B.A. 1965, M.A. 1967, Ph.D. 1974
I graduated from a small high school in Havelock, N.C. and came to Chapel Hill in 1961 as an undergraduate pre-med student (like 90% of the entering students). In spite of its reputation, UNC was not a hotbed of liberalism at the time. There were very few black students and women were basically prohibited from enrolling until their junior year. In my junior year I decided to change majors from pre-med to sociology. I dropped pre-med much to my parent’s dismay because I hated chemistry (8 courses was about all I could tolerate) and switched to sociology in large part because of Dr. Blalock (I didn’t call him Tad at the time). By happenstance I had enrolled in his social statistics course at the beginning of my junior year. Turns out, I loved statistics and still do. During my senior year, Dr. Blalock suggested that I apply to graduate school in Sociology at UNC. I was accepted and began in the fall of 1965. It was the Vietnam, civil rights, free-speech, Jess Helms era. It was a pretty mind blowing time for a former frat boy who grew up as a Marine Corp brat and whose dad flew gunships in Vietnam (while his son was a graduate student in a department and school that was demonstrably anti-war and anti-military).
I was part of the cohort that included Mike Hannan and Mike Flynn to name a few and was friends with some of the same folks listed in Hank Steadman’s entry (including John Freeman, Bud Mathews, John Sharpe, and Hank as well). My first year I was Dr. Vance’s graduate assistant. The second year I got an NIMH fellowship and ended up being part of the medical sociology crew headed by Harvey Smith . As Hank pointed out, we had offices in a separate building (the name of which I’ve long forgotten). At the time I thought it was pretty cushy because there were only two of us to an office. (It’s probably why I’ve always preferred offices to cubicles.)
Much of the time I spent at Chapel Hill is a blur these days. Besides the required curriculum, much of my focus was on organizational sociology, as well as research methods and statistics. I had courses taught by some of the usual suspects — Dick Simpson, Krishnan Namboodiri, Gerhard Lenski, Henry Landsberger and Lew Carter. I also took a number of courses outside the department in biostatistics, math and mathematical statistics. One of these outside courses was particularly memorable. It was a time series course in the math stat department. John Sharp was also in the class. One of the assignments turned out to be so computationally tedious that John and I decided to learn Fortran over the weekend so we could solve it on the school mainframe. It was the first of 60+ programming languages I’ve learned over the years and the starting point of what later became my life’s work. (In fact I’ve learned 4 new languages this past year aimed at dealing with large scale data problems.)
Besides my official graduate work, I spent my summers doing sponsored research. The first two summers I worked on a research project for Vista. The project served as the foundation for my MA thesis. Dick Cramer was my thesis advisor. The remaining two summers of graduate school were spent doing research at Dorothea Dix psychiatric hospital in Raleigh. While it resulted in a couple of papers, it didn’t result in a dissertation (which was too bad).
I ended up leaving Chapel Hill in 1969 to take a teaching job at the University of South Carolina. John Sharp and Bill Davis from UNC joined the faculty a short time later. At that time I took the job my dissertation was about half done. Leaving ABD is never a great career plan but family pressures prevailed. Not surprisingly, I was hired to teach statistics and research methods. In the first couple of years of teaching I came close to finishing my original dissertation in organizational theory (Dick Simpson was my advisor), but I never did. Somewhere along the line I became enamored with econometrics, so I decided to dump my first attempt and switched topics. Tad Blalock served as my dissertation advisor until he left for the University of Washington at which point Krishnan Namboodiri took his place. Lew Carter was also on my committee. I finally completed it in 1974 – a real page turner titled “Feedback and Reciprocal Causation: A Monte Carlo Study of the Small Sample Properties of Simultaneous Equation Estimators.” It took four boxes of punched cards (remember them) and a weeks of 12-4 AM runs on USC’s IBM 7090 (32K of memory) to complete it. I was forced to do it at night not only because I had a day job but also because it was the only time I could get large chunks of dedicated computer time. Today, it would’ve taken me less than a week to write the program and do the analysis on my home computer (which has 32 GB of memory), even though it would have still taken a lot of time to come up with the idea in the first place.
I left Columbia in 1977 to take a faculty position at University of Maryland Baltimore County. A few years later I took a position at Old Dominion, along with my wife Nina who was also in the sociology department. While I really enjoyed teaching, I was never really much of a “pure” sociologist. In 1982 I decided to leave academics and change fields completely, accepting a job developing statistical software for a small enterprise software company by the name of Execucom Systems Corporation in Austin TX. The company specialized in a type of business software known as decision support. Eventually I became the company’s director of R&D. As often happens in the software business, Execucom was purchased in 1991 by a larger competitor named Comshare that was headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI. I moved to MI in 1995 and ended up becoming the senior VP of R&D and the chief technical officer. Comshare ended up being one of the leaders in the business intelligence arena. In 2003 Comshare was purchased by a larger competitor called GEAC out of Atlanta. I stayed with GEAC about 6 months when I decided to take the position of senior vice president of Development for JDA Software in Scottsdale, AZ. Over time, I became JDA’s executive vice president of Product Development and Management.
JDA is a leader behind SAP and Oracle in the enterprise supply chain plaining software space (think of Operations Research on steroids). We had about 3000 enterprise customers world-wide including virtually every major retailer you can think of, as well as a sizeable number of the manufacturers supplying these retailers. While I was there the company grew from $200M to a $1B in annual revenues and like all good medium-sized software companies these days, it was eventually bought by a private equity firm in 2012. I remained with the company until I retired late in 2014–45 years of work and close to 4 million miles in the air (including 40-50 times around the world) was enough fun for one person.
When I was in academics my publication record was paltry. When I moved to the business world, my publication record in academic journals picked up. Over the years I’ve published a number of articles primarily in management and IT journals, as well as five books including a (co-authored) textbook in Electronic Commerce (Prentice-Hall). The textbook was first published in 1998 during the beginning of dot.com and is now in its 11th edition. Through the years I’ve also served as a journal editor, as a member of various university advisory boards, and as one of the principal organizers of a long standing Information Science conference (celebrating its 50th year this January). Even though I’m retired, I still continue to do research as a hobby, but now in Digital Humanities — primarily focused on data mining, social network analysis and data visualization applied to pop culture. (You can see some of my projects on Dataffiti.com.)
In my work as the head of R&D of various software firms, I was asked any number of times what my major was when I got my Ph.D. Most folks — colleagues and customers alike – automatically assumed that it was in computer science. After all, if you manage 1500 software engineers, it’s got to be something to do with software or computers. You can imagine the surprise they expressed when I told them it was Sociology. Of course, when I was at Chapel Hill there was no computer science department so I couldn’t have majored in it anyway and probably wouldn’t major in it today. Contrary to popular opinion, my sociology degrees and graduate school experiences served me well in the business world. Not only did I use what I learned in applied statistics, research methods, and mathematical sociology in my work (I still have a copy of a mathematical sociology textbook from the early 70s on my book case at home) but also used what I learned in organizational theory in my role as a corporate leader and manager.
I visit UNC periodically, although I will admit I haven’t visited the department in quite a while. My sister and her husband, who both worked at the University for years, live in Carrboro. Her daughter and son-in-law, both UNC grads, live on the outskirts and own a small company called Chapel Hill Toffee. While none of my kids attended UNC (they’re USC, Georgia, and Michigan alums), my daughter-in-law did and I recently helped our older granddaughter move into Hinton James to start her freshman year. To top it all off, Bert Adams, who also got a Ph.D. in Sociology at UNC before I did and was my wife’s dissertation advisor at the University of Wisconsin, actually married us 39 years ago over the holiday season. Yes it’s legal, he was an ordained minister before he went into sociology.
Submitted December 2016