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David A. Thomas

Harvard Business School professor David Anthony Thomas was born September 26, 1956, in Kansas City, Missouri, to working-class parents, Jesse and Jewel Thomas. Thomas attended Henry C. Kumpf Elementary School and for a year attended Manual High School. Thomas was influenced by Al Winder of Job Opportunities for Youth and by an American Field Service trip to France in 1973. Thomas graduated from Paseo High School in 1974, and with the help of Glenn de Chabert, was admitted to Yale University. President of Black Student Alliance at Yale, Thomas earned his B.A. degree in administrative sciences in 1978.

After graduation, Thomas directed Operation Get Ahead, a youth program in Long Island, New York. Assisted by future Howard University business pioneer Leroy Wells, he earned his M.A. degree in organizational sciences from Columbia University in 1981, his M.S. degree in philosophy and organizational behavior from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in organizational behavior in 1986; his dissertation focused on mentorship.

Thomas served as an assistant professor of management and business administration at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania from 1986 to 1990. Thomas joined the Harvard Business School in 1990 as an assistant professor, and eventually went on hold the positions of the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor, senior associate dean, and director of faculty recruiting; H. Naylor Fitzhugh was a Pepsi executive who earned the first black Harvard MBA in 1933.

Writing extensively on minority mentoring, career development and how organizations shape the racial dynamics of individuals and groups within, Thomas has been published in the Journal of Organized Behavior and the Administrative Science Quarterly among other periodicals. Having taught courses in self-assessment, career development and leadership, Thomas also lectures for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Urban Superintendent Program and the Harvard Divinity School’s Leadership Development Institute.

In 2001, Thomas received the George E. Terry Award for outstanding management book for his 1999 publication of Breaking Through: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America. In his book, Thomas profiled minority executives to determine how people of color and the companies they work for can overcome barriers.

Thomas is professionally associated with the Academy of Management, the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations and National Training Laboratories.

Thomas married his high school sweetheart, with whom he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They have two children.

Accession Number

A2005.217

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/18/2005

Last Name

Thomas

Middle Name

A.

Schools

Paseo High School

Henry C. Kumpf Elementary School

Manual High & Vocational School

Yale University

Columbia University

First Name

David

Birth City, State, Country

Kansas City

HM ID

THO10

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Missouri

Favorite Vacation Destination

Bermuda

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

9/26/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Barbecue (Ribs)

Short Description

Business professor David A. Thomas (1956 - ) is the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor at Harvard Business School. He has published extensively on minority mentoring and career development.

Employment

Harvard Graduate School of Business

Wharton School of Finance

Operation Get Ahead

Boys & Girls Harbor

Teachers College, Columbia University

Favorite Color

Black

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of David A. Thomas' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - David A. Thomas lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - David A. Thomas describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - David A. Thomas describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - David A. Thomas describes his mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - David A. Thomas describes his mother's first marriage and move to Kansas City

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - David A. Thomas describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - David A. Thomas describes his father's service in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - David A. Thomas describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - David A. Thomas describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - David A. Thomas describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - David A. Thomas recalls growing up in the Oak Park neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - David A. Thomas describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - David A. Thomas talks about the Kansas City Chiefs and African American athletes

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - David A. Thomas recalls the significance of wearing an afro

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - David A. Thomas describes the segregation of schools in Kansas City, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - David A. Thomas recalls his experience of discrimination at Henry C. Kumpf School, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - David A. Thomas recalls his experience of discrimination at Henry C. Kumpf School, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - David A. Thomas recalls his decision to study in France

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - David A. Thomas recalls how Arthur Bronson influenced him

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - David A. Thomas remembers his year abroad in France

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - David A. Thomas recalls his decision to attend Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - David A. Thomas recalls being unprepared for Yale University's academic rigor

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - David A. Thomas recalls his courses at Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - David A. Thomas describes his wife's family and education

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - David A. Thomas recalls his early mentors

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - David A. Thomas recalls his high school mentor, Al Winder

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - David A. Thomas remembers his college mentor, Glenn DeChabert

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - David A. Thomas describes his involvement in Black Student Alliance at Yale

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - David A. Thomas describes Yale University's African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - David A. Thomas describes his employment in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - David A. Thomas recalls his initial rejection from Yale University's Ph.D. program

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - David A. Thomas remembers his admission to Yale University's Ph.D. program

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - David A. Thomas describes his career goals and university degrees

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - David A. Thomas explains how he applied his education to the Black Student Alliance at Yale

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - David A. Thomas describes how he applied his education to Operation Get Ahead

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - David A. Thomas talks about the field of organizational behavior

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - David A. Thomas describes his experience as a Ph.D. student at Yale University

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - David A. Thomas talks about his dissertation

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - David A. Thomas talks about H. Naylor Fitzhugh, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - David A. Thomas talks about H. Naylor Fitzhugh, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - David A. Thomas recalls applying for positions at Harvard Business School and University of Michigan

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - David A. Thomas talks about his decision to teach at Harvard Business School

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - David A. Thomas talks about the focus of his published works

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - David A. Thomas describes his book, 'Breaking Through,' pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - David A. Thomas describes his book, 'Breaking Through,' pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - David A. Thomas talks about successful African American executives

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - David A. Thomas talks about the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - David A. Thomas reflects upon the changing role of organizational leaders

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - David A. Thomas describes his role at the Harvard Business School and its collaborations

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - David A. Thomas reflects upon his work at Harvard Business School

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - David A. Thomas describes his concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - David A. Thomas describes his hopes for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - David A. Thomas reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - David A. Thomas reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - David A. Thomas talks about his wife and children

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - David A. Thomas reflects upon the success of different minority groups in business

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - David A. Thomas reflects upon the obstacles faced by people of color in business

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - David A. Thomas David A. Thomas reflects upon the progress of minority groups in business

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - David A. Thomas describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

4$3

DATitle
David A. Thomas recalls his decision to attend Yale University
David A. Thomas talks about the focus of his published works
Transcript
And then this counselor that I had in high school [Paseo High School; Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri], she was getting ready to retire, and she was responsible for putting every black man from Kansas City [Missouri] who had ever gone to Yale [Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut] and at that time there had only been four. She was the person who had been their counselor and put them there. She was getting ready to retire, and she wanted to put one more. So, she got me and a guy who was one of my best friends, a guy named Oscar Donahue [Oscar Donahue III] to apply. And Oscar had been drum major, president of the class, you know, chief bottle washer, you know, I mean, everything. And you know, I--you know I was good, you know, but I wasn't that--it just wasn't my MO [modus operandi], and I know that had I not gone to France, right, that going to France is what gave me the nod, you know. And if I hadn't gone to France, I was going, you know, by then I had decided that I was going to go to Morehouse [Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia], you know, 'cause the guy down the street had gone to Morehouse and Martin Luther King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] had gone to Morehouse. So I was like, Martin Luther King. Then I was like now since this cat gets in, I'm--I'm pretty sure I can go, that's where I was going and I probably wouldn't, you know, I wouldn't have come on my counselor's screen, you know. 'Cause it was another one of those, she knew I was a good student and all that, but you know, she didn't see me as a kid, you know, with the fire in the belly. And--and she fell in love with my mother [Jewel Nichols Thomas]. Because I had to go to France, you know, there was a lot of stuff that the counselor had to do. So she spent a lot of time then with my parents, you know, and I think saw, you know, what the--my depth through dealing with me, you know more intimate way and dealing with my family. And, you know, that's how I wound up at Yale.$$Okay. So--so what year is this? This is 19--$$Nineteen seventy-four [1974]. September '74 [1974], I arrive at Yale, and I graduated in 1978.$So the essence of your work is, I think maybe, can be--well the first thing that you focused on I guess in your dissertation [at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut] was mentorship?$$Yep.$$Did you continue to, you know, really focus on that?$$I continued to focus on that and wrote a number of papers on that topic. A matter of fact I--I like to tell people that, you know, basically in my career I've written three blockbusters, you know, my dissertation was a blockbuster, 'cause it produced what I guess, you know. It produced about five job offers, it probably has produced a stream of consulting that, you know, if I could add it all up over the last twenty years well over a million dollars' worth, you know, (laughter), right. So I continue to do work in that. And in fact, you know, right now I'm--I'm writing a paper for a--a--an anthology on mentoring. So I continued working that. And then that sort of blossomed into a broader interest in the development, advancement of executives of color in--in organizations of which, you know, mentoring is a piece. And that's what led to the 'Breaking Through[: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America,' David A. Thomas and John J. Gabarro] book, which--which also became a blockbuster in terms of, you know, if you just kind of look at it in terms of book sales, the way that it influenced my own career arc, the consulting that's come from that. And--and then another piece of work has to do with what are the conditions under which diversity becomes a positive resource for organizational effectiveness and performance. And--and you know, that work has also had that same kind of flavor to it in terms of being, you know, being a core building block. So yeah.