A Look Back
Alumni guest column
It does not feel like nearly four decades have passed since I arrived as a 23-year-old Frenchman in West Lafayette in the summer of 1972, the first impressions being still so vivid in my mind. This was my first trip to the United States. After the long flight, my first flight, from Paris to Chicago in a jumbo jet, I switched to a small propeller 12-seater for the bumpy leg to the Purdue airport. I thought it was an improvement on the experience in the big jet; it really felt like flying from Chicago to the banks of the Wabash River.
When we landed I had not yet adjusted to the August heat, so unlike the summer weather of my native Brittany. But it felt really good: I had always been jealous of French southerners who could enjoy many sunny days instead of the rainy ones dominant in my rural Celtic province.
I was immediately dazzled by the simple elegance of the Krannert building. The first-floor Drawing Room with royal blue carpet and the grand piano was stunning, even for someone who had studied at the Ecole Centrale de Paris, one of the French “Grandes Ecoles” with illustrious alumni like Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the famous Paris landmark. It reminded me of the beautiful alumni building of Ecole Centrale downtown Paris where I would go on Saturdays to take dance lessons.
I will always cherish the experiences of my three years at Purdue. They were my first introduction to America. There was so much to learn and experience. I will be forever grateful to the late Jay Wiley and John Day, then dean of the School of Management, for giving me the opportunity. The combination of a grant from the French government and Krannert allowed me to finance a life-changing educational experience. My father, a civil servant in the French agricultural department with a modest salary, could not have supported my U.S. studies.
My studies in the PhD program at Krannert were wonderful. The marketing program at Purdue was then the best in the nation. Frank Bass had published in 1969 what would become one of the most influential papers in marketing, on diffusion of innovation, an area even more relevant today because of the advent of social networks. In addition to the focused, quantitative approach of Frank Bass, we would be exposed to the broader, almost encyclopedic, approach of Mike Pessemier. And many others complemented our education to the broad field of marketing.
The central room for us at Krannert was the small one where the Krannert Working Paper Series were stocked. You needed a key to enter that very special room, the “Saint of the Saints” of knowledge. There was an extraordinary diversity of research approaches in these yellow-cover manuscripts. This prepared me exceptionally well for the University of Chicago, a great intellectual place that I joined in 1975 and never left. I also learned a lot from the students in the marketing program. Frank placed his three graduating students in 1975 at Harvard, Stanford and Chicago.