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 All in the Family
Diane Denis

After getting her MBA, Diane worked for a Fortune 500 company for three years, but she missed the learning atmosphere. "I'm an academic at heart. I wanted to be back in that setting," she says.

A Krannert couple shares a behind-the-scenes look at their jobs, family, and personal lives

By Melanie A. Hahn

Husbands and wives who work at the same place encounter a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. David and Diane Denis manage to juggle work and family life with remarkable success. Their well-rounded interests, support of each other, and strong work ethic help them bring a personal touch to their roles as faculty members in a finance department ranked by the Financial Times as seventh in the world among MBA programs.

Two of a kind, but not so similar

The Denises have several things in common: They're both originally from Michigan; they both have their PhDs in business administration (with a finance concentration) from the University of Michigan; and they're both finance professors at Krannert with strong backgrounds in corporate finance. Their personalities, however, are noticeably different. Someone meeting them for the first time will immediately notice that Dave is rather quiet and introspective, while Diane is ... well, not.

The combination works. "Dave's sense of humor, along with his basic personality and nature, is a great complement to mine," Diane says. "I have a wide emotional range, but Dave's more solid. He calms me down, and I liven him up."

"She's a fun person," Dave says. "I like the fact that she has a bigger emotional range." When Diane jokes that he might be a fuddy-duddy if married to someone with a quieter personality, Dave merely grins and replies, "Who knows? I might be the fun one then."

Diane says she doesn't think Dave's introverted personality means he isn't fun - just quieter. "Because of that, it's even funnier when he zings one in there," she remarks. "You're just not expecting it, and it cracks you up."

Learning to speak British 

Diane, who received her BS in management from Oakland University in 1980, went on to get her MBA from the Cranfield Institute of Technology in England in 1981 before going to the University of Michigan for her PhD, which she obtained in 1990.

A native of Alpena, Michigan, Diane hadn't traveled much and was excited when she received a Rotary fellowship, an educational award for international understanding, that allowed her to study abroad. "I chose England because I had to be able to speak the native language," she says. The opportunity was especially important since she wanted an internationally focused business perspective.

Even though she could understand the language, Diane says the culture shock was "more than I expected." However, some things turned out better than she anticipated. Warned that England would be "all tea, no coffee," she took a suitcase full of coffee and, of all things, toilet paper. "I was told it was really hard to find decent toilet paper in Britain," she explains, and adds with mock seriousness, "It turned out that both things were readily available."

Her extroverted personality often amused the reserved British. "They viewed me as kind of a character, but not for any reason people here would have looked at me that way," she says. The fact that she was a woman also made a difference. "They were around 20 years behind on the woman-MBA thing; they had 134 people in their MBA program at the time, but only 17 were women." 

In addition, Diane was somewhat of a "rookie" in the class. "The requirements for the program were that you had to be at least 25 years old and have at least three years of work experience," she says. "I was only 21 and had come in right after getting my undergraduate degree. They let me in anyway because they knew the diversity of my background would benefit the program. But they kind of thought of me as a baby sister."

Toward the end of her studies at Cranfield, Diane and the other students had to practice in mock job interviews. Diane says the experience really showed her how her mindset differed from that of her fellow students. "When the others were critiquing me, they said I did all right except that I was 'hopelessly optimistic,'" she says. "They told me it wasn't believable." At Diane's protests, they relented. "We finally agreed that since I would be job hunting in America, where everyone is hopelessly optimistic, I could stay that way," she says. 

If she had indeed started out as hopelessly naive as her British friends judged her to be, Diane says, living overseas for a year taught her a lot. "It wasn't a better education than I could have gotten in the U.S.," she says, "but I became very independent and self-sufficient. And I met some great people. I still have a lot of friends from the program that I've kept in contact with for 20 years."

David Denis

Dave Denis says he turned down a couple of job offers after getting his MBA, deciding to stay in school because he knew he would eventually get a PhD. "I thought if I took a job, I'd never come back," he says.

It's all in good sport

Dave, who is from Detroit, stayed in the United States for his education, receiving his BS in finance from Syracuse University in 1982, his MBA from the University of Michigan in 1984, and his PhD in business administration from the University of Michigan in 1988. An avid sports fan, he decided to play basketball in high school.

"I thought I should do whatever I could to get in shape to play," he explained, "so I started running cross country and track." However, his basketball career ended fairly soon. "As a freshman in high school, I was only 5'4" and weighed 100 lbs," Dave says wryly. "I quickly came to the conclusion that maybe I should stay with running and give up on basketball." Ironically, his sophomore year, he shot up to 5'10", and is now 5'11".

Though he decided to stick with running despite his sudden new height, he still likes to watch basketball and looked forward to passing his enthusiasm on to his son Matt at an early age - perhaps too early.

"Matt was born between two important Big 10 games when we were in Michigan," Dave says. "I think it was between the IU game and the Purdue game." The games were on Saturdays, and Matt conveniently came into the world on a Thursday. Elated at Matt's consideration, Dave couldn't figure out why Diane refused to let him take Matt to the following Saturday's game.

"I think I was the only one who thought that was a good idea," Dave says. "It was shot down quickly."

As an introvert, Dave says he enjoys being with people but often finds himself a spectator to conversations rather than a participant. In fact, he found teaching difficult at first because he had to stand up in front of people and talk.

"I was quite nervous for a long time," he said. "I still get a little nervous. But I think most people are a little nervous no matter how long they've been teaching. I guess if you didn't have that reaction, it would probably mean you just don't care anymore." He smiles. "But it is sort of odd to accept the fact that people are actually waiting to hear what you have to say."

Dave says he enjoys teaching much more now than he did at first. "For one thing, I'm sure I have a better handle on doing it now," he says. "Also, I get to interact with some pretty bright students. I teach primarily master's students with previous work experience, and they have a lot to bring to the classroom."

He's learned that teaching isn't just standing in front of a class lecturing. "The trick is to somehow get the students to teach themselves," he explains. "You can't stand up there and say, 'I'm the expert, let me impart my knowledge to you.' The student may as well go read a textbook. If someone just tells you something, you remember for a while and then forget. But if you have to experience it yourself to complete a project, you internalize it. Then you don't forget."

Dave enjoys the time by himself that golfing, bicycling, and his other personal sports interests give him, but says he appreciates Diane's extroverted personality because she's the one who arranges social events. "I like to participate," he says. "I just wouldn't think to initiate it."

The many facets of teamwork

Dave and Diane met during the doctoral program at the University of Michigan, where they had classes together and were both on the PhD softball team. After a game one night, the team went to a bar to celebrate and then went to a doughnut place. Dave and Diane stayed after everyone else left. "The next thing we knew it was 6:30 a.m. and we'd stayed out all night talking," Diane says. The following night, they had their first real date, for which Diane made dinner. They were married two and a half years later.

A team not only in marriage, the two served on the finance faculty at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University prior to coming to Purdue, and they have published several research papers together. When asked why they chose finance as their area of expertise, Diane replies, "Finance is basically applied economics. You use economic analysis to predict the future and plan accordingly."

When they came to Purdue in 1995, they found that the Krannert faculty's philosophies matched their own. "Within Krannert, there are a fair number of consistent priorities," Diane says. "There's a strong emphasis on research and teaching, and the Krannert faculty take both fields seriously."

Dave adds that the long-run reputation of the school depends on original research, and the school's research in finance and other areas benefits the fields themselves. "But Krannert needs good teaching, and the programs are very competitive," he says. "We have to take that seriously and do the best job we can, or we won't attract the best students. Both things have been Krannert's philosophy for years, and that's why the school has maintained its quality."

To Diane, pairing research and teaching priorities simply makes good sense. "There's no use in trying to create knowledge when you're not able to communicate it to anyone," she says.

Working in the same department leads to a few disadvantages. Because they often share the same opinion about work-related subjects, there's a risk that people won't treat them as two separate individuals. "We agree on a lot of things, but it's not necessarily correct to assume that we will," Dave says. Both have impressive backgrounds. Diane's teaching interests focus on corporate and international finance, and her research areas include corporate ownership and control, downsizing, and management turnover. Dave teaches corporate finance, and his research areas include corporate ownership and control and corporate diversification strategies.

Both are members of the American Finance Association, the Western Finance Association, and the Financial Management Association, and both serve as associate editors of the Journal of Financial Research; Diane also serves as an associate editor of the Review of Financial Economics, and Dave is an associate editor of the Financial Review and the Journal of Finance, and co-editor of the Journal of Corporate Finance. Dave won a Best Paper Award from the Financial Management Association in 1990, and he and Diane won the same award jointly in1992. Last winter, Dave was appointed a University Faculty Scholar, an honor given to Purdue faculty who have held the rank of associate or full professor for no longer than five years and who show exceptional promise as outstanding scholars.

Both also make a commitment to serve Krannert in addition to teaching and research. Last year, Dave chaired a committee of students, faculty, staff, and alumni that helped formulate Krannert's new strategic plan, and Diane is currently serving her fifth year on the building committee, which is overseeing the construction of Rawls Hall, set to open in the fall of 2003.

Dave was surprised to be asked to chair the strategic planning committee. "I wasn't very familiar with strategic planning," he explains. However, Dean Rick Cosier wanted someone with a fresh outlook, and Dave was relatively new to Krannert, having only been there for four years. Dave relied on the dean's expertise in strategic planning to get tips on procedure but brought his own analytical expertise to the task.

The Denises say that working together, whether on joint research projects or other tasks, is easy for them, and can sometimes be an advantage.

"It certainly hasn't hurt our relationship," Dave says. "It's nice because you know where the other person is coming from."

Diane adds, "Yes, both being academics, we don't have to explain our work stress to each other. We know what's happening with each other." However, she says, "being parents has strengthened our relationship more than anything else. We've gotten to do a lot of cool things, but nothing as cool as being parents."

(From left) The Denises, Dave, Diane, Matt, and Ellen, and Reuben, their Bernese mountain dog, at their home in Lafayette.

 
Family comes first

In addition to Matt, who is now 13, the Denises have a daughter, Ellen, who is 11. Their family is a strong one.

"We've quite willingly knocked ourselves out for 13 years to put family first," Diane says. "We try to make sure at least one of us is at our kids' games, performances, or other events." There's a long list of these: cross country, basketball, and baseball for Matt ("He's a traditional sports guy," remarks Diane), and horseback riding and violin performances for Ellen, who, according to Diane, "likes to stay as far away as possible" from the sports activities Matt likes. On any given summer evening, you'll likely find Dave coaching Matt's baseball team, while Diane and Ellen will be off riding their two horses, Victor and Bretteur, who are Percheron/Thoroughbred crosses. Diane says horseback riding is great stress relief. "Everything looks good from the back of a horse," she says.

In winter, Matt and Dave have season tickets to Purdue basketball games. Family outings often center around movies. And on those rare occasions when they find themselves all home together, they've been known to play a game of Scrabble.

Most important, the family likes to just hang out and talk. Often, they only have time for impromptu stand-up meetings just to find out what everyone's up to before they rush off to their various games, horse shows, and responsibilities. Though quick, the conversations help reinforce the family bond.

"We're lucky; our kids still think we're cool," Diane says. "Of course, that could change," she jokes. "Talk to us again in a couple of years."

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