Peter Vaill: The passing of the “Poet Laureate of Management”

written by Eric Dent

Eric Dent is a Professor of Management at Florida Gulf Coast University who focuses in the ethical and spiritual models that underlie organizational behavior. He was a former doctoral student of Peter’s and decided to write on the passing of this OD giant who oversaw and guided him to where he is today. 

Want to hear more of what Matt has to say? Go listen to Episode 18 of The Practice? Podcast, where he and Dave honor Peter by swapping stories of his wisdom and effects on fellow Practitioners.

Peter was my dissertation director and mentor. I just posted the message below to appropriate Academy of Management listservs. I was supposed to participate in a podcast with Peter recently, but sadly he died before it could take place. Instead, his co-host, Dave Fearon, and I created the podcast as a tribute to Peter. To hear that podcast you need to scroll to the bottom of those listed.

Sadly, I share the news of the loss of a seminal figure in organizational behavior, management education, management spirituality, and other fields.

I’ll only sketch Peter’s career here and invite you to explore further, if you are interested. Peter was one of the “four horsepersons” who “saved” NTL (National Training Laboratories) in the mid-1970s…. essentially launched the field of High Performing Systems in his Organizational Dynamics 1982 article …. coined the term “permanent white water” that caused a shift in OB research to more dynamic environments ….. was identified by his alum, the Harvard Business School as one of the top 10 organizational theorists in the world …. is profiled in The Palgrave Handbook of Organizational Change

Thinkers (2017) ….. was the editor of Organizational Dynamics from 1986-1989 … was a member of the Board of Governors of the Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, NC for a decade …. has been described as the “poet laureate of management,” … and wrote several books including Managing as a Performing Art; Learning as a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water; and Spirited Leading and Learning: Process Wisdom for a New Age.

For more information about Peter, please read “Peter B. Vaill: A Life in the Art of Managing and Leading Change” by David W. Jamieson and Jackie M. Milbrandt in The Palgrave Handbook of Organizational Change Thinkers edited by David B. Szabla, William A. Pasmore, Mary A. Barnes, and Asha N. Gipson.

Peter’s life was also an inspiration because he was paralyzed from the waist down since 2001. This greatly reduced his scholarship, but he was active until his last days with a regular podcast with friend and colleague Dave Fearon.

Finally, you can read my own personal eulogy at

Eric B. Dent, Ph.D. 

Professor and Uncommon Friends Endowed Chair in Ethics 

Lutgert College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University

[email protected]

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Designed by Anthony Rivera