He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Thanks to some connections — a major professor he had at MIT who had collaborated with researchers at Purdue — he landed in West Lafayette, probably not a place he would have chosen on his own.
“I had eight or 10 offers at the time, but this looked to be the most logical academic place,” he says.
Although he was the only finance professor at Purdue at the time, other major players were soon to follow, such as Robert Johnson in 1965, John McConnell in 1976, Charlene Sullivan in 1978, and Keith Smith, who was dean from 1979 to 1983.
Bill Lewellen began his teaching career at Krannert in 1964 and helped lead the development of Krannert Executive Education Programs (KEEP), serving as director for 21 years. (Archive photo)
Since Purdue was a relatively small university with a budding finance department, Lewellen had a good deal of flexibility with his research.
And it’s just that kind of freedom that attracted Lewellen to academia in the first place. Although someone with his background could pursue a career on Wall Street or in the private sector (he has taken a variety of consulting jobs over the years), he says the ability to work for himself and have a flexible schedule outweighs the monetary benefits of the corporate world.
“The research you do is something you decide to do. Somebody doesn’t tell you what to get interested in,” Lewellen says. “The freedom and flexibility of academic life was clearly the most important factor.”
And Lewellen’s research is well-known. In 2005, a study published in the Journal of Finance Literature found that Lewellen and McConnell were two of the most prolific researchers in the world of finance.
McConnell calls Lewellen a “pioneer and prime mover in two important areas of finance scholarship: executive compensation and how individual investors make portfolio decisions.”
“His doctoral dissertation, completed at MIT, was an extensive study of executive compensation. It was the first of its kind,” McConnell says. “This research foreshadowed the headlines over the past 20 years regarding CEO compensation and investigations.”
‘I was always serious about teaching’
Looking back, Lewellen considers the biggest accomplishment of his career the development of KEEP, which trained hundreds of students, both here and abroad, during the 21 years he was its director.
He’s also proud of his research and teaching. Lewellen says that for him, the two were never at odds. Instead, he feels they are complementary.
“I never felt there was a conflict or a tug of war between the two,” he says. “In fact, a number of the articles I have written resulted from discussions in the classroom that got me to thinking about an issue.”