Øystein Daljord (1980-2020)
Øystein Daljord was a remarkably impactful scholar and human being, in spite of his very untimely death at the age of 41 years.
Øystein graduated from University of Oslo with an interdisciplinary BS degree for the Departments of Economics, History and Philosophy and Mathematics. Oystein got his master’s degree in Economics from London School of Economics and Political Science, and his doctoral degree from Stanford University.
After his doctoral degree, Øystein joined the faculty of University of Chicago, and worked as an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business from 2015 to 2020. He had also spent time at UC Berkeley as a visiting scholar, and a student of economics at Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration.
Øystein’s research and scholarship was at the intersection of economics, marketing and public policy. His manuscripts – many unpublished – because of the untimely and sudden death have offered keen insights in a wide array of subject domains, including dynamic pricing, learning consumer preferences from choice data, brand loyalty and loyalty programs, default decisions for residential mortgages, and measuring the size of a black market.
How did Øystein come to the doctoral studies and subsequently academe? Harikesh (Harikesh) Nair, Øystein’s doctoral advisor, and now Jonathan B. Lovelace Professor at Stanford University, describes it thus in fulsome manner, “I met Oystein by chance, when he reached out to me to sit in on a class I was teaching at Stanford. He was visiting Berkeley at the time and turns out he decided to leave Norway and come to the US because he wanted to work with someone who could advise him on how to formally model consumers dynamic choices and their implications for dynamic pricing. I remember thinking at that time that this is someone who already has a point of view on what he wants to work on and is willing to leave his home country in the pursuit of his research! He was brilliant in my class, submitting assignments that read like formal well thought out papers, and I helped him join Stanford's PhD program. Oystein had an insatiable curiosity, willingness to dive deep, high tolerance for ambiguity, and a "no holds barred" (fearless?) approach to getting at the true solution that respected only science and not hierarchy, customs or conventions. It was a pleasure to have him at Stanford and to get to know him well. Oystein was unique. He thought carefully about problems, took a crack at hard problems without fear, and came up with novel, nonstandard solutions.”
Discussing Øystein’s research and insights, Magne Mogstad (Magne), The Gary Becker Professor in Economics in University of Chicago, has this to observe, “Theory was held up to the scrutiny of data, and empirical analysis was informed by economic theory. His papers were refreshingly clear. Not only about the economic questions that he addressed, but also about the data and methods used to justify his findings. A good example is Øystein’s recent work with his coauthor and good friend Jaap Abbring. The starting point is the long-standing question about how to learn about the discount rate – the rate at which individuals discount future costs and benefits. This parameter is critical to understand and predict choice behavior in a wide range of settings. Øystein and Jaap provide a simple and intuitively appealing analysis of how one may recover the discount factor in economic models where an agent chooses over discrete options that have future implications.” Christian Hansen, Wallace Booth Professor of Econometrics and Statistics at University of Chicago, calls Øystein “a thinker who was not interested in getting quick or flashy results but in fully understanding the topic and making deeper, lasting contributions.”
Harikesh’s specific observations on Øystein’s intellectual contributions are worthy of our attention. Working on salesforce compensation problem, Harikesh and Sanjog (Sanjog Misra, now Charles H. Kellstadt Professor at University of Chicago) recognized that “the composition of the salesforce as well as their compensation had dependencies and had to be chosen jointly. We soon realized the problem was more general than just to salesforce compensation design and was nontrivial to solve. It had a deep mathematical structure and was computationally complex. One prominent source of complexity was the extremely large set of potential ways one could compose the sales force: if there are N potential salespeople in the salesforce, there are possible compositions. And we had to search over each to find the best one for each possible compensation arrangement. Suppose a company has 60 salespeople – this implies 1.1 billion possible compositions to search over, implying solving the problem is a formidable challenge.” So, who did Harikesh and Sanjog go to? “This is where Øystein joined the project. Øystein’s mathematical training, inquisitive mind, deep interest in economics, and intellectual curiosity led to deep and lasting contributions to the project. After 3 months of work, Øystein developed a breakthrough consisting of a new algorithm that exploited the mathematical structure of the problem to search the entire space of configurations in a matter of seconds. It was brilliant and it worked and it was all his idea. The paper was eventually published in the Journal of Marketing Research, a leading general-interest journal in the field of marketing.”
Øystein was a man of many parts. He called them “high-quality eccentricities.” Veronika Rockova (Veronika), a colleague from Econometrics and Statistics discipline, recollects vividly Øystein’s eclectic tastes. “(He had) a unique appreciation of exotic perfumes, corduroy suits, exquisite wines and ... truffles. His taste in art was impeccable and nonconformist. His sense of humor was perhaps unconventional but sincere, contagious and unapologetic. He was a consumer and connoisseur of the finest things in life, in particular (classical) music. We argued about the best interpretation of Rachmaninoff's 3rd piano concerto, his favorite. Øystein liked Martha Argerich for her “assertiveness and jazziness” (his words) while I found her style too carnivorous and overpowering, just like Øystein's tennis game. No wonder he liked her so much. During the lock-down, we would often go for walks (social-distancing aware) and I became accustomed to interacting with him on a semi-regular basis. I will miss our intellectual discussions about music, European films, fashion and, of course, our tennis matches. Øystein had a “combined taste for sentimentality and cynicism” (his words) and a wonderful sense of aesthetics as seen from his nonchalantly elegant wardrobe and daring office furniture. He filled my workdays with joy whenever he showed up in my office to discuss research or to just say hi. He had a “jolly” (he loved that word) and entertaining personality, always so refreshing.”
Colleagues and friends remember Øystein with fondness, and an awe at his contributions. They remember him for his many acts of love, kindness, and empathy. In so many ways. Øystein was part of their family, and their life in pedestrian rituals and more profound activities.
Daniel Bartels makes this personal recollection of bonding with himself and his daughter “Øystein and my oldest daughter, Elsie, now five years old (in 2020), had a special relationship. They bonded over their mutual admiration of David Bowie. Elsie has a handful of charmingly strange gifts to remember Øystein by. He and I were close, and over the course of our friendship, we discussed virtually everything, from how models in physics inform the social sciences, to personal relationships, to music and movies, even spirituality.”
Jean-Pierre (JP) Dubé, the Sigmund E. Edelstone Professor of Marketing and Director of the Kilts Center for Marketing, who has composed an extensive monograph on Øystein poignantly reflects, "Personally, I will miss our evening rituals comprising outstanding food and stellar wines to complement the continuation of an intellectual debate from the office. Øystein will be missed sorely and his passing was a tremendous loss to the academic community.”
Speaking of Øystein's continued impact and legacy, JP made this observation in May 2022 -- two years after Øystein's death: "Several of Øystein's unpublished manuscripts continue to be received very warmly by the community. His JMP was accepted at Management Science in the fall and one of his co-authored papers (with me an a PhD student) will likely be submitted to a journal before the end of the year. I also think his other paper on license place assignments in China has been submitted by one of his other co-authors. All this to say that his legacy (remarkably) lives on. He had two papers on the program at last week’s SICS conference."
Here is more testimony of the man Øystein. Veronika calls Øystein a “private soul.” Magne says this, “Øystein never lost the joy and excitement of discovering and learning. He had an expansive curiosity and enthusiasm, he was generous and warm.” Harikesh: “Øystein was special both as a student and later as a research collaborator. It was great to get to know him and work together on this project, albeit for a short time. Øystein was a man of eclectic tastes. He had fine tastes in wine, jackets, and could scare you to death if you took a ride with him on his motorcycle. Overall, he was a great friend and a unique and brilliant individual. I will miss him and the brilliance and intellectual curiosity that shone through in all he did.”
Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (GK)