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Why Stanford Named Jonathan Levin Its New B-School Dean

Jonathan and Amy Beth Levin with their three children, Madeline, Benjamin, Noah (Photo from Facebook_

Jonathan and Amy Beth Levin with their three children, Madeline, Benjamin, Noah (Photo from Facebook_

CREDITED WITH SEMINAL CONTRIBUTIONS

After earning undergraduate degrees in math and English from Stanford in 1994, Levin went on to earn an MPhil in economics from Oxford University in 1996 and a PhD in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999. He joined Stanford as an assistant professor in 2000 and became a full professor in 2008.

He has been able to balance a demanding academic career with a full family life. His wife of nearly 17 years, Amy Beth Levin, is a Yale-trained internist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. They have three young children, Madeline, Benjamin, and Noah. Levin quips that his father’s move to Silicon Valley two years ago to be CEO of online education provider Coursera was in part motivated by his grandchildren.

Levin’s academic accomplishments did not come easy, however. In response to a question on Quora, where he has nearly 14,000 followers, Levin confided that once he finished his graduate classes he was “getting nowhere” trying to find an idea for a paper on the job market. “I was working every minute but at the end of every day I’d pretty much throw out all my notes,” wrote Levin. “Research can be incredibly frustrating when you are getting nowhere.”

He credited his MIT advisor, Bengt Holmstrom, for helping to pull him out of that slump. “I had another period after I’d started as an assistant professor where I was having trouble finding ideas and didn’t feel my research was going that well,” he added. “That went on for longer, and my solution was to find co-authors. The great thing about working with co-authors, apart from learning from them, is that even if a project isn’t going great or a paper gets rejected, it’s a shared experience.”

THE QUINTESSENTIAL NARRATIVE OF A SUCCESSFUL ACADEMIC CAREER

Jonathan LevinYet, Levin’s seven-page CV reveals little of that struggle. It is the quintessential narrative of a highly successful academic career, replete with multiple awards, grants and fellowships, stints as an editor on several scholarly journals, invited lectures at universities in Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam and elsewhere, as well as consulting assignments with Comcast, eBay, Google, Yahoo and others.

His 34 published articles, almost always with co-authors, range from “The Economics of Internet Markets” and “The Impact of Credit Scoring on Consumer Lending” to “The Data Revolution and Economic Analysis” and “Economics in the Age of Big Data.”

Perhaps most importantly, Bresnahan says, are Levin’s “seminal contributions to some of the most deep and difficult areas of economic theory and to some of the most technically demanding areas of empirical economics.” Furthermore, the new GSB dean has “written about extremely applied problems in organization design and in market design in a simple and straightforward way, where you suddenly realize that he has explained the essence of the problem to you.”

‘WITHOUT PERSONAL AGENDA’

Levin has studied undergraduate college admissions, the strategies of sellers on Ebay, and auctions for timber and subprime loans for cars. After winning the Clark medal, economist Steven D. Levitt, co-author of Freakanomics, made the observation that “economists are a highly critical, often petty lot. Praise of one economist by another is infrequent. Yet, when it comes to Jon Levin I cannot remember anyone saying anything negative about him.”

That assessment seems true. Among his Facebook friends are Harvard MBA and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg; Susan Athey, an economist who teaches at the GSB and is the first woman to ever win the Clark medal in 2007, and Deborah Gruenfeld, the GSB professor who was in the center of the business school’s sex and leadership scandal involving Dean Saloner.

“Jon is a person with a genuine commitment to research and teaching, and a great team player,” says Jeremy Bulow, a professor at the Graduate School of Business. “He is without a personal agenda. You can count on him making thoughtful decisions that will be entirely about what is best for the school.

“Jon will be great at explaining to our alumni the importance of our dual mission of research and teaching; he will work very well with the faculty and staff in advancing both of those missions, and he is a person who will both listen hard and be sympathetic to student concerns.”