Dick Wittink


POSTING TYPE: Obituaries Author: GK Kalyanaram Dick Wittink (1946-2005) This profile, a tribute and a record of contributions, was composed by Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (G.K.) for ISMS College on Marketing Science in October 2021. Dick Wittink was a celebrated scholar, institution-builder, and an impactful advisor/mentor. Dick got his bachelor’s degree from Nyenrode University, master’s in marketing […]

POSTING TYPE: Obituaries

Author: GK Kalyanaram

Dick Wittink (1946-2005)

This profile, a tribute and a record of contributions, was composed by Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (G.K.) for ISMS College on Marketing Science in October 2021.

Dick Wittink was a celebrated scholar, institution-builder, and an impactful advisor/mentor.

Dick got his bachelor’s degree from Nyenrode University, master’s in marketing (with emphasis on statistics) from Oregon University, and (a second) master’s and doctoral degree from Purdue University.

After his doctoral degree under Frank Bass in 1975, Dick joined Stanford University.  Over the next forty years – before his untimely death – Dick taught at Cornell and Yale Universities. He also did visiting stints at Northwestern and Columbia Universities and was an honorary faculty member at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. At the time of his death, Dick was George Rogers Clark Professor of Management and Marketing, School of Management at Yale University.

While everything appears so beautifully scripted, lot of it was serendipity.  Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (GK), a student, faculty colleague, and co-author with Frank Bass has this observation, “Dick Wittink was an incisive observer of life. And this made him a very successful social scientist. In his autobiographical essay published in July 2004, Dick acknowledged that “we have little control over many aspects of our lives.”  And he recognized that there is a huge “heterogeneity in opportunities available to us. (See, “An Accidental Venture into Academics,” Journal of Marketing (2004), Vol. 68, No. 3, pp. 124-230.”)  So, Dick organically recognized stochasticity and heterogeneity as universal principles of human condition. And these principles informed his examination of consumer behavior.”

Contributing to both scholarship and practice, Dick applied econometric models and tools to study varied marketing phenomena.  David (Dave) Montgomery, The Sebastian S. Kresge Professor of Marketing, Emeritus at Stanford University, recalls this, “We recruited Dick to Stanford straight out of his Purdue doctoral program in 1975, which is where this brief memorial begins.  Dick and I shared an interest in conjoint analysis and quickly began some joint research applying it to MBA job preferences.  Our early research indicated that this body of techniques promised ex ante predictive validity in the MBA job preference and choice arena.  This resulted in two papers.”  Dick developed SCAN*PRO model of store–level sales to study the impact of various elements of marketing mix on sales.  SCAN*PRO model served as a foundation for analyzing syndicated data such as those marketed by AC Nielsen. The model, robustly grounded in theory and econometrics, has had wide applications.  Dick was eclectic.  He has also made insightful contributions in health economics and health care in general.

Dick published extensively in impactful journals in marketing and econometrics including the Journal of Marketing Research, the Journal of Consumer Research, Marketing Science, the Journal of Marketing, and the Journal of Econometrics. At the time of his passing, Dick was serving as the editor of the Journal of Marketing Research. He was elected to the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences in 2001 and frequently appeared on the list of top Dutch economist. He is the author of the book “The Application of Regression Analysis” and co-edited several other books as well.

Pradeep Chintagunta, Joseph T. and Bernice S. Lewis Distinguished Service Professor of Marketing at University of Chicago and a former colleague of Dick in Cornell, calls Dick, “an outstanding scholar and researcher.”

As an institution builder, he contributed to the marketing community, and to his home institutions (Stanford, Cornell and Yale universities) in numerous ways.  His most salient and impactful of these contributions is his pivotal role in the birth and evolution of today’s Marketing Science Conference.  Here is the recorded history of Marketing Science Conference as presented by Dave Montgomery, one of the most distinguished scholars and institution-builders: “Dick received a suggestion from his thesis advisor, Frank Bass to run a quantitative marketing conference at Stanford University.  Dick discussed this idea with me and we were soon collaborating on developing the ultimately named Marketing Science Conference which took place March 26-28, 1979.  The Proceedings were edited by Dick and me and were published by the Marketing Science Institute in June 1980.  The demand for attending quickly outstripped the available classrooms at the Business School and we had to arrange to borrow classrooms in the Stanford Law School.  It was a good thing that we scheduled it for Spring break or the conference would have crashed on takeoff for lack of available session space.  This first Marketing Science Conference was officially sponsored by both TIMS and ORSA.  This was most likely due to Frank Bass being President of TIMS and John Little being the president of ORSA. The conference was a great success with over 120 attendees plus Stanford PhD students.  At the end attendees were asking, when and where will the next conference be?  Prof. Robert Leone agreed to hold the second conference at UT Austin.  The rest is history.  Dick published the detailed history of the first Marketing Science Conference in a special section in Marketing Science Vol.20, Number 4 Fall 2001.  This section includes essays about the beginnings of Marketing Science by Joel Steckel and Ed Brody, myself on the prehistory and early history of the TIMS Marketing College, Dick Wittink on the first Marketing Science Conference, Don Morrison on the founding of Marketing Science, Frank Bass and John D.C. Little on the history and progress of the TIMS Marketing College, and Lew Pringle on a practitioner’s perspective.  I recommend this section of the journal to all ISMS members.”

Dick Wittink himself addresses this in his autobiographical essay dated July 2004, “My Stanford period also included the Market Measurement and Analysis conference Dave Montgomery and I organized in 1979 based on a suggestion by Frank Bass. We proposed to have selected academics and practitioners interact about research. This conference is now considered the first Marketing Science conference.”

At Yale, Dick co-founded with Ravi Dhar the very successful Yale Center for Customer Insights.  He was also the intellectual force behind Yale’s highly ranked EMBA for Health Care, which he envisioned as a means to train doctors and healthcare executives to be more “patient-centered’ in all that they do.

Dick was a marvelous colleague, mentor, and teacher.  Lakshman Krishnamurthi, A. Montgomery Ward Professor of Marketing at Northwestern University, and Dick’s second doctoral student at Stanford, recollects this fondly: “I was Dick’s second Ph.D. student, after Imran Currim.  Dick had only been a faculty at Stanford since 1975 and within 5 years he was the advisor of two Ph.D. students which is remarkable.  But Dick had deep knowledge in statistics and econometrics even before he joined the Ph.D. program at Purdue, so he was more like an established faculty member. What I remember distinctly is his deep interest in my welfare.  He was always available to provide guidance and support.  Dick and I became good friends, and my wife and I got to know Marion and Marsha as well.  I cherish the year Dick spent at Kellogg as a visiting faculty.  Over the years, I would call Dick whenever I was unsure about something I was reading.  He was very perceptive, very precise and every conversation ended with me learning something new.”

Naufel Vilcassim, Head of Department, Professor of Marketing, London School of Economics and Political Science, another doctoral student, “Dick was an absolutely fair person. I remember very explicitly when I was working on producing a paper out of my thesis, I told Dick that he should be a co-author and his reply was: “Naufel, the dissertation work is supposed to be yours. I gave only comments. So, it should be paper by you and you alone.” Wow!  I cannot think of many supervisors who would have said that – not then, not now. That to me was Dick and that is how I will always remember him.”

Sachin Gupta, now Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management, and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Marketing Research, reflects thus: “Dick had a way of listening and asking questions which made me feel I had something interesting and valuable to contribute. I came away from every meeting more curious and energized, and eager to get back to learning and creating. Dick was passionate about his research. I remember in 1991 or thereabouts Dick was working on the “number of attribute-levels” effect in conjoint and he would occasionally tell me about the latest discoveries that he was pondering. While I did not then follow the intricacies of the subject, his excitement was both palpable and infectious. I could not help but wonder if such emotions lay in my future.  During my PhD and later, I learned that Dick’s forte was understanding and verbalizing why a research question was important in the real world and therefore worth studying. He had an uncanny ability to draw out the business implications of academic findings. Dick’s writing style was also different from many other scholars – it was more direct, pointed, and trenchant; he wrote like he spoke.”

Seethu Seetharaman, W. Patrick McGinnis Professor of Marketing at Washington University, St. Louis has this to say of Dick’s choice of problems and of his disposition: “Dick — aka “Professor Wittink” when I was his Ph.D. student, or “Boss” among fellow doctoral students at Cornell — was a warm and generous advisor. He taught us the value of not only applying rigorous econometric methods, but also asking questions that are directly connected to marketing decisions. To this day, I pick research problems with a decision or policy focus. From Dick, I learnt the importance of family and treating others with grace and respect. He would disagree without being disagreeable. The most vexing comment directed at him would only elicit an “interesting” in response!”

Imran Currim, now Distinguished Professor at University of California at Irvine, describes how Dick nurtured and developed inquiry and learning in his doctoral students through his gentle Socratic approach.  “I was Dick Wittink’s first doctoral student during 1977-79. Although Dick was an Assistant Professor at Stanford at the time, in retrospect, he guided me with amazing foresight and in a brilliant way that helped me develop into an independent scholar. Here are two recollections of his foresight and doctoral student development.  I clearly recall the day Dick asked me what I was interested in and how I was going to be different from others. I said I was interested in a quantitative analysis of how customers chose in real world settings, which was different from prior work on consumer perceptions (e.g., MDS) and preference tradeoffs (e.g., conjoint). Dick responded by asking me questions aimed at helping me clarify the differences in the three concepts, their associated theories and methodologies, differences I use even today in my teaching. Once I answered Dick’s questions, he gave me the go ahead which resulted not just in a dissertation but about sixty publications over five decades – in other words amazing foresight. I clearly recall going in to speak to him whenever I was stuck and needed advice to move forward. Dick never answered my questions. He responded with questions of his own designed to make me answer my own questions. I clearly recall leaving his office several times realizing what I had just experienced – a brilliant approach to developing a scholar.”

Not only his doctoral students, but the entire community benefitted immensely from Dick’s collegiality, generosity and wisdom.  Pradeep (a colleague at Cornell) recollects thus, “Dick would spend hours editing my papers. I usually worked till late at night in the office, I would then print out the paper I was working on and leave it in the mailbox. The next morning, by the time I got into the office, Dick had already meticulously read through my version and had made extensive comments to improve the paper. The marked-up paper would be waiting in my mailbox for me to iterate on.”

Sudhir, James L. Frank ’32 Professor of Private Enterprise and Management, Professor of Marketing at Yale University, and Editor-in-Chief of Marketing Science amplifies on Dick’s natural instinct of equity, fairness and generosity thus, “At Yale, as a faculty colleague, I learnt much from co-teaching with Dick, though he made sure to make me feel that I was an equal. Despite his heavy reading load as the Editor of JMR, he would offer to read my papers and give comments. But whenever I thanked him for it, he would say that he only read my papers because they were interesting! I wish my papers were as interesting as Dick said they were, but that was classic Dick generosity—to never make anyone feel they owe him!”

Echoing his students and colleagues, G.K. Kalyanaram recollects this with gratitude, “As a junior faculty member in early 1990s, I approached Dick with a working draft of a manuscript. Dick invested huge amount of cognition and time in the manuscript on heterogeneity, and it was published in a major journal.  For all his investment, Dick deserved to be the lead author and I suggested that to him many times.  But Dick insisted that I be the lead author. Dick’s generosity, grace and gentlemanliness was relentless.”

Dick’s fellow doctoral colleagues at Purdue remember him with immense fondness and admiration.  Mike Hanssens, who was two years junior to Dick in Bass’ doctoral program at Purdue and is now Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA remembers this, “Dick was a fellow European PhD student at Purdue when I joined that program. He was one of the “famous trio” of Frank Bass students who accepted faculty positions at some of the nation’s premier business schools, Stanford University in Dick’s case. Dick and I shared an academic interest in applied econometrics, and we enjoyed frequent interactions on related topics throughout our careers.” [“Famous trio” here refers to three of Bass’ 1975 doctoral students who joined academe in the same year: Abel Jeuland (University of Chicago), Dave Reibstein (HBS), and Dick Wittink (Stanford.) 1975 was a singular year in Bass’ doctoral program.  Joe Dodson, the fourth doctoral student and a classmate of the “famous trio” also completed his program in 1975 but after a year of work in industry he joined academe at Northwestern University in 1976.]

Dave Reibstein, a close friend of Dick, and now William Stewart Woodside Professor at University of Pennsylvania captures affectionately and poignantly the wonderful human being that Dick was: “Dick was my closest friend from the days we entered the doctoral program together until his passing. We spent every day together during the Purdue program.  I remember fondly babysitting for his daughter, Marsha, who would have me read bedtime stories to her that were written in Dutch so I would make up the words and she would always correct me.  She would talk to me in English and her parents in Dutch even at ages 3, 4, and 5.  Dick and I studied together every day and prepped for prelims.  I probably would not have made it through if it wasn’t for him.  We also ate lunch together every day and I would marvel at the number of sandwiches he could consume yet remain rail thin.  After graduation we remained quite close, went camping together, did conferences together, and did research together.  He was a tremendous scholar and while I continue to miss him even today, the marketing field does as well.”

In his essay in July 2004, Dick wrote, “I am not yet halfway through. It is my intention to continue to conduct research and to teach for a long time to come.” We wish that this was the case but, sadly, it was not.

In recognition of his contributions, Dick has been honored in many ways.  ISMS has established the “David B. Montgomery and Dick R. Wittink Recognition” award.  And the Quantitative Marketing and Economics journal has named the Best Paper in his honor.

Remembered fondly for “his wonderful sense of humor” (Mike Hanssens), “twinkling eyes behind his round, horn-rimmed glasses” (Sachin Gupta), “the Dutch accent, mischievous smile and soft chuckle” (Seethu Seetharaman), “dedication to physical fitness” (Mike Hanssens), “authenticity” (G.K. Kalyanaram) and “tremendous scholarship” (Dave Reibstein), and beloved by his students, colleagues and friends, Dick made all our lives better.  We thank him for that.




Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (GK)
Dated: October 2021