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You could say John Holcomb has been here since before the beginning—the beginning of the Department of Business Ethics & Legal Studies (BELS), which he recently chaired. He arrived at the University of Denver a good 10 years before the department formed.

John Holcomb

It was 1988 when Holcomb saw an article in BusinessWeek magazine about a grant to promote business ethics education and social responsibility at DU’s college of business—before it was the Daniels College of Business. 

“The article was just a one-pager as I recall, but the focus really caught my attention,” Holcomb said. “I was very happy teaching at Rutgers [University] at the time, but I left after just one year to join Daniels after I got the offer.”

That was September 1989—the beginning of what would become a 32-year stellar academic career. 

Holcomb, who’ll retire Dec. 31, 2021, said his favorite part of the job—and what he’ll miss most—is “the combination of teaching and research, with the freedom to create and design new courses, and working with a stellar group of colleagues.”

He recalled fondly “the early days” of working with then-Dean Bruce Hutton in designing and implementing the business ethics awards program, and integrating more public policy and global dimensions into the law and ethics curriculum.

The two accomplishments during Holcomb’s time at DU that make him most proud: Helping to hire “extremely gifted” teachers and scholars for BELS. “We hire well,” he said. “And working with former adjunct professor Ronald Zall and other experts to create the corporate governance course, working with the National Association of Corporate Directors, and creating a new stream of research and publications in the area with some good colleagues.”

Holcomb’s colleagues describe him as “passionate” and “dedicated.”

Paula A. Holt, an associate teaching professor for BELS, said Holcomb interviewed her in 2010 for a teaching position. “That two-hour conversation about academia jump-started my teaching career,” she said. “I think of John as one of the most passionate academics I have ever known. He will be significantly missed by our students and our department.”

Holt added that she sees Holcomb as a strong advocate for academics who has a soft heart. “He would sit on the floor with my dogs when they visited school,” she said.

Libbi Levine Segev, associate teaching professor for BELS, said it is Holcomb’s dedication that has impressed her most. “John has been a dedicated professor, chair, colleague, mentor and advocate,” she said. “He’s been an active, engaged, passionate and loyal member of BELS, Daniels and DU.”  

Levine Segev added that when she first started at Daniels, Holcomb regularly checked in with her to ensure she had a good mentor. “No matter how busy he is, John has always made me feel that his door is open and that he’s available for questions, discussion or just a friendly hello.

“He welcomed and encouraged me to sit in on his classes, to dive into other areas of my research interest, to create new classes that are exciting to me, and to grow from an assistant level to associate-level professor.”

Holcomb, who only missed one day of class during his tenure, due to a herniated disk, said during his retirement he’ll continue his research and writing about corporate governance, business and public policy. “I also look forward to reconnecting with friends throughout the country along with more international travel.”

And his best parting advice for current and future students? “Focus, work hard, keep your options open, exercise the best judgment possible in making your crucial life decisions, be independent in your thinking, and avoid succumbing to groupthink.”

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