Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

Richard Muther is an expert planner who made his name analyzing and improving manufacturing processes. Yet happenstance directed him toward this calling.

Muther, 94, says he didn’t have the grades for MIT, but he did have something most applicants during the Great Depression did not: money for tuition. That couldn’t guarantee that he would stay, however. He failed freshman chemistry and would have been dismissed if he hadn’t convinced a dean to let him continue as a special student. Temporarily freed of required courses, he dabbled in Course XV and discovered an affinity for production management.

Though Muther found the academics challenging, he was a master on ice, where he captained MIT’s hockey team. After breaking his leg in a game against UNH, he spent three weeks in semi-traction and had little to do but think. “I had never had time to talk to myself in such a deliberate way,” he says. Before he left the hospital, Muther had mapped out a career plan that included management, teaching, and consulting.

He returned to his studies with a new commitment, passed freshman chemistry, and thrived under the guidance of Erwin Schell, the first head of Course XV. Muther was accepted for graduate study, appointed to the teaching staff, and selected as principal researcher in a study of mass-production methods. He reported his findings in the nation’s first book on the subject, Production Line Technique, published in 1944 by McGraw Hill. That volume would be the first of 15 books Muther has authored, including a 2006 memoir, Reaching: Love Affairs with Industry.

Since leaving MIT, Muther has followed his multiple-career plan. After teaching and managing, he met his third goal in 1956 by founding Richard Muther and Associates, an industrial-­management and engineering consultancy that has worked with dozens of companies in 22 countries. It is now headed by Lee Hales, SM ‘80, who has been with the company for 30 years. Muther, a recipient of the Gilbreth Medal awarded by the Society for Advancement of Management, now serves as chairman of the Institute for High Performance Planners. He lives in Kansas City, MO, with his wife, Louise. They have two children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me