schedule to advise students during registration. "I love young people," he says. "I feel I can do a lot with my experience to help people get on the right road and find a job. I must write at least 30 letters of recommendation in a semester."
   In Shils' law office, six Penn diplomas vie for wall space with other citations. Will he make room for one more? "I don't think I can go to Medical School without taking some pre-med courses," he answers, perhaps only half joking. "The truth is, I'm so very busy with writing and research and with teaching, I'm going to slow down a bit on degrees." By Susan Lonkevich

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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 9/25/97