April 8, 2016

Former Cornell Johnson School of Management Professor Dies At 78 After Illness

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Former Johnson Graduate School of Management Prof. David Ahlers, entrepreneurial management, died in his hometown of Ithaca last Monday after a long illness. He was 78 years old.

After working on Wall Street, Ahlers arrived at Cornell in 1972, where he taught for 13 years and earned his Ph.D. During that time, he directed the Johnson Executive Development Program and participated in the Cornell Research Fund, according to The Ithaca Journal.

Ahlers then co-founded the Cayuga Venture Fund in 1996 — a venture capital fund that invested in upstate New York startups, according to The Journal.

Current Johnson senior lecturer Zach Shulman ’87 J.D. ’90 joined Ahlers in 2004. He described Ahlers as “a truly sweet guy.”

“Dave was instrumental in the formation of Cayuga Venture Fund,” Shulman said. “He was thorough, analytical and levelheaded.”

Johnson Prof. Joseph Thomas, operations management, called Ahlers “nice, interesting and highly intelligent.”

“He was a professor who was committed to his students,” Thomas said. “He brought a strong academic and real-world background to bear on his teaching.”
Thomas added that Ahlers had wide-ranging interests both within business and beyond.

“I remember working with him to utilize something called ‘dynamic programming’ to analyze the best way to win a sailing race,” Thomas said.

Ahlers received multiple teaching awards, including a Cornell Excellence in Teaching award during his second year as visiting professor and the Berens Chair of Entrepreneurial Management, according to The Journal.

“His greatest contribution to Cornell was the benefit his students received from him, in and out of class,” Thomas said.

Ahlers received his B.S. in physics from Ohio State University, his M.A. in operations research from the University of Washington and his Ph.D. in management and computer science from Carnegie Mellon. His thesis won a highly selective award given by Management Science Magazine and was followed by a book published in 1979, according to a University press release.

A celebration in his honor will be held at Ithaca Yacht Club. The date has not yet been announced, according to The Journal.