Surendra Rajiv

Surendra Rajiv (1965-2014) 

Surendra Rajiv earned his PhD from Carnegie Mellon University and earlier degrees from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Patna University. He joined National University of Singapore as a tenured professor of marketing in 2002 and held several appointments including Assistant Dean of Research and PhD programs as well as Provost's Chair. Before joining NUS, he was a visiting professor at the Haas School of Business and was also a faculty member at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. 

Surendra Rajiv was a man of eclectic interests and renaissance instincts.  Rajiv adopted marketing/marketing science as his field of scholarship, but he could have as well chosen singing or painting or writing or directing motion pictures and documents.  In fact, he did just that.  After almost twenty years of scholarship and teaching in marketing, Rajiv resigned his tenured professorial position in National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2013 to return to India to conceptualize, direct and produce visual art – more specifically, motion pictures and documentaries.  But Rajiv was not blessed with the gift of longevity, and the world would not have an opportunity to learn and enjoy Rajiv contributions to visual art. 

Kannan Srinivasan, Rajiv’s doctoral thesis advisor, ISMS Fellow and now H.J. Heinz II Professor of Management, Marketing and Business Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University, calls Rajiv “simply brilliant” and observes, “He was a painter, a very good singer and extremely well read.” 

Rajiv brought his brilliance and his eclecticism to marketing science.  Listen to what V. Padmanabhan (Paddy), now The Unilever Chaired Professor of Marketing at INSEAD Singapore, has to say, “I got introduced to Rajiv by Kannan when I had gone for a talk at Carnegie sometime in the early 90s.  I was amazed in our conversations on the sideline by not just the variety of his research interests but also depth of his technical skills.” 

Even as he explored marketing science, Rajiv had an organic interest in other fields, including pure sciences.  Kannan recalls this admiringly.  “He (Rajiv) was on the university tenure and promotions committee at NUS. The provost spoke eloquently as to how Rajiv would contribute so meaningfully to discussions on cases in Physics and Chemistry.  The provost was so impressed that he felt Rajiv’s tardiness was a small price for NUS and how they were so glad to have him!”

Rajiv’s contributions to marketing/marketing science is summarized elegantly and specifically by Pradeep Chintagunta, ISMS Fellow and now Joseph T. and Bernice S. Lewis Distinguished Service Professor of Marketing at University of Chicago, thus: “He (Surendra Rajiv) was easily one of the brightest people I knew when it came to research. While he had several excellent papers, two of them stand out in my mind – both co-authored with his advisor, Kannan Srinivasan and his fellow CMU grad Nitin Mehta. One of these papers represented an early implementation of a formal search model. The paper derives a consumer’s consideration set as an outcome of search and then takes the model to scanner data where consideration sets are unobserved. The other paper tried to reconcile consumer learning in stable categories with long customer histories by proposing that consumers “forget” what they learn.” Kannan reaffirms the breadth and depth of Rajiv’s contributions, “ Rajiv was simply brilliant. It was a privilege to work with him. He liked the challenge of undertaking formidable research projects. He was an early researcher doing theory (including complex asymmetric information models including signal jamming) and empirical (structural models). His clarity of thought was incredible.”

As with others, Shantanu Datta, a colleague of Rajiv in University of Chicago and now Dave and Jeanne Tappan Chair and Professor of Marketing at University of Southern California, was impressed with Rajiv in their very first meeting.  “He stood out in that first meeting with his research intensity and his deft handling of questions.”

Rajiv was a marvelous colleague.  Through his collegiality, he mentored younger faculty and doctoral students.  Junhong Chu, a colleague of Rajiv of NUS and now Associate Professor at NUS, recalls with much appreciation, “Rajiv interviewed me and offered me a job. Since I joined National University of Singapore in 2006, I had been working with Rajiv to co-supervise doctoral students. Rajiv was responsible more for the research framework and paper positioning, and I was responsible more for the methodology and modelling. I learned tremendously from him and was very grateful to him. He often tackled the research questions from different angles and was very insightful and sharp.”  Kannan affirms this.  “He was generous with his time with fellow doctoral students.” Shantanu cites two of his doctoral students who benefitted greatly by Rajiv’s insights.  “Rajiv worked with two of our doctoral students Om Narasimhan and Prokriti Mukherjee at University of Southern California.

He was very thoughtful in the feedback he provided them and they benefitted from the feedback.”

What kind of a human being was Rajiv?  Caring, curious, delightful, empathetic and more.  Junhong recollects how much “fun” it was and how expansive were the conversations.  “I found it quite fun to talk to him. He often shared with us his life as a student at CMU, his job market experience, and his faculty life at Chicago. He said he had been a vegetarian until he went to CMU. “In Pittsburg, there weren’t many options for vegetarians.” After having cheeseburgers for 2 weeks, “I told myself, forget cheeseburgers.” He started to eat meat and quickly built up many pounds because his metabolism was not used to meat and was not able to handle non-veggies. Regrettably, “I am never able to lose those pounds.””  Paddy and Kannan add to this testimony.  

Paddy: “Beyond the gruff exterior was a very gentle, curious, and kind individual – no wonder he became Uncle Rajiv to my kids.” Kannan: “He was humble to a fault. In social settings, he might seem shy but once he is comfortable, he has a great sense of humor and engaging.” Shantanu: “He was a foodie and I have fond memories of driving him to Devon Avenue in Chicago that had the largest concentration of Indian restaurants.  We went their numerous times over the years. We would discuss research over meals and Taj Mahal beer.” 

If there was one thing that the world would have liked Rajiv to pay attention to was his health.  Junhong and Kannan recall wistfully.  Junhong: “He was very active mentally but very inactive physically. Several colleagues and I suggested him to quit smoking and do more physical exercise.”  Kannan: “When he finally was adopting a healthier way of life, he passed away.”  Of course, Rajiv was human in other ways too.  Kannan speaks to Rajiv’s tardiness, “He was also exasperatingly tardy but the bursts of productive work compensated for that.”

After almost twenty years of contributions to marketing, Rajiv turned to his artistic impulses.  He decided to return to India and devote his passion for excellence to visual images. “He decided to go back to his home country to pursue his dream in the movie industry (Junhong.)” And that surprised some of his colleagues.  Pradeep: “That he had turned movie producer caught me by surprise but I was glad he was getting to do what he truly enjoyed.”

Life is stochastic and uneven.  Accordingly, we are judged – as we should be -- by the depth and breadth of our contributions in making the society a better place in the context of the hand that we are dealt with.  Relatively, how we did?  Here, Rajiv’s life is to be celebrated loudly. Kannan makes this poignant observation, “He had endured personal tragedies in his formative years. He had a mature perspective on life and that spilled over to his assessment of his research contributions.” 

Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (G.K.), a fellow academic and MIT Education Counselor, remembers vividly the expansive conversation with Surendra Rajiv in 1994-1995 when Rajiv visited The University of Texas for a presentation and the subsequent shorter interactions.  In that expansive conversation, Rajiv described the challenges and tragedies in his life.  Looking back at Rajiv’s life, G.K. Kalyanaram says, “Rajiv’s contributions to democratization of quality education is remarkable.  Rajiv knew instinctively – based on his own life journey -- that education was single most potent instrument for improving the quality of life of individuals and society.  And so, he devoted himself to this with earnestness and gusto.  Rajiv also realized that art is ennobling.  But, unfortunately, before Rajiv could delight and teach us, he traveled to that undiscovered world.”

Here is one measure of the impact of Rajiv.  A year after he had left NUS, and with relatively little contact after that, but upon hearing of his untimely death, NUS community was bereaved.  Dean Bernard Yeung wrote to his colleagues, “It is with great regret and sadness that I have to inform you that our former colleague, Professor Surendra Rajiv from the Department of Marketing, passed away earlier this week. Surendra was a key member of the School for 11 years before resigning last year. His contributions to the field of quantitative marketing are invaluable and his extensive work has been published in many reputed journals. We have lost a scholar, mentor and devoted colleague and will miss him dearly.”

Remembered for his rich and fulsome life, colleagues and friends are sorrowed at his untimely death and left to wonder what might have.  GK: “Rajiv was a force of nature. If he only he was blessed with longevity, we would have all been so much better off.” Junhong: “When I received the news of his passing on my ride to home, I just could not believe it.” Kannan: “A personal tragedy for me having worked with him so closely over several years.” Paddy: “It is a pity that health issues took him away from doing justice to his non-academic interests – I am sure he would have made serious contributions in those domains.”  Pradeep: “His passing came as a complete shock. The field of marketing is poorer for it.” Shantanu: “I was shocked to hear of his untimely death in Mumbai. He was a very gentle soul and a very thoughtful collaborator. 

Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (G.K.)
Dated: October 2021