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In Memoriam: A Tribute to Dr. Phil Adler

Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business recognizes the lasting memory of Dr. Philip Adler, former business and management professor of 38 years, with testimonials and photos.
Photo of Dr. Phil Adler, Jr.

Dr. Philip Adler Jr., Professor (August 29, 1930–July 24, 2023)

Dr. Philip Adler Jr. (August 29, 1930 – July 24, 2023), professor at the Georgia Tech College of Management (now Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business) from 1962 to 2000, stands out as one of those rare individuals who likely changed your life if you were lucky enough to take one of his classes.

In a 2017 article in the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine, “Dr. Phil Adler: A Legacy of Respect,” writer Melissa Fralick describes a survey deployed by the Alumni Association asking alumni to name a person who impacted them the most during their time at Tech. 

According to the article, “The results were presented visually in a word cloud, with the names mentioned the most featured most prominently in the largest font. Adler was, by far, the biggest name in the cloud—bigger than some of the biggest titans of Tech lore, such as Bobby Dodd and George Griffin.”

A memorial service for Dr. Adler was held on Saturday, August 5 at the Ferst Center for Arts. Among the speakers was Chuck Easley, Professor of the Practice at the Scheller College of Business. 

"Dr. Adler always expected your absolute best, and he gave you the same," says Easley. "Now, we, 'his students,' must carry on and make his belief in and expectations of us truth by living and passing on what he shared and gave us to continue to help others live better."

In recognition of the immeasurable difference Dr. Adler made in the lives of thousands of students at Georgia Tech, we pulled together a few of the many tributes and photos provided by our community in the last few weeks. Thank you to those who took the time to share your favorite memories of one of Tech's greatest teachers and leaders. 


Name: Philip Adler Jr.

Born: Cincinnati, Ohio


  • B.S. Business Organization, The Ohio State University (1952)
  • B.A., University of Miami (1957)
  • Ph.D. Industrial Management, Ohio State University (1966)
  • Honorary Degree, Georgia Tech (1992)
  • Air War College, U.S. Air Force

Career Highlights

  • U.S. Air Force, Korean War, Colonel, U.S. Air Force Reserves (31 years)
  • Assistant Professor, College of Management, Georgia Tech (1962 - 1966)
  • Associate Professor, College of Management, Georgia Tech (1966 - 1970)
  • Professor, College of Management, Georgia Tech (1970 - 2000)
  • Joint Appointment, Clinical Associate Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine and Georgia Tech (1964 - 1991)
  • Safety Management and Organization Consultant, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Management Development Adviser to Gov. Jimmy Carter
  • Organization Adviser, Office of Management and Budget and Office of the White House Press Secretary for the Jimmy Carter Administration
  • Radio Announcer at WGST and America's Web Radio

Other Pursuits

  • Board of Trustees, Georgia Tech Athletic Association
  • Board Member, Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech
  • Board Member, Atlanta Lyric Theater
  • Transportation Columnist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Adviser, Phi Delta Theta Fraternity


"Dr. Adler was my toughest and also my favorite professor while at Tech. He demanded you be prepared for class, or you would regret it, and he was also available to help any time you needed it. I am so glad I got to see him and get a photo taken with him when he was honored at the Georgia Tech vs. Notre Dame basketball game in 2020."

Mike Anderson, IM '92

"After class, I marched up to him and, in an accusatory tone, asked, 'Why do you pick on everyone else in the class and not me? Do you think I can't take it?' He just smiled and said, 'I learned early on that no one can be as hard on you as you are on yourself.' He knew me better than I knew myself."

Andrea Arena, IM '89

"I had Dr. Adler for a number of classes during my four years at Tech. If you had him for one, chances are you had him for as many as you could schedule.

After meeting his wife by accident in a Cumming Publix around 2012, she encouraged me to call him, as the highlight of his day was to hear from students and pepper them with questions about their careers and especially, about their families. I called him that day, introduced myself as a multi-class student in the mid 60's, and was amazed that he not only remembered me but rattled off a number of my friends who had also taken his classes! Dr. Adler was 'one of a kind!'"

Frank Armistead, IM ‘65

"I, like many others, will never forget Dr. Adler. He was an amazing professor - exceptionally tough - but only because he genuinely cared about his students. He knew what we were capable of and pushed us to reach our potential. I would rewrite my notes taken in class so I could actually read them and be prepared for the next class, because he somehow knew if you weren't and that only happened once!

I still chuckle when I recall someone using the word company instead of organization, and Dr. Adler responded, 'Company is someone you have over for dinner.' Dr. Adler was one of a kind, and I am honored to have known him and thankful to have learned from him. He will be greatly missed!"

Cindy Tyler Avant, IM '86

"My first thought that comes to mind when I think of Dr. Adler is how many of my shirts were ruined by sweat stains waiting to be called on to answer one of his challenging questions and responses."

Jack Williams Beh, IM ’71

"Dr. Adler introduced me to R&D management, and how it should be done by managers, not promoted engineers. After my first course with Dr. Adler, I took every course he taught! I flourished under his teaching method and wished ALL my professors taught that way. Although it was always a challenge to keep up in class, that was half the fun. Godspeed, Dr. Adler. I hope to attend your classes in heaven someday."

Cathy Berdahl, IM '77

"P.O.C. (plan, organize, control) was drilled into my head, as was his talk about trusting your gut to make good decisions. God bless you, Dr. Adler."

Buzz Brockway, MSci '90

"Dr. Adler was undoubtedly the most impactful professor for me at Georgia Tech, as he prepared me for the future like no one else did or could. For that, I will be forever grateful.

After having a chance to briefly reconnect after over 40 years at his recognition at McCamish Pavilion a few years ago, I was honored to be given his phone number so we could better catch up. He shocked me when I called, and he vividly remembered that he had been my professor in two classes and remembered EXACTLY where I sat in his 4195 class my senior year. A simply amazing memory by an amazing man that profoundly impacted my life. RIP Dr. Adler!"

Phil Brown, IM '79

"Dr. Adler was the most effective professor I had in six years of college. He was demanding, thought-provoking, brilliant, and had a photographic memory beyond belief. He took class attendance, walked into the classroom, made no eye contact, and used no notes. Dr. Adler pushed each student to his/her maximum learning capabilities and knew just when to back off. In doing so, he pushed his students well beyond being comfortable, always reaching new learning milestones.

Dr. Adler prepared me so well that I had a successful career as a corporate executive, interacting with many CEOs, COOs, CFOs, etc. Due to Dr. Adler's impact on my education, I never had a concern about being unprepared in my roles with these executives. Believe me, these executives were easy to interact with compared to how Dr. Adler challenged me.

I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have taken two different classes Dr. Alder taught. His legacy is and will continue to be the thousands of students who were successful after college due to learning from his unique and talented teaching style. Dr. Adler, you were better than the best. I thank you more than I can express."

Jim Champaign, IM '77

"I visited his office. He was quickly shining his shoes. He said you only make one first impression. Great teacher."

Todd Crutchfield, IM ‘87

"Dr. Phil Adler was not only an inspiration for me but for students in my classes for another 25 years! A couple of years after earning my Industrial Management degree in 1980, I decided to pursue a doctorate in management at Ohio State.

When Dr. Adler learned this, he came to me and said, 'You have to be really motivated and dedicated to get through the doctoral program at OSU.' Then he asked me to follow him to his car in the parking lot. He pulled out of his trunk his Ohio State doctoral hood with its scarlet and silver satin lining. And there, in the middle of the parking lot, he 'hooded me.' As he put the hood over my shoulders, he said, 'This is what it will feel like to get hooded when you graduate from Ohio State. Don't forget this when you need to get through the tough road ahead.' And sure enough, I thought of that parking lot hooding often during the struggles with a course or rough feedback from my dissertation faculty.

But the story doesn't end there. I finished my degree and taught management and leadership for many years. I used that example every time I taught my MBA students about motivating employees and being an inspirational leader. Thus, Dr. Phil Adler's example of inspirational leadership had an impact on thousands of students he never met!"

Anne S. Davis, Ph.D. ‘90, Ohio State University; IM ’80, Georgia Tech

"Dr. Adler always had more confidence in me than I did in myself. The lasting lesson I share over and again with my staff at Chick-fil-A is: 'Responsibility is the right to act; accountability is the duty to act. Everyone wants responsibility. Few want accountability.' I committed myself in my career as a franchise owner to live by these tenets. Dr. Adler was the professor I tried my best not to get and valued the most!"

Darrell Fowler, IM ‘89

"Dr. Adler walked in and introduced himself. He then asked 'What is the purpose of a business?' Hands went up to say the answer was to make a profit. Dr. Adler then said to us: 'If you give me that answer ever again, you will fail this class regardless of what ever else you have done.' We all sank. Then he said 'The purpose of a business is to provide a service and if you do that you will make a profit.' I have never forgotten that. I only wish everyone in business today knew this."

Troy Grooms, IM’ 65

"After taking Dr. Alder's classes at Tech, I was unafraid of any board or team meetings. He prepared me for business discourse at all levels, to think on my feet, and to be prepared. He cared for his students and challenged us in ways we had not been challenged before. Dr. Adler was, quite simply, the first among equals at Tech.

I saw him a few years ago, out at dinner locally. After over 40 years, I heard his voice at a nearby table. I told my family, 'Dr. Adler is here.' They had heard many stories, but he was a complete legend to them. I approached his table and dared to introduce myself. To my amazement, before I could tell him my name, he said it to me in greeting and then recounted the classes I had taken under his direction all those years before. He then asked how my brother, Ken, was doing. Ken had Dr. Adler a few years before me.

While I had other wonderful professors at Tech, Dr. Adler defines the highest and best attributes of mentoring and professionalism that have been continuously beneficial to me throughout my career. I'm thankful for his influence on my life and for some of the best memories of my Tech years."

Carol Smith Hathaway, IM '81

"I had Dr. Adler for IM 220 in the fall of 1966. I believe it was a course in industrial organization. If we missed a question he threatened us with a major paper. There was a group of students he called the 'DEAD EIGHT.' I always had great respect for his advise and counsel. He was a great man."

Colonel John Harden (Retired), IM '69

"You will be dearly missed, my sweet friend. Your class was daunting and legendary. After all of these years we still talk about it and the impact you had on our lives and your contributions to our success. Later, we became great friends and I treasure the time we spent together."

Mary Marino Harrison

"As a career United States Air Force officer, my arrival at Tech for the master's program was in June 1958, direct from my third and last Vietnam tour. In fact, I returned to the States and crossed the International Date Line on my arrival in Atlanta on the same day I left the combat zone, which is my best example of cultural shock.

Good teachers always know their students better than those students could guess, and Dr. Adler knew I was Air Force and had been under a very large chunk of recent stress. The term 'PTSD' was only then first gaining traction and public discussion, and I remarked to my wife that I didn't think I had any after effects from being in the combat zone. She replied, 'That's what you think; I sleep with you.'

But Dr. Adler somehow knew who I was, where I'd been, and what I'd done more than any other teacher or administrator at Tech. He remains my favorite person at Tech, despite the fact I only had a couple of classes with him."

Fred Horky, Lt. Col USAF (ret.), IM ’70

"In the fall of 1969, incoming Industrial Management graduate students were invited to a backyard mixer to get to know each other. Dr. Adler was the only faculty member who attended and made a concerted effort to talk to each person to establish a personal connection. This is how he chose to share his Sunday afternoon.

As classes began, Dr. Adler's lectures were memorable. We called them 'The Adlerian Doctrine.' He expected and required that each student be a copious notetaker and to answer rapid-fire questions that reinforced his belief in the works of his mentor Professor RD Davis of Ohio State University. If Dr. Adler's students did not have the right answers, they were in for ritual humiliation. Of all the lectures I attended there, his were the most memorable and remain with me some 53 years later."

Milton Leggett, IM '70, IM '63 

"I took the Management Theory course under Dr. Adler back in the day, and he was one of the toughest, yet best professors I ever had the privilege of sitting under. His Socratic method of teaching was brilliant, and the rigor he put students through to think under pressure was tremendous training for the work world.

Many years later, while completing my doctoral research in leadership theory, I called him out of the blue to help me recall a fact from his course. Having heard my question, the answer popped right out of his mouth. Of course, he had a near-perfect memory. He then went on to ask what I was up to and was thrilled with my research. He closed our conversation by stating that if there was ever anything he could do to help me out, to let him know.

As it turned out, a year later, I needed an external reader for my research, and he happily agreed to do so. What an incredible person he was, even 35 years later. Well done, Dr. Adler. We will miss you!"

Mark Lindsay, IM '78

"Authority and responsibility! One must have both to manage effectively."

William McCuen, IM ‘77

"One quote of his that I have repeated many times is that we are in a spiral of constant change. Changes we make to society, policies, work, technology, etc., cause other changes to which we need to react. This drives development. Forty years after taking his courses, he remains a vivid figure in my mind. I can still see him walking up and down the aisles of the classroom, asking questions and listening."

Alex McCusker, IM '84

"I struggled for three years as an electrical engineering major while co-oping with Florida Power & Light. I transferred to Industrial Management in my junior year, and Dr Adler's course on management consulting truly changed my life. I went on to a 50-plus-year career in consulting before retiring in 2019 from KPMG. I never forgot many of the lessons I learned from Dr Adler."

Paul K. (Ken) Millen, IM '66

"I was a graduate teaching assistant in 1990, and my 'office hours' were in a classroom directly after Dr. Adler's undergrad class. As I rarely had anyone come to office hours, and because his class always went over, we had an agreement that I would sit in on his Socratic method classes until one of my students showed up.

It was pure bliss to watch him hold the attention of a roomful of undergrads (and this grad student) simply by asking questions. And the topics he chose kept everyone, including me, wanting more. He was a master at this method, and I still remember his teaching as much as I do my core accounting professors. I feel so blessed to have participated in a glimpse into his raw power and enthusiasm. RIP Dr. Adler!"

Scott Moyer, IM '91

"I had three different classes with Dr Adler. The first one about killed me. My nerves were gone by the end of each class, but by the third time I took one of his classes, I had his methods down, and I loved it. To this day, I remember more from his classes than any other class I took. I can not remember any other professors' name from Tech, but the name 'Dr. Adler' is forever etched in my brain. Rest in peace, Dr Adler."

Tracy Neal, IM '83

"Dr. Adler was one of those rare professors who was both an expert in his content and in engaging his students. I kept all of the notes from his class for many years because I just knew it would come in handy one day. I can still remember him saying that if you create a need in the marketplace and then fill it, you will be successful in business. I took his advice to heart and give him credit for a mindset that has helped me get where I am today. Rest in peace, Dr. Adler."

Candace Masden Nassar, IM '86

"I was impressed when Dr. Phil and I discussed that he was a pilot and a railroad engineer. He stated that operating a train was more difficult than flying a jet. Quite remarkable! RIP."

Clyde Olson, IM '67

"I did not realize the importance of my education from Dr. Adler until several years later. I had taken three courses from Dr. Adler and had a very successful 30-year career with Hewlett-Packard. The management courses gave me much insight and perspective as I moved up the management ranks with H.P., retiring at age 54 as a national manager. I had seen Dr. Adler several times over the years and as always, his memory of many of his students was impeccable. A true Georgia Tech treasure has been lost, but his memory will last forever. God bless Dr. Adler!"

Karl Paul, IM ‘69

"Dr Alder stopped me outside of his class to let me know that he was moving me toward the front row of his class. I was so nervous that my seat was soaked with sweat. I prayed that he wouldn't call on me to answer a question. Of course, he did call on me to answer a question. When I didn't know the answer, Dr Adler said, 'Son, I don't know how you’re going to pass my class.' Tom Hammonds and Duane Ferrell laughed so hard in the back of the class at my lack of an answer. The next day I was so ready to answer any questions, but Dr. Adler never called on me."

Willie Reese, IM ‘89

"Dr. Adler was absolutely the best professor I ever had. His teaching style made you prepared for class every day. His teaching of the basics of 'Management: Planning, Organizing, and Controlling' was a constant in my 37-year IT career. He was a major influence on thousands of Tech students, and I am fortunate to be one of them. Thank you, Dr. Adler, for your commitment to your students and to Georgia Tech."

Tommy K. Roberts, IM '80 

"When I think about all the professors I had at Georgia Tech, without a doubt, Phil Adler had the most impact. He was legendary in the management department, and students clamored to attend his courses. But you better have prepared, because he would engage you actively in class, and it could be brutal.

More than anything, Dr. Adler taught you how to thrive under pressure, think on your feet, and internalize meaning so that your responses came from a depth of understanding. You learned how to be your best and to set the bar higher and higher for yourself to achieve excellence. I would hazard to guess that he produced more successful senior business leaders than anyone else. You learned life lessons in his classes. The world has lost an icon. He is part of the fabric of Georgia Tech itself."

Angela Schwartz, IM '86

"I would not be anywhere close to where I am today professionally without the many, many lessons I learned from Dr. Adler. While I dreaded his class during my days at Tech, I am incredibly thankful for every one of them. RIP Dr. Adler, and thank you for the impact you have had on me and my career."

Jeff Strom, IM '89

"He urged us, and pushed us, to always be better than our best."

David Tate, IM ‘87

"I don't think I would have graduated from Georgia Tech if it had not been for Dr. Adler. Such an amazing, kind, human being. I learned so much about business and how to analyze and solve problems from Dr. Adler. The world is a better place because he was a part of it. He will be missed. My condolences to his family."

Melanie Morgan Thomas, IM ’88.

"My first class with Dr Adler was Industrial Management 220. Every class was nerve-wracking, and I, like everyone else, was trying to avoid being called on. No chance of that happening. Anyway, there's no midterm, no written tests, nada. Now it's final exam time, we're in the architecture building of all places. The exam time comes, no Adler, 10, 20, finally, 30 minutes later, he strolls in with no tests and starts lecturing—NO written exam. Somehow I pulled a B. I decided I could take this pressure as long as there were no written exams. So four classes later with 3 B's and an A, no exams, I finished this gauntlet—which, by the way, made law school at UGA seem like a cakewalk.

Now flash forward 38 years, and I'm at an informal dinner with a few of my football teammates, and Adler is there. I haven't seen him since the last 'final' in 1970. The first thing he says is, 'Van Dora, you took every class I taught.' I said, 'I'd still be taking them as long as there were no written tests.' I think he appreciated the comment, but as usual with him, one could never be sure. A great professor who taught me to think under extreme pressure."

Tash Van Dora, IM ‘70

"As an entertainment attorney and professor, I have told this story many times of Professor Adler, and the moment he gave me true confidence to take a risk, even if I might be wrong. He was pacing the room in full voice, repeating the question: 'What is the difference between white collar and blue collar?' After many courageous attempts by others, with no response to his liking, I jumped off the cliff and raised my hand, with potentially the most pathetic answer in history. I was one of the very few females, so the pressure was shall we say, magnified. I can hear him today calling on me, and I was prepared to run if necessary.

'Yes, Miss Wagnon?' I took the leap and answered, 'The color of their shirt?'

The silence was deafening and lasted a lifetime. Then he basically changed my life by yelling, 'Yes! Yes! Yes! Exactly! You are correct, Miss Wagnon!' I was never as fearful of intellectual risk after that. Professor Adler was a truly unforgettable teacher. His influence lives on."

Deborah Wagnon, IM '76

"I was Dr. Adler's first chosen student assistant for the years 1963 - 1964. I had taken his class in 1962, and we bonded during that time together. I have been a guest presenter at Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and the University of Virginia, and have relayed to each of them the importance of the lessons learned by time spent with Dr. Adler. He was extraordinary in his care for and about his students, and he contributed to their successes in a profound way. He will be hugely missed and probably not replicated in any of our lifetimes."

Steve Whisenant, IM '64 and MSIM '67

"Dr. Adler changed my life. His approach to teaching and his engagement with his students 'flipped a switch' within me. He made me yearn for more learning and personal growth. All you have to do is review my Georgia Tech transcripts. My grades made an overnight jump to straights A's."

Jon Winsett, IM '89

"With so many corporations seeming to have forgotten their primary purpose, I'm always reminded of the immortal words of Dr. Phil Adler. I can hear him saying now, 'The primary purpose of a business is to provide goods and services to society at a price commensurate with the quality built-in.' Over all these years, nothing has changed. He was a legend."

Rick Woolf, IM '66 

"Dr. Adler had a profound impact on my life as a leader and as a human. I took him for four or five classes and while they were some of the most challenging classes I took at Georgia Tech, they were also some of the most rewarding. Three highlights for me: 1) His disciples, and there were many, will remember him telling every class, "You are the worst class I have ever taught!" He always wanted us to push ourselves to do more and improve, which was the root of this comment. 2) He was the first adult I had ever known who made sure we all understood that saying 'he/she' was such a powerful tool in creating equality. 3) And finally, the gut! He talked to us so much about how important this would be in our working lives, and he was beyond correct.

I loved him the moment I stepped foot into his classroom. If you loved him, you wanted as much Dr. Adler as you could possibly get because you knew this was a special opportunity to grow in ways that still live within you today. Rest in peace, Dr Adler."

Wendi Sturgis Yong, IM ‘90

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