UVA Darden Professor Pfeifer Found Fun Amid the Figures

26 April 2017

By Dave Hendrick

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business bids farewell to longtime Quantitative Analysis Professor Phillip Pfeifer this spring, as the well-regarded direct marketing and decision analysis expert will retire after 37 years at the School.

Pfeifer, who came to Darden on the front end of the so-called second faculty generation, leaves behind a rich academic legacy, having authored more than 80 cases, 50 journal articles and books like the influential Marketing Metrics: The Definitive Guide to Measuring Marketing Performance, which he co-authored with Professor Paul Farris and two others.

The antithesis of a dry academic, Pfeifer’s colleagues and students said the instructor will be remembered both for his accessibility and his occasionally eccentric auxiliary pursuits.

“If you know Phil, you love him, but you also recognize that he’s a little unconventional,” longtime friend and Darden Professor Jim Freeland said at a recent event honoring the retiring professor.

Freeland and colleagues described a fun-loving professor and doting lacrosse dad who played on sports teams with students and co-workers, traced the perimeter of the United States in a pickup truck hauling a teardrop trailer and created a home bar so elaborate it needed its own Facebook page (Longtime UVA football fans can groan in unison at its name: The Rondé Bar).

Pfeifer is also remembered with both fondness — and heartbreak — for his participation in Darden’s Luckiest Student Contest, which brought high stakes and real money to a 2007 “Decision Analysis” class. Via a series of contests involving chance and luck, hundreds of students were winnowed down to a single contestant who had the chance to win $17,500, donated anonymously, by picking the correct briefcase.

The stunt, which brought media coverage from national outlets like Bloomberg News and The Washington Post, was repeated the following year after the first student picked the wrong final briefcase.

While Pfeifer and his co-conspirator, Professor Sam Bodily, both noted “Decision Analysis” lessons being drawn from the contest, Pfeifer also confessed to an equally compelling motivation.

“Part of this is to have fun,” Pfeifer told The Washington Post. “It’s February.”

An award-winning, student-centric teacher, Pfeifer’s legacy was further cemented via the creation of the Data Analysis and Optimization Webpage of Fame. The initiative encouraged returning Second Year students to submit reports detailing how they used the tools learned in Pfeifer’s “Data Analysis and Optimization” class to make a difference in their summer internships.

Each year, the best submissions are inducted into the webpage of fame, which was recently rechristened the Phil Pfeifer Data Analysis and Optimization Webpage of Fame — a small remembrance for an educator who won’t soon be forgotten by the Darden community.

“There are lots of smart people at Darden and lots of people who are fun, but the overlapping set is exemplified by Phil,” said Farris. “It was such a pleasure to work with him.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia