Stanford GSB Professor Theodore J. Kreps was called “the conscience of the business school” during a teaching career of more than three decades. A scholar of passionate conviction, he was known to legions of Stanford GSB graduates for his challenging classroom style and his high personal regard for his students.
Prof. Kreps (1897–1981), who often referred to his teaching as “intellectual slum clearance,” fought complacency in his classes, demanding that students take a position and defend it. Out of class, he and his wife, Esther, hosted weekly Sunday evening open houses for students, a Stanford GSB tradition which featured discussion of economic, political, and social issues, and Mrs. Kreps’ homemade cake.
His class, Business Activity and Public Welfare, a course he introduced in 1931, was a forerunner of present day Stanford GSB courses in corporate social responsibility. Known in and outside the school as a crusading economic liberal, he was active in government during the 1930s and 1940s, holding posts in the National Recovery Administration and the Works Projects Administration, and serving as an economic adviser to the U.S. Maritime Commission, the antitrust division of the Department of Justice, and the Temporary National Economic Committee. During World War II, he was an adviser to the Office of Price Administration and the Board of Economic Warfare and in the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations was staff director of the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.
Kreps was author of six books and numerous articles on prices, the chemical industry, and the relation of business to government. Probably his best known work was the Economics of the Sulphuric Acid Industry, a book first published by Harvard University Press and later reprinted by Stanford University Press.
Born January 13, 1897 in Prinsberg, Minn., he attended Calvin College and seminary for three years before joining the U.S. Army in 1917. After his discharge, he enrolled at the University of Colorado where he received an AB degree with a major in Greek. He taught history and economics at the Colorado State Preparatory School before attending Harvard University where he took his master’s and PhD degrees in economics. After receiving his doctorate, he held a Laura Spellman Rockefeller Fellowship and taught at Harvard before joining Stanford GSB faculty in 1930. He retired from regular teaching duties in 1962, but continued to teach in Stanford GSB’s executive education programs for years afterward. He held an honorary doctorate from the University of Colorado and from Calvin College, and in 1976, in honor of his 80th birthday, was feted by Stanford GSB colleagues and his former students at the school’s Alumni Day. In 1977 Stanford GSB established the Theodore J. Kreps Professorship under a grant from the IBM Corporation and also set up the Theodore J. and Esther E. Kreps Fellowship Fund.
After completing 32 years of molding the minds of many of the nation’s top executives, Kreps said of his academic career: “I am essentially a tugboat. My job is to get the big ships out in the channel with their engines running.” A highly popular speaker before alumni groups one associate declared: “Ted always draws twice as big a crowd as any of the rest of us.” He died at the age of 84 on May 6, 1981 in Mountain View, California.