Bill Lewellen

Bill Lewellen is a four-time winner of Krannert’s Salgo-Noren award for outstanding graduate teaching and will be honored at this year’s Leadership Speakers Series event with the school’s Distinguished Service Award. (Archive photo)

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Bill Lewellen reflects on a half-century at Krannert

The year was 1964. Lyndon B. Johnson was president. The Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Gasoline was about 30 cents a gallon.

And Bill Lewellen became a faculty member at Purdue.

Lewellen, Distinguished Professor of Management, is still amazed that he’s stayed in West Lafayette for nearly a half-century.

“It was a major culture shock moving to the middle of farm country,” says Lewellen, a suburban Pittsburgh native. “I anticipated I wouldn’t be here all that long because I still felt an attraction to the East Coast, but every time I had an offer to go somewhere else, Purdue made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

When he arrived at Purdue nearly 50 years ago, the campus was considerably smaller, both in size and number of students.

“The trees were shorter, there was less traffic, there was no movie theater on the west side and Harry’s was the only bar near campus,” he says.

But Lewellen grew to love Purdue, and that love resulted in a stellar career. He became one of the most prolific and respected researchers in corporate and international finance in the country, publishing more than 90 papers in academic journals and authoring four books.

From 1985 to 2006, he was director of Krannert Executive Education Programs (KEEP). In addition, he has taught or advised thousands of students in the last five decades and has gained the reputation as a tough but fair teacher.

To the moon … and back again

In the Cold War era of the 1950s, the United States was in a race for space with the Soviet Union, and heavy focus was put on training the best and brightest to become astronauts or engineers in support of this mission. Always good in math and science, Lewellen decided to major in aeronautical engineering at Penn State.

“At that time, if you were good in those subjects, you became an engineer,” he says.

But he soon decided that wasn’t the career for him.

“The truth is, I decided I wasn’t going to be a very good engineer,” he says. “It wasn’t nearly as much fun or as much in the spirit of what I like to do as I thought it would be.”

Lewellen had taken a few elective courses at Penn State in the business school, and it was there he found his niche.

“Finance has some of the scientific aspects of engineering,” he says. “It’s heavily reliant on math. It was not all that difficult a transition to move into finance.”

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