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Tribute to Professor Josep Faus, on the Occasion of his Retirement

Curiosity, Tenacity and Rigor

He’s a genius, at least, that’s what his friends think. He could have been a Professor at Harvard Business School with his record-breaking doctorate. He’s one of the country’s most eminent mycologists. When invited to go fishing, he landed 150 kg. of fish and upset more than one angler. He’s a golfer, he plays the flute, “he knows” about finances ...

From Puigcerdá, languishing in a Siberian cold snap, a reply came back to one of my e-mails: “We’ll talk when I get back to Barcelona. It’s 10 below freezing here and my ideas have frozen solid.” Fine, I think to myself, while it is also cold in Barcelona, it’s always better than in the heart of the Pyrenees, and Professor Faus will not miss the chance to look back and reminisce with his best friends about some of the good times he has had at IESE.

When people talk about him, they call him Faus, even though some of them, like Antoni Subirà and Josep Riverola, have known him for a very (and I mean very) long time. They have shared offices, computers. They were some of the IT pioneers. They were studying in the USA at the same time. They have held some of IESE’s most memorable parties. And the other two have looked on as Faus became more expert at fishing, mycology, golf and skiing, in addition, of course, to finances, quantitative decision analysis or any other activity that might have arisen. “When Faus sets himself a challenge, he does everything possible to conquer it. He goes right to the end, to the point where he has complete command of the subject,” explains Professor Riverola.

Mushrooms, Golf and Fishing

“Tell me Professor,” I remarked one day, “I don’t see how you can be an expert mycologist, or a professional angler, and overtake people who have spent an entire lifetime devoted to the subject.” Faus shrugged his shoulders. “Well,” he replied, “it’s fun.”

One of the professor’s legendary achievements was the discovery of a new species of mushroom. “That’s not strictly true. I only discovered some examples of two extremely rare species, one that was found in France and the other that had been found in Japan some 50 years before. For a while it was thought that they were the same. They had been found in other countries, but never in Europe. I was lucky enough to find both of them in Valldoreix (a town near Barcelona). I analyzed them under the microscope and saw that they didn’t belong to the same species. I took the doormat from my house to Madrid to talk to a senior professor in mycology there.” In the end, he got in touch with a Scottish mycologist and they described the differences between the two species in a journal, which was how Faus made his name in this area and became a well-known mycologist.

Josep Tàpies was working with Faus one day in Tàpies’s office, which at that time was close to IESE’s front entrance, Tàpies explains, when they took a moment to talk about mushrooms.

“Faus said to me, ‘look, there’s a pinatell,’ I looked through the window and saw one of the mushroom-shaped lamps which they used to have in that part of the garden and thought he was pulling my leg”, says Tàpies, but he repeated, ‘no, no, about 10 meters behind it.’ Indeed, there was something that looked like a mushroom there, but it was difficult to distinguish what species it might have been from the third floor. So we went down to fetch it. Faus’s secretary stopped him and tried to pass him a phone call, but he told her ‘Please say that Professor Tàpies and I have gone mushroom picking and I’ll ring him back.’ So it was. We confirmed it was a pinatell, we picked it, went back to the office and Faus replied to his call.”

Ruining the Fishing Fraternity

That’s Faus. “Faus has privileged gifts,” explains Professor Antoni Subirà, “and he’s able to make the most complicated of things seem simple.” As with his mushrooms, Faus meets challenges with a mixture of curiosity and a desire to have fun,” says Subirà, “to the point of discovering the most profound secrets and identifying the essence of the issue. Get him to talk about fishing. He almost ruined the fishermen in Comarruga.”

When I ask Faus about the fishing episode, he just says “It’s nothing. Like everyone else, I used to go fishing once in a while...”. But when I push him a little he makes an admission. “One day I landed 150 kilos of fish.” To achieve this, he examined the temperature of the water at different levels, and improved nets and lines.

Golf has, perhaps, been one of the most difficult hobbies to master. “When Faus does something,” says Tàpies, “if it doesn’t work out perfectly, it’s no good. And golf has taken more effort than his other hobbies. However, that doesn’t mean he plays badly, quite the contrary. I remember one time when he invited me to play in Puigcerdà. He played ... and I just lost golf balls.”

The Faus Book of Records

When someone remarked one day that he had published more specialist articles on mycology than management, he decided to put things right. Josep Riverola takes up the story. “Faus explained that he had asked to take a sabbatical year and had decided to concentrate on finances. As a hobby! And just so there would be no mistake, he wrote nine books.”

A few, not many, years ago, he received a letter from the Director of the Doctoral Program at Harvard Business School. In the letter, the American expressed his admiration for the fact that Faus had completed his doctoral thesis in record time: 11 months.

Faus was the first of IESE’s professors with a doctorate from the United States. The group of IESE professors who studied in Boston have many memories of that time. “Sometimes I would have dinner with Faus,” recalls Antoni Subirà. “I would drop by the study room to pick him up, but it always took a few minutes for Faus to start talking. You could see that his head was still working frantically.”

He got to know IESE through Rafael Termes. It was during the months prior to the beginning of the first program, the PADE. “He asked me to help him prepare a case on finances,” Faus recalls, “because the material that he had related to financial systems that were very different from the ones we had here.” The case, “Industrias Soriano,” was one of the school’s first.

A while later, in 1960, Faus joined the IESE faculty and went to Harvard to take part, with his fellow professors, in the International Teachers Program (ITP). He struck up a friendship with HBS Professor Howard Raiffa, a specialist in quantitative decision analysis, and took part in an MBA course and a specialized seminar on this subject.
Raiffa wanted to keep him there, and suggested that he could do a doctorate, even though the registration period had closed. “He told me ‘no problem’ and we went off to see the Director of the Doctoral Program,” recalls Faus. “Raiffa said ‘I’ve come to register Faus’ and he signed me up, two months late!” During his second year in Boston, he took care of the group of IESE teachers who had come to the USA to study.

The “Surifa” Trio

Subirà, Riverola and Faus (called the “Surifa” Trio by Faus himself) bought IESE’s first computer. Building B had been completed by then, and all three of them were huddled around the machine in one of the corridors. These were years of a lot of work but also a lot of fun. “When you entered that corridor, you could hear the brains working,” recalls Josep Riverola. “Sometimes in summer, when it was unbearably hot, we would take a break and organize mental agility competitions. ‘Foreign investment is good for Spain,’ for example. Defend that thesis. And Faus would elaborate an argument in support. But then you would ask him to argue in favor of the opposing thesis and he would do that too, with apparently unrefutable arguments.”

This ability to argue and debate has shown itself in his command of the case method. However, on one occasion he came across a situation that even he hadn’t seen before at IESE: “A few years ago, during the MBA course, we began to discuss a case. I noticed something strange. I asked one of the students to pass me the case and saw that they had been given what we call the teaching note: the solution. When I realized what had happened, I didn’t know how to react. One of the students showed me a way out. ‘This paper we’ve been given, what’s it for? Why does it show the solution and not the numbers? Can we really work out the numbers by looking at the solution?’ ‘Exactly’, I replied, and we spent the period extracting the numbers because the student’s team had begun to work that way. We kept the debate going for the full hour and a quarter.”

It was in that corridor with the sound of working brains that the idea arose to organize a seminar for employers to explain this weird instrument the computer to them and show them what it was for. It was the first of its kind in Spain. “Faus, Subirà and Riverola formed a gang at IESE,” says Professor Masifern, Faus’s brother-in-law. “They have always been great friends. Nothing and nobody has broken up that gang since it formed.”

Professor at Harvard Business School

“I’ve shared various things with Faus,” remarks Professor Eduard Ballarín. “Consultancy work, trips, premature balding... Well, I don’t know whether I should mention that, but it’s true. In both his family and mine, we go bald very early.” Joking aside, Eduard Ballarín acknowledges that one of the reasons why he decided to go to Harvard to study for his doctorate was because of Professor Faus’s reputation. “I thought that, in addition to his own qualities, the education he had received must also have played a part in making Professor Faus the way he was, so I decided to study for my doctorate in the same place.”

His friends remark on the ease with which he connects with others. “Faus empathizes with people. During the year that he taught at Harvard, he got magnificent results with the case method, and in English,” said one.

Professor Ballarín opens a new chapter here: Faus at Harvard. But this time as a teacher. They offered him the post of visiting professor and off he went, with the intention of staying for just one academic year. However, once there, he was offered the chance to stay at HBS as a full-time member of the faculty.

“One of the professors was off on a year’s sabbatical and he invited me to deputize for him for that year as visiting professor,” recalls Faus. “I used his office, he left me all his teaching materials. My departmental coordinator then asked if I wanted to stay on as a full-time professor. My wife and I decided that we didn’t want our children (who were very small at the time) to become Americans and grow up liking baseball instead of soccer, so I came home.”

With the exception of these two short periods at Harvard, Faus has been at IESE practically from the beginning. And now, having left the day-to-day routine of the classroom, what will he do? “Well, I’ll stay in touch with the companies,” he reflects, “then there’s the research, and I’m writing some cases.” Tireless, he will continue to nurture his “other professions.” He no longer skis, but now goes hiking in snow shoes. “And from what his wife Margarita tells me,” comments Professor Masifern, “he’s studying all the available information on the different types of snow shoe.”