Sussna developed MBA program that grew into Katz School

Edward Sussna, who developed Pitt’s MBA program — which evolved into the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business — died April 24, 2019 at 92.

“In a sense that’s his monument,” said Jacob Birnberg, Robert W. Murphy Jr. professor of management control systems emeritus at the Katz School, whom Sussna hired in 1963. “He was very critical to the development of both the MBA and the doctoral program.”

Sussna joined the Katz faculty in 1957 and was charged by then-chancellor Edward H. Litchfield in 1960 with professionalizing business education at Pitt, Birnberg recalled.

“Ed was one of the reasons I came” to Pitt, said Birnberg, who credited Sussna as a mentor. Sussna was an economist, and “it was his view that what we were teaching was decision-making,” Birnberg says: How people decide what kinds of economic actions to take when there is ambiguity and risk.

The pair team-taught a seminar on integrated decision-making, a forerunner of experimental or behavioral economics.

The MBA became very attractive to engineers who wished to move into management, Birnberg explained, and to other professionals wanting to expand their skills and further their careers.

“They had real problems to talk about, which he liked,” he said of Sussna, who in turn could speak their language about business issues. “He cared about students and talked about things they really needed to know. He enjoyed teaching and the students enjoyed him.”

Sussna’s interest in such executive education programs, and his love of travel, translated into a long career of bringing Pitt’s business education abroad. In addition to serving as director of the Center for Executive Education at the Katz School, Sussna was academic director of the Katz program in Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China, and inaugural professor of the Master of Business Administration program at the Bratislava (Slovakia) School of Economics.

He also was a visiting Fulbright professor at the University of Tehran, and visiting professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, the Ecole Superieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales in Paris and at universities in Hong Kong and Macau, as well as visiting scholar at the International Institute of Management in Berlin.

Sussna served with the Merchant Marine, 1944-1947, and with the Army, 1954-1956, and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. He retired from Pitt in 1998.

Sussna’s colleague Jo Olson described him as “a renaissance man, not just interested in economics but in politics and international affairs.”

Indeed, said Birnberg, Sussna had developed an interest in opera as a student at the Bronx High School of Science, when one of his teachers procured affordable tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, and Sussna passed on his love of other cultural events — theater and symphony — to his colleagues.

“He wasn’t a workaholic,” Birnberg said. “He was just a well-rounded person who was a pleasure to know and wound up introducing a lot of people to things that made their lives better.”

Sussna is survived by children Audrey Sussna and Ellen Heyman and grandchildren Andrea and Ben Heyman. Memorial contributions are suggested to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.