University and George Holmes Professor of Management Emeritus Fred Luthans and his family recently provided a generous pledge to establish the Luthans Family Doctoral Student Fellowship in Organizational Behavior/Human Resource Management at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Having taught his entire career in higher education at Nebraska, he and his immediate family, who earned more than 19 Nebraska degrees among them, wanted to give back to the place that meant so much to them.
"I have been preaching to thousands of students and management development participants that unleashing the power of reinforcement, positivity and psychological capital is important to success and well-being, whether it is their own or those they lead. I have the strong calling to practice what I preach," Luthans said. "Thus, with the support of my family, I chose to help make my department, college and university better than when I joined over 50 years ago."
Recognized for his innovative work in the study of human behavior in organizational settings, Luthans taught at Nebraska for about 50 years. His book, "Organizational Behavior," first published by McGraw-Hill in 1973 and now in its 14th edition, is noted as the first mainline text in the field and his "International Management" text, also by McGraw-Hill, is now in its 12th edition and considered the market leader.
“Organizational behavior is the interface between human behavior, performance, well-being and the organization. It’s by far the biggest division in the Academy of Management, which is the professional association with the most management professors in the world,” he said.
He is also internationally recognized for having the seminal theory, research and academic publications on positive organizational behavior and psychological capital or PsyCap – the positive psychological resources of hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism or the HERO within. While an advisory Gallup senior scientist, Luthans attended the first Gallup Summit in Lincoln on positive psychology in the late 1990s and realized he could take the concept into the workplace. The result was the founding of what he termed positive organizational behavior and psychological capital.
“I took the constructs from positive psychology that met my four inclusion criteria of being theory and research-driven, able to be measured through the scientific peer review validation process, and open to development so we could manage and grow people’s psychological capital,” he said. “I was in the business school so it needed desirable impact.”
His work has been cited more than 150,000 times, according to Google Scholar, and the Web of Science recognized him as being in the top 1% of researchers’ citations worldwide. He received multiple recognitions from the Academy of Management, including their Lifetime Achievement Award in the Organizational Behavior Division, inaugural membership into their Hall of Fame, Distinguished Educator Award and the most prestigious Distinguished Scholarly Contributions to Management Award. He also was awarded the Doc Elliott Award from the Nebraska Alumni Association, the University of Nebraska Distinguished Teaching Award, the university's Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award, the University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni Award, an honorary doctorate from DePaul University and the Harvard Med School Distinguished Leader Award for Behavioral Health.
“Throughout his career at Nebraska, Fred has been a forerunner in the field of management through his research on organizational behavior and positive psychological capital,” said Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean and professor of finance. “Through his work and dedication to the College of Business, he has impacted generations of students as well as workplaces around the world, and he and his family's generously endowed fellowship will leave behind a legacy that will change the lives of many more students in the future.”
Luthans taught in the first master’s program offered by Nebraska Business at Offutt Air Force Base and played an integral role in creating the MBA program during his two-year stint as associate dean. He also mentored about 65 doctoral students as their faculty advisor.
“Now that I am retired, I wanted to support Nebraska through our family’s monetary capital. Thus, we decided the best way was to meet a need with high impact and create this endowed fellowship," he said.
Neither Fred, who received three degrees from the University of Iowa, nor Kay, who graduated from the University of Northern Colorado, attended Nebraska. At Iowa, Fred majored in math, lettered on the Hawkeye track team, received his commission in the Army ROTC and then went on for his MBA. After their marriage 60 years ago, Kay taught high school English while Fred graduated with his Ph.D. in management in 1965, just as the conflict in Vietnam was brewing.
“My education became very valuable in somewhat of a different way at the time because there was a Department of Military Psychology and Leadership at West Point. My ROTC Colonel helped me get placed there after Infantry School training and then at the academy, I taught psychology and leadership to cadets who snapped to attention when I entered the classroom but were eager to learn,” said Luthans, who served as a captain in the Army and attended post-doctoral seminars in New York at the Columbia School of Business.
The experience he gained during those two years helped him get hired as an associate professor at Nebraska for $11,700, a good offer in 1967. A year later, his major doctoral program mentor from the University of Iowa, Henry Albers, became the first chair of the new management department at Nebraska.
“I had a great foundation in general management, human resources and organization theory due to Dr. Albers and other wonderful professors and a strong minor in the Iowa Psych Department. This helped me get in on the ground floor of the organizational behavior field,” Fred said. “Professor Albers wrote one of the first textbooks, "Principles of Management" (first published in 1961), so he challenged me to do the same in organizational behavior,” said Fred, who became a very active researcher and book publisher and eventually became elected president of the Academy of Management and editor of three top journals in management.
While at West Point, Fred and Kay became first-time parents with Kristin, and after the move to Lincoln, welcomed Brett, Kyle and Paige. Their four children earned nine degrees from Nebraska.
Kristin holds two Nebraska degrees, as does her husband, Todd Noble. Kristin works as a reading specialist at Holmes Elementary in Lincoln, and Todd is a math teacher at Lincoln East High School. The Noble's two children – Kourtney and Taylor – graduated from Nebraska. Kourtney works as the curriculum coordinator at Kids R Kids Child Development Center, and Taylor is a second-grade teacher at Robinson Elementary, both in Lincoln. Kourtney’s husband, Jacob Henderson, graduated from Nebraska and is an events coordinator, and Taylor's husband, Jordan Hank, graduated from the Nebraska College of Business and works in the insurance industry.
The Luthans' sons – Brett and Kyle – earned three Nebraska degrees. Brett works as a full professor of management at Missouri Western University, and Kyle is an endowed professor and chair of management at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Brett's wife, Angie, graduated from Nebraska and works in the insurance field, and their daughter, Ashley, attended for two years. Both Ashley and her sister, Molly, are now studying at Missouri Western.
Kyle’s late wife, Dina, was a two-time Nebraska graduate and taught grade school in Lincoln and Kearney. Her legacy lives on through their daughter, Emma, who graduated from Nebraska, taught for AmeriCorps, and now is pursuing a master’s degree, and son, Will, is a junior business administration major in the Nebraska College of Business.
The Luthans’ younger daughter, Paige, also graduated from Nebraska. She and her husband, Barry Sanford, live in the Denver area with their two children, Leyna, a seventh-grader and Tyler, a third-grader. Before children, Paige managed a showroom in the Denver Design Center and presently is a full-time volunteer and mom. Barry is vice president of an automotive sales firm.
“We chose to stay in Nebraska at the height of my career when I was being heavily recruited by other universities with higher salaries and lower teaching loads. We just could not leave the university and Lincoln. The university and all my administrators, colleagues and students were great, and our family continues to support Husker athletics. Go Big Red!" Fred said. "Lincoln is our home where we built our family and our legacy. It’s also the place where we want to continue to make a lasting impact with the Luthans Family Fellowship.”
To learn more about the Ph.D. program in business with a specialization in management, go to: https://business.unl.edu/phd.
Published: October 3, 2023