Passings: York’s Schulich School of Business loses one of its brightest stars

The following is a message from Dezsö J. Horváth, dean of York’s Schulich School of Business, on the passing of Professor Brenda Zimmerman.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Schulich School of Business lost one of its brightest stars. It is with great sadness that I share with you the news of the passing of Professor Brenda Zimmerman, director of the Health Industry Management Program, who died suddenly in a tragic car accident. Brenda was the beloved wife of Alan Ellis and the late Bryan Hayday, a former Schulich instructor, and she was the proud mother of daughters Stephanie Zimmerman and Gillian Kennedy, a Schulich MBA graduate who, like her mother, also pursued a career in the health industry.

Brenda Zimmerman
Brenda Zimmerman

Brenda completed both her MBA and PhD degrees at the Schulich School of Business. It was obvious early on that she was a brilliant and innovative thinker. She wrote her PhD thesis on the subject of “Chaos, Strategy and Equilibrium”, and used her knowledge of complexity science throughout her academic career to explore changes in health care systems, hospitals, public policy and social innovation. She co-authored a number of books, including Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed and Complicated and Complex Systems: What Would Successful Reform Medicare Look Like?

Brenda had always expressed an interest in combining her accounting background and business expertise in strategy with her passion for medicine. When our school developed a new Health Industry Management MBA specialization, we were very fortunate to have Brenda take on the role of program director – a position she held with great distinction for more than a decade. Brenda built the program from scratch, developing the curriculum as well as executive education programming, forming an advisory board comprised of some of the leading business people in the industry, and establishing an alumni chapter. She did all this with the infectious enthusiasm, positive attitude and out-of-the-box thinking that made Brenda the person she was.

Less than a month ago, the Schulich community celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Health Industry Management Program at a special gala dinner organized by Brenda. In typical fashion, Brenda wanted to shine a spotlight on the accomplishments of her former students and other leaders in the health industry. She leveraged her connections within the health industry to bring CEOs and other prominent leaders into the classroom, and was instrumental in helping to recently establish the J. Mark Lievonen Scholarship, to be presented annually to a second-year MBA student enrolled in the Health Industry Management Program.

She received many awards and accolades over the course of her career, including the Teaching Excellence Award in 2009 for Teacher of the Year in Schulich’s MBA program. Her tireless work within the health industry, including serving as Program Director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre’s Physician Leadership Development Program for the Ontario Medical Association-Canadian Medical Association, as well as serving on the Advisory Committee to the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada and as a member of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, led to real changes and improvements in the industry, one of the many legacies of her outstanding career.

Our thoughts are with Alan, Gillian (Jill), Stephanie and their family at this difficult time, as we remember one of our School’s most inspirational and well-loved faculty members. To the Schulich Community, Brenda was an excellent researcher, teacher, mentor, colleague and friend. She will be dearly missed by all.