Frank Bass

FRANK M. BASS (1926-2006)

Frank M. Bass was a leading marketing scientist and researcher, a remarkable teacher, a mentor to over 60 doctoral students, editor, an institution-builder, and a scholar-gentleman.  Bass served as editor of Journal of Marketing Research, co-founded Marketing Science, and led The Institute for Management Sciences (TIMS) as its president.  He earned his bachelor’s degree from Southwestern University, his M.B.A from The University of Texas at Austin, and Ph.D. from University of Illinois.  Bass taught in many universities around the world, but Purdue and The University of Texas at Dallas were his homes. At The University of Texas, Bass was honored with their highest recognition as the UT System’s Regent Professor. 

Frank Bass’ contributions to scholarship and the practice of business and marketing, particularly quantitative applications to marketing phenomena (exemplified best perhaps by Marketing Science), are broad and deep and universally celebrated.

Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (GK), a student and colleague of, and co-author with Frank Bass, a student of and co-author with John Litte, and a composer of this profile recollects this: “When in 1988 MIT’s President Chuck Vest requested Nobelist Bob Solow to compose a report to assess conferment of Institute Professorship to John Little, the first person that Solow reached out to was Frank Bass for his recommendations and thoughts.”

Frank Bass’ contribution to scholarship is elegantly summarized by Seenu Srinivasan, ISMS Fellow and Adams Distinguished Professor of Management (Emeritus), Stanford University. "Frank Bass made tremendous research contributions to the marketing area, directly by his own research, and indirectly through the many outstanding doctoral students he graduated.  He is most well-known for the Bass model of diffusion of new durable products, the ‘zero order’ model of consumer behavior for consumer-packaged goods, and through his doctoral students, econometric approaches to analyzing marketing data."

Ehrenberg-Bass Institute summarizes Bass’ contribution thus: “Bass pioneered the establishment of marketing as a science in which well-tested mathematical models could be used to predict the behaviour of future markets.  His most renowned contribution to the field was the development of the Bass diffusion model, a mathematical model that describes the adoption of new products.”  The Institute provides a link to the prolific research output of Bass.

G.K. Kalyanaram has this observation, "There are many seminal research contributions by Bass.  But these two early works of Bass are probably as foundational as they come in a field of scholarship: A New Product Growth Model for Consumer Durables (Management Science, 1969) and The Theory of Stochastic Preference and Brand Switching (Journal of Marketing Research, 1974.)  While Bass is known for diffusion models and econometric and market response models, his contributions to stochastic models are also very substantial. Bass argued that all choice decisions and outcomes are probabilistic.  This portfolio of research includes Equilibrium stochastic choice and market penetration theories: derivations and comparisons (with Abel Jeuland, Management Science 1976), A multiband stochastic model compounding heterogeneous Erlang timing and multinomial choice processes (with Abel Jeuland and Gordon Wright, Operations Research 1980), and An investigation into the order of the brand choice process (with Manu Kalwani and Moshe Givon, Marketing Science 1984.)

Frank Bass also saw great value in Empirical Generalizations in the tradition of Andrew Ehrenberg.  Frank Bass and Jerry Wind organized a conference on Empirical Generalizations in Marketing in Wharton in 1995. They also published a Special Issue of Marketing Science (Volume 14, No.3) on Empirical Generalizations. In the introduction to the Special Issue, Bass and Wind wrote, “Science is a process in which data and theory interact leading to generalized explanations of disparate types of phenomena. Thus phenomena (empirical generalizations) are the building blocks of science.” Bass and Wind went on to write that identification of such generalizations was not only important for scholarship but also for practice".

Shelby Hunt, now Jerry S. Rawls and P. W. Horn Professor at the Texas Tech University, and an AMA Fellow, in his book on Foundations of Marketing Theory (2002) points out that in his 1974 and subsequent work has “argued that the presence of a stochastic element in consumer behavior makes it impossible to construct deterministic marketing theory.” 

G.K. Kalyanaram notes, "Of all contributions to the field, Bass’ impact in mentoring doctoral students has perhaps been most powerful. In one year, 1975, three of Bass’s doctoral students joined academe: Abel Jeuland (University of Chicago), Dave Reibstein (HBS), and Dick Wittink (Stanford.)  Those three have themselves had a profound effect on scholarship in the field.  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 in 1976 at Northwestern University."

How good was the doctoral program and mentoring by Frank Bass? Listen to what Dick Wittink who was George Rogers Clark Professor of Management and Marketing, School of Management at Yale University in 2004 wrote in his autobiographical essay in July 2004, “I was especially intrigued by the doctoral programs at Northwestern and Purdue. I chose Purdue because it seemed to fit better with my interests. Purdue’s Krannert School, due to Frank Bass and Mike Pessemier, had achieved a strong reputation. In the fall of 1974, my cohort received one or more offers from a variety of schools, including Berkeley, Carnegie, Chicago, Harvard, MIT, Northwestern, Stanford, and Wharton. I accepted the offer from Stanford.” (See, “An Accidental Venture into Academics,” Journal of Marketing (2004), Vol. 68, No. 3, pp. 124-230.”)

Bass’ first three doctoral students were Ronald Lonsdale (1965), Len Parsons (1966), and Don Lehmann (1970).  Don Lehmann, who is now the George E. Warren Professor of Business at Columbia University, recalls fondly his doctoral student days: “Dr. Bass (none of his students called him Frank) was an inspiration who came to the office on weekends and conducted a seminar in his house for doctoral students on Monday night that often ran to midnight or later which became known as Bass's Basement, the name of his website.”

Dave Reibstein, William Stewart Woodside Professor at University of Pennsylvania, and 1975 doctoral student of Bass, expands on Don’s fond and grateful recollection of Bass’s love for and devotion to doctoral students.  He said they were welcome at office and home, on weekdays and weekends, and early mornings and late nights.  Dave recalls one incident in particular: “I will never forget one time when together we had been working on a stochastic choice model.  At the end of the day we had come to a roadblock and decided we needed to give it a rest to continue to ponder the problem.  At 7 a.m. the next day (on a Saturday morning) he called me and asked me to come to his home.  Apparently, during the night he couldn’t sleep and wanted to talk through some more of the problem.  I immediately drove to his house to find him still in his pajamas as he didn’t even waste the time to get dressed.  This was very unusual as he was always in a brown suit and tie even when he taught at night in his basement classroom.  We continued to work almost all-day making headway on the problem.  This was just a small example of his dedication to his students and to research.  Dr. Bass created within all of his doctoral students a devotion both to working with our students and to our research.”

Mike Hanssens, Bass' 1977 doctoral student and now Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA, recollects Bass’ mentorship with gratitude: “I asked Bass if I could work with him on a doctoral dissertation. His answer was: “Well, do you have any ideas?”, to which I responded “No, but give me two weeks.” I spent the next two weeks in isolation at the library, and crafted a dissertation proposal on using time-series analysis in marketing model building. I mailed the manuscript to Bass at the University of Chicago, where he was on a sabbatical leave. He promptly replied in the positive and things took off from there.  Bass’s initial reaction to my request had a profound and enduring effect on my academic career. It taught me the value of individual research initiative and creativity, and that emphasis is something I have carried forward in my own work with doctoral students. I will always be grateful for Frank Bass’ mentorship.”

Thomas Hustad, doctoral student of Mike Pessimier and Frank Bass at Purdue, now Professor Emeritus of Marketing at Indiana University, and founder of Journal of Product Innovation Management recollects, “Frank inspired me to connect methods to problems to meaningfully extend knowledge.  He was able to challenge us and to ‘protect’ us at the same time in appropriate balance. By “protect” I mean that he would help channel our directions in ways that created reachable objectives for our work that avoided overreaching in ways that might not have led to publication.”

1986 doctoral student Dipak Jain had this to say, “I feel blessed to have had Professor Bass as my guide and mentor.  He may not be physically present today, but his intellectual presence is always there with me. It has been a great source of inspiration over the years.”  Jain’s initial appointment was to the Kellogg School of Management, which he later led as its Dean. 

As testified by so many of his students, Frank Bass’ commitment to doctoral students was impeccable.  Dipak shared a letter from Bass dated December 1986 “I have enclosed some more notes.  You will note that I have used only two well-known theorems….I am excited about this project and I look forward to hearing from you,” and with this letter Bass sent a five-pages of hand-written notes which were “mathematical formulations explaining his modeling framework,” as Dipak Jain writes.

Here is Ram Rao, Founders Professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, and a colleague of Bass at Purdue and then at UT Dallas for over 25 years, reflecting on the delight of working collaboratively with Bass on guiding many doctoral students, “My collaboration with Frank spanned a couple of papers, several doctoral students, a couple of Dean search committees, and my helping him as his assistant when he served as Interim Dean at UTD. Easy to guess, the most fun and fulfilling part was developing doctoral students. Often, when we were both wrestling with a student’s work, a paper by a visitor or a faculty candidate before their arrival, the first thing we did when we came to school was to show up at the other’s office to give an update on our latest thoughts. That is the sort of stimulation I missed most when he left.”

While Bass’ biggest reward was his doctoral students, Bass has also been recognized with many awards by the community, including the William Odell Award, the Paul D. Converse Award, the Gilbert A. Churchill, Jr. Award and the Charles Coolidge Parlin Award.  For his deep and sustained contributions, INFORMS Society for Marketing has created the annual “Frank Bass Dissertation Paper Award” for the best paper published from a Ph.D. dissertation in an INFORMS journal.   University of Groningen has established “Frank M. Bass Chair,” and University of South Australia has created Ehrenberg-Bass Institute. Bass was a Fellow of ISMS and the American Marketing Association.

Frank Bass’ contributions to institution-building and business education are equally legendary.

Frank Bass served as the President of The Institute of Management Science (TIMS) and as editor of the Journal of Marketing Research (JMR).  He was one of the founders of the Marketing Science conference and journal.

Here is the recorded history on the birth and evolution of Marketing Science conference, and Bass’ monumental imprint as presented by David (Dave) Montgomery, The Sebastian S. Kresge Professor of Marketing, Emeritus at Stanford University: “Dick Wittink received a suggestion from his thesis advisor, Frank Bass, to run a quantitative marketing conference at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.”  Dick discussed this idea with Dave and they were soon collaborating on co-chairing and developing the conference ultimately named the Marketing Science Conference which took place March 26-28, 1979 at Stanford.  The Proceedings were edited by Dave and Dick and were published by the Marketing Science Institute in June 1980.  The demand for attending quickly outstripped available classrooms at the Business School and the co-chairs had to arrange to borrow classrooms in the Stanford Law School.  It was a good thing that it was scheduled for Spring break or the conference would have crashed on takeoff for lack of session space.  Eventually it was realized that a June or July schedule would be more convenient for both the host university and the many prospective attendees. The conference was a huge success.  At the close of the conference attendees were asking when and where the next conference would be. Professor Robert Leone (yet another Bass PhD student) agreed to hold the second conference at UT Austin.  The rest is history well into the 21st Century. Dick Wittink published a detailed history of the first Marketing Science Conference in a special section of Marketing Science Vol. 20, No. 4 (Fall 2001.)  This section includes essays concerning the beginnings of Marketing Science by Joel Steckel and Ed Brody, Dave Montgomery on pre- and early history of the TIMS Marketing College, Dick Wittink on the First Marketing Science Conference, Don Morrison (UCLA) on founding Marketing Science, Bass and Little on progress and promise of the TIMS Marketing College, and Lew Pringle – coauthor of the first paper published in Marketing Science – on a practitioner’s perspective.  Dave also was the principal mover on the founding of the TIMS Marketing College in 1967 scarcely into his second year on the MIT faculty. In the 21st century the college had become the INFORMS Society for Marketing Science and publisher of Marketing Science and owner of the Marketing Science Conference."

Dick Wittink also speaks to 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.”

While Bass’ leadership of the doctoral and research program in Marketing at Purdue is legendary, his contributions to UT Dallas are not as well known.  While Purdue was a great business school in the1960s and 1970s, UT Dallas in 1982 began a brand new doctoral program.  Bass's arrival both enabled and defined it.  One of Bass’ first doctoral students at UT Dallas was John Norton, co-author of the 1987 paper introducing what is now known as the Norton-Bass model of adoption and substitution of multiple technological generations, for which he and Bass received the John D.C. Little Award in 1987.  John recalls the early days of the program at UT Dallas affectionately: “Frank and I met the day in 1982 that he arrived to begin his work at the University of Texas at Dallas.  I was too clueless to be intimidated by his formidable reputation, and walked into his office unannounced to greet him.  Thereafter, we always had a rather easy-going relationship.  Some people thought it was because, at 35, I was older than most candidates, and some thought it was because we were both Texans.  Maybe those facts had some influence, but I think it was also because, being used to Purdue candidates with outstanding mathematical and statistical preparation for the program there, he was amused by my profound lack of such knowledge.  He also probably viewed me as a challenge, thinking, “If I can get this guy to do doctoral level research, I can teach anybody.”  And I guess he could.

In one of the Bass Basement seminars a couple of years later, I was explaining a model to the class.  After a couple of derivations, with the blackboard full of flute music, Frank stopped me mid-sentence and said, “You asked me a question in our first class two years ago.  You know the one I mean.  I want you to tell the class what you asked.” I declined, but he insisted.  The story was embarrassing, as my question revealed my startling ignorance of mathematics at the time of our first class.  (When I entered the program, I had yet to take a course in calculus.  I routinely asked questions so dumb that Frank was temporarily speechless.)  After arguing with Frank for a bit, I gave up and told the class what I asked.  Everyone had a nice laugh, but I noticed that some of the first-year students had a look of relief on their faces.  I understood why he wanted me to tell that story.  The students who heard it could plainly see that whatever level of preparation they had when they started the program, it was better than mine.  It was Frank’s kind way of reassuring them that if I could finish it, they could too. And no, I'm not going to tell you what I asked.”

With Frank Bass, there was a learning moment for everyone.  Colleagues, students and friends -- everyone -- grew and became better scholars and human beings in his company.  Hear what Ram Rao has to say, “I learnt many things form him, but what fascinated me was his ability to “make data talk”, the art of statistics and econometrics. Early in our interactions he once told me “Marketing is an applied field”, getting me to add empirics to my largely theoretical work. In turn, I did manage to get him to jettison his prior that game theory could not be used beyond two person interaction, though it took me a few years.”

Frank Bass’ contribution to business curriculum and education is also very significant.  As part the Ford Foundation taskforce (1959-1960) tasked with improving the business school education, Bass set the research agenda in business/marketing. Alvin (Al) J. Silk, Lincoln Filene Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, describes the impact of the output of the taskforce.  “Bob Buzzell was invited to give a seminar to the marketing faculty and doctoral students at Northwestern on “new directions” in marketing. He distributed dittoed copies of the outline for what would become the volume, Mathematical Models and Methods in Marketing (1961), edited by Frank Bass, Buzzell, and a string of other young faculty who had spent the year at HBS in the Institute of Basic Mathematics for Application to Business. The seminar was something of a turning point in my education as I was unfamiliar with most of the papers listed on the prospectus to which Bob exposed us. Taking stock of my preparation for that material, I quickly registered for a course in linear algebra.” 

A lesser-known fact is that Bass served as the Interim Dean of School of Management at The University of Texas at Dallas in 1995-1996. During this short stint, Bass had the wonderful vision to start a new full-time competitive program (“Cohort MBA Program”.) Bass recognized that a business school needed a credible full-time MBA program.  UTD’s Cohort MBA program is now considered one of the top 50 MBA programs.  Bass appointed G.K Kalyanaram as the founding director of the Cohort MBA program. GK says, “I think that was a very important milestone in the development of the School of Management.  Bass was a visionary.”  Through the 20 years and more of leadership at UT Dallas, Frank Bass served as the Director of Doctoral and Research programs. Bass contributed to UT Dallas' remarkable growth in many other ways, including encouraging and supporting the university in growing the freshman program (Nearly 20 years after its founding, UTD’s first freshman class arrived on campus in August 1990. The class consists of about 100 students whose achievements set the academic standard for future classes.)  G.K. Kalyanaram was appointed and served as a Freshman Advisor in the early 1990s.

Frank Bass was a gentleman and a man of eclectic tastes.  Vithala Rao, Deane W. Malott Professor (Emeritus) at Cornell University, and ISMS and AMA Fellow, recalls Bass “calling me in January 1971 (five months after I started at Cornell) and offered me a position at Purdue. Of course, it was too soon to change jobs. He also regretted my sending my 1976 Balance Model paper to Management Science (and not JMR where Bass was the editor).  He was a kind gentleman and I always enjoyed interacting with him at several conferences.”

Over his 20 years of association with Bass (beginning from 1983 when he was a student and then as a colleague), GK remembers Bass to be “quiet, retiring and almost shy but very engaging once he got to know you.”  “He was generous to a fault.  To everyone.  I remember that after just one semester of non-credit courses in Marketing Models, and Multi-variate Methods in fall 1983 at UT Dallas, Bass agreed to write a reference letter for me for doctoral program admission at MIT.  That pretty much determined the arc of my life.”

Here is Tom Hustad on Bass’ extra-ordinary empathy and acute awareness, “I was left waiting in the hallway for a delay in the start of my oral exam following written prelims due to one member of the committee (not Bass or Pessimier) who was delayed.  After about 30 minutes, Frank left the room where he was seated with my major professor Mike Pessimier to simply tell me not to worry because I had scored the top mark on the methods section of the prelims.  I mention this to show Frank’s passion for fairness and for providing encouragement and support.”

Ram Rao captures the marvelous human side of Bass with grace and tenderness, “Frank knew football, having been a star running back in Cuero high school, and so I thoroughly enjoyed his take on the Cowboys’ game at lunch the day following a game. We had lunch together most days, and then as we took a long walk back to the school, often we would talk politics. Once when I asked him why he was a Republican despite being from LBJ’s state, he told me the only president he admired was Truman, and then Reagan. Well, Frank was a no nonsense scholar, and also sported a unique style, like the presidents he admired. People at school often saw Frank as being formal and not particularly approachable. But that was not him in my experience. I saw Frank at his tender best when my family visited him and Annie Laurie at Lakeway and he took time to explain to my children, four and six-year old, the habits of deer at Lakeway. That is before we all went to Rosie’s, I think, for dinner. And then there was his excitement at hooding his son Douglas who got his Ph.D. at UTD. Frank remained excited about his work and engaged with people till the end, all done in his utterly charming style. I miss all of it. “

Echoing reflections of Bass’ eclectic interests, GK recollects poignantly and on a personal note, “I got to work with and learn from Frank Bass in many ways -- publish with him, serve on doctoral committees with him, and contribute to institution-building. We had many lively conversations over lunch in UT Dallas cafeteria, over dinners with visiting guests and speakers, and in impromptu gatherings in the porch/terrace beside his office.  The range of topics was quite a delight:  football (Cowboys, Joe Montana’s improbable college football career), people (always positive), public life (1988 US Presidential and 1992 Texas Gubernatorial elections), growth and prosperity (he loved Nobelist Solow’s growth model), higher education (land-grant institutions and more), movies (‘Kennedy’ and our serendipitous meeting and conversion with Oliver Stone) and more.  I am grateful to him because Bass made me a better person.”

Remembered for his extra-ordinary depth and breadth in scholarship, his legendary and magical mentorship of large number of and incredibly impactful doctoral students, his impactful and visionary contributions to institution-building, his quiet dignity and eclectic tastes, and his unfailing grace and generosity to students, colleagues and even occasional acquaintances, Frank Bass was a man for the ages. 

Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (GK)
Dated: November 2021