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Loyola celebrates life of Harsha Desai, Ph.D., “a truly global faculty member” in the Sellinger School for more than 30 years

| By Nick Alexopulos
Harsha Desai Loyola University Maryland
Harsha Desai, Ph.D.

Over the course of an international career that spanned five decades, Harsha Desai, Ph.D., was revered for his leadership as an educator and business strategist who recognized the entrepreneurial spirit could drive positive social change.

Desai, a professor of management at Loyola University Maryland’s Sellinger School of Business and Management, died Sunday, Jan. 11, in Baltimore. He was 71.

“He will be remembered for how generous he was with his time, his knowledge, his wisdom, and his care and concern for students, particularly outside of the classroom,” said Gerard Athaide, Ph.D., professor of marketing at Loyola and Desai’s close friend.

Desai had a passion for social innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategy. He approached business with a global mindset long before it became a widespread practice.

At Loyola, Desai taught strategy and entrepreneurship with that global mindset at the undergraduate and graduate business level for 33 years. He organized and participated in international programming for MBA students to China, Thailand, India, and Chile during that time. From the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, Desai pioneered and taught in an MBA program for Chilean students Loyola operated in Santiago. He is beloved by the alumni of that program and continued to visit them after it closed.

“They refer to him as their ‘American Idol,’” said Athaide.   

In the 1980s and ’90s Desai taught at universities in India, Thailand, Chile, China, and Russia. Prior to his work in academia, he was an electrical and industrial engineer and internal strategy consultant for multinational corporations in the electric utility, manufacturing, and health care industries.

“He was a truly global faculty member in every respect,” said Peter Lorenzi, Ph.D., a professor of management at Loyola and longtime colleague of Desai’s. “He read widely, he traveled widely, he experienced different cultures, and he brought that all into the classroom along with a strong social conscience and entrepreneurial flair.”

Lorenzi has known Desai since 1995. The two had been full-time faculty together in the department of management and international business since 2001.

“I am going to miss him more than I realize right now,” Lorenzi said. “You feel it personally right away, but it’s going to be the collegiality and the conscience that he brought to the table that’s going to sink in over a period of time.”

Department chair Michael Unger, Ph.D., said he will miss the little things, too.

“Every morning he’d come in say, ‘Hi boss, what’s new?’ That became routine,” said Unger.

Unger recalled that two of Desai’s former students were on a panel at an orientation for new Sellinger School MBA students last week. They extolled the value and practicality of Desai’s classes at great length.

“Students loved him. They felt he gave them a lot of very practical education,” Unger said. “Because he had been teaching at Loyola for so long in the MBA and Executive MBA program, he knew a lot of practitioners, a lot of businessmen and women. He was on top of the field from both a theoretical and practical point of view”

Desai’s impact on the business community was equally as noteworthy. He was a management consultant for more than 30 years and founded Loyola’s Center for Closely Held Firms in 1989 to help small businesses succeed and prosper. Most recently, he founded and co-directed the Center for Sustainable Social Impact to provide pro bono general management consulting services to non-profits and social enterprises that demonstrate a passion for making a difference in the community.

An entrepreneur himself, Desai was a builder of private homes, a catfish farm owner, a principal partner in a service company providing health insurance exams, part owner of a cinema theater, and an import-exporter. He served on advisory boards of various companies and was a past president of one of the largest Montessori schools in the United States and the Baltimore Chapter of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. His company, Desai Associates Inc., consults with businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies all over the world. 

“He was a tireless worker. He worked right up until his last days,” said Athaide, who has known Desai for more than two decades and designed, developed, and team-taught a course on technology and innovation management with him. “The most important thing is the gift of time. That’s what Harsha gave us all, the gift of his time.”

Desai was born in Navsari, India, on Oct. 21, 1943. He received his Ph.D. in Business Administration and an M.S. in Industrial Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and a B.E. in Electrical Engineering from Poona University, India. He was a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, the national business honor society, and Alpha Pi Mu, the national industrial engineering honor society.

He was a resident of Catonsville, Md., and is survived by his wife, Catherine, and two children, Sudhir and Sara.

His Loyola colleagues continue to reflect on the life of an inspirational leader who is irreplaceable in the university community.

“He took the Jesuit ideals seriously, and he embodied the best of what Jesuit education is all about,” said Unger.

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Funeral information:

Funeral services will be private. To sign a guest book, visit donaldsonodenton.com.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to any of the organizations on this list (PDF).

Loyola events:

Saturday, Jan. 17
Memorial service
11 a.m.
Alumni Memorial Chapel

Reception
(following memorial service)
Sellinger School of Business and Management Atrium

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