Focus on Research

When It Comes to Computers, Perception Not Price Is Key

As any good marketing person will tell you, brand loyalty is a powerful force. Just how powerful is apparent in a study by George Deltas and Eleftherios Zacharias, who have analyzed the pricing cycle of the PC evolution, from 486 to Pentium processors.

The study reveals that not only are consumers willing to wait for their favorite computer companies to come out with more powerful hardware — they remain willing to pay premium prices, even when the new models come on the market relatively late.

George Deltas
Deltas, who is assistant professor of economics at CBA, and Zacharias, who graduated from Commerce in May with a Ph.D. in economics and is now a post-doctoral fellow at Hebrew University, worked with three years' worth of data, collected from the beginning of 1993 through the end of 1995. Using PC Magazine as their primary source, with spot checks of other buy-direct publications such as Computer Shopper and PC World, the researchers compiled month-by-month pricing data for ten leading computer suppliers, including IBM, Compaq, Dell, Micron, and Gateway. Results show that Pentiums made by firms which brought them to the market relatively late are (controlling for other factors) priced higher than similar models from other firms. The results also show a very rapid decline in the quality premium. The difference between prices paid for computers from high-quality firms and those from average-quality firms is initially extremely high, as early demand is driven by upscale consumers to whom quality is a far more important consideration than price. But this price difference then drops to a much lower level within eighteen months.

"Contrary to our initial expectations," Deltas observed in a recent interview for InSight, "computer firms that were slower to bring the Pentium to the market still tended to do so at a higher price. In an industry where there is some brand loyalty, a firm coming to the market somewhat late will still find it optimal to charge a higher price." Indeed, price differentials ran as high as 100 percent, with Compaq and IBM routinely commanding 20 to 25 percent more than the competition for a comparable PC. "Charging a higher price for the first few months the product is available is a strategy that skims off the `cream' of the first consumers, `high value' customers with high need for the fastest machine available," he explained. "For this group, quality is the critical consideration." Subsequently, however, prices tend to drop steeply and converge.

"The market has changed since 1995, of course," he conceded. "Computers in the old paradigm of the early `90s were viewed as the sum of their components. Now the products are much more consumer-oriented, different not only in quantifiable ways but in design — all the bells and whistles, like sound cards and graphics capability." Patterns uncovered in the study may be unique to an industry that remains highly driven by technology. "The PC you have on your desk right now will not be a good substitute for the PC that will be on the market in two years," Deltas predicted. "This is not the case with those products like VCRs or CD players — or, for that matter, refrigerators — which you buy, then eventually replace with something much the same. Computer technology is still moving very fast. And more PCs are being sold than ever before. But the market is so competitive, they're being sold at a big discount."

  Focus on teaching

This Class Is for Real

For students in Finance 294, this fall is not only a test. This fall is the real thing. Moneywise, that is. Titled "The Real-Client Managed Portfolio Class," the senior research seminar is just that — a kind of business laboratory in which undergraduates do real world money management, with real dollars — quite a few real dollars, in fact. 


Managing real dollars provides a unique, "hands-on" experience for students in Kevin Waspi's (front left) class.

Kevin Waspi, a lecturer in finance, who developed the class and is now teaching it for the first time, explained that his students have been "hired" by the Champaign-based Strategic Capital Trust Company to manage financial portfolios for "one or more" clients (whose names
are withheld by request). The arrangement, which involves a total investment in the high-six to low-seven figures has been set up by David Sinow, adjunct professor of finance at Commerce, and also a founding partner of Strategic Capital Trust Company.
Kevin Waspi and David Sinow
Waspi, who holds an M.S. in financial management and a B.S. in insurance from Commerce, and who has worked as a securities trader, broker, and banker, says: "Students meet with the client(s) to discuss investment goals, policies, and constraints, then put together a `road map' of how to get there. It's all about the dynamics of determining an acceptable amount of risk and then deciding on the appropriate investment vehicles. We expect it to be a win-win." This being the case, the client (or clients) will enjoy the financial benefits, while students enjoy the intellectual ones. (Class members receive no fiscal compensation for their services.) Waspi did caution: "We're not out to beat the market. There's a whole lot more to investment management than just the numbers to the right of the decimal place."
Student-managed portfolios appear to be a coming trend in business education. For another example, finance students at Ohio State act as investment managers for a $9 million endowment from that university's foundation. Waspi noted, however that "as far as I know, Finance 294 is unique, in that our students are dealing with individual investors and formulating investment policy."

C O L L E G E   N E W S

New Faculty

The College of Commerce and Business Administration is pleased to welcome the following new professors to our faculty.


Accountancy: C. Bryan Cloyd and 
Julie P. Shapland

Business Administration

Four new assistant professors have joined the Department of Business Administration.

Business Administration: left to right, Joseph Paul Broschak, Nada L. Nasr,
 Jeffrey B. Schmidt, Tiffany Barnett White



Economics: John Henry Johnson IV
 and Stephen L. Parente


Finance: Allen Poteshman and
 Michael Steven Weisbach

Change of Status

Robert Halperin has been named professor of accountancy. Formerly a visiting professor of accountancy, he joined the faculty here in 1997. He holds a Ph.D. in accounting (1977), an MBA (1965), and an A.B. (1963) in history, all from University of Pennsylvania, and has served on the faculties of Fordham, NYU, and Penn.
David Lins has been named professor of finance and professor of agricultural and consumer economics. Lins, who joined the Department of Finance as an adjunct faculty member in 1991, has been on the ACES faculty since 1972. He holds a Ph.D. in agricultural economics (1972) from Illinois, and M.S. (1968) and B.S. (1966) degrees in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin.



A new director and a new associate director have been named for the Center for International Business Research (CIBER). Joseph Cheng, professor of international business and management, has assumed the post of director of the federally funded unit, one of twenty-seven in the national CIBER network, which has been established to promote international business education and research through academic and outreach programs. A member of the Illinois faculty since 1996, Cheng holds a Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Michigan and a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has also served on the faculty at Ohio State University and held positions as academic director of international programs and co-director of CIBER at Fisher College of Business. His goal for the Illinois CIBER is to develop its potential as a national resource center, by implementing and supporting highly visible and significant programs while building partnerships on campus and with CIBER units around the country, as well as in government agencies and the private sector. The Illinois CIBER recently received its third three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and is fund-ed through 2002 at $220,000 annually.

Lynnea Johnson, the center's new associate director, comes to CBA from the College of Engineering, where she served for ten years as a program coordinator for continuing engineering education, working on a range of professional programs including networked satellite classes. She holds a B.A. in Spanish literature and linguistics and an M.Ed. in higher education administration, both from the University of Illinois.

Teresa Dorsey is the new director of the Study Abroad Program for the College of Commerce. A veteran CBA staffer, she comes to the position from a twelve-year tenure as assistant to the head of economics and one year as undergraduate advisor to LAS undergraduate economics majors. She spent the ten years prior to that as assistant director for the Division of Campus Recreation at the University of Illinois. She holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Illinois.

Colleen Houlihan has been named visiting director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Economics. Houlihan, who is also visiting assistant professor of economics at CBA, holds B.A. (1993), M.S. (1995), and Ph.D. (1998) degrees in economics from the University of Illinois. She comes to CBA from Grand Canyon University, where she served as an assistant professor of economics.

Huseyin Leblibici has been named interim head of the Department of Business Administration. Leblibici, who joined the Commerce faculty in 1982, is a professor of business administration. He holds a Ph.D. in business administration (1975) and an MBA (1972), both from the University of Illinois, and a B.S. (1969) from Middle East Technical University.

Appointments: left to right, Joseph Cheng, Lynnea Johnson, Teresa Dorsey, Colleen Houlihan, 
Huseyin Leblibici


Howard Thomas, dean of the College and James F. Towey Distinguished Professor of Strategic Management, has been inducted as a Fellow of the Academy of Management Society. There are currently 135 active Fellows, and a total of 217 who have been named to the honor, since the inception of the award in 1953. The award is given for outstanding contributions to the art and science of management.


Mike Shaw, professor of business administration, has received two grants for his work in electronic commerce. IBM's Thomas Watson Research Lab has given him a $25,000 award for a study on "Information Technology Management in Supply-Chain Networks." And the John Deere Foundation has presented Shaw with a $20,000 grant for work on "Electronic Commerce Strategy." Shaw is director of CISTM, the Center for Information Systems and Technology Management, established last year at CBA.
Dave Ziebart, professor of accountancy, recently received two grants totaling almost $9,000. One, a six-month award from the Actuarial Education and Research Fund (AERF) and Judy Diamond and Associates, has been made to Ziebart and business administration doctoral student J.J. Wu for their research project on "An Investigation of Earnings Management Via Pension Actuarial and Pension Accountant Changes." And the Illinois CPA Society Foundation has presented an Innovation in Accounting Education grant to Ziebart and accountancy lecturer Anita Feller. The one-year award is for the project "Workshops to Teach Accounting Faculty at Illinois Colleges and Universities How to Teach Applied Professional Research."


After more than thirty years of service to the college and the university, M. Balachandran — better known to friends and colleagues as "Bali" — retired in October from his post as Commerce librarian and professor of library administration. Balachandran earned both a J.D. and an M.S in library science in 1971 from the University of Illinois, having previously been awarded bachelor's and master's degrees in economics by the University of Madras, and an L.L.B. by the University of Bombay. He first went to work at the Commerce Library in 1968 while a student at Illinois, and was appointed assistant Commerce librarian in 1972. Ten years later he succeeded Esther Clausen as Commerce librarian. Balachandran has been noted for his work in library relations, and it was on his watch that the Commerce Library became one of the first libraries at Illinois to join the university's computer network.



The rankings are in and the news is good. But, there is also room for improvement. We are working with that in mind.

  • U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 30, 1999) ranked the undergraduate program 10th. Accountancy undergrad was ranked first and the graduate program second.
  • U.S. News & World Report (Spring 1999) ranked the MBA program 36th, up from 53 in the previous ranking. In March 1999 Business Week placed the Illinois MBA in an unranked second 25 tier.
  • Computer World (Fall 1999) ranked the Illinois MBA as number 6 among Techno MBA programs.
  • Business Week (October 1999) placed the Executive MBA program among the top 20 such programs in the nation.


Big Ten Doctoral Consortium

Three days in mid-July brought graduate students and faculty in accountancy together with computer technology experts, at the Big Ten Doctoral Consortium, hosted this year on the Urbana campus. Organized by accountancy faculty members Bob Halperin and Dave Ziebart and held in the techno-friendly setting of Beckman Institute, July 14-16, the meeting focused on the use of computer technology for research in accountancy. As well as research paper presentations, there were sessions on how Sears uses supercomputer power in identifying questionable transactions, on technology in education, and on supercomputing power in corporate applications.

Tax Symposium

In early October, fifty accounting faculty from across the country gathered on the Urbana campus for two days of spirited discussion on a variety of tax issues. This is the biennial Tax Symposium, sponsored by Arthur Andersen and chaired this year by accountancy professor Paul Beck. The selection committee chooses papers for the symposium that are likely to generate a lot of discussion and will benefit from the constructive criticism received. Attendance at the conference is by invitation only. Following the conference, a proceedings volume of abstracts and discussants comments is published.

Midwest Math Economics Conference

As fate would have it, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Midwest Math Economics Meeting took place on October 22-23 on the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois, where the association first came into being. In the fall of 1974, three members of the Illinois economics department, Richard Kihlstrom (now at Wharton School), Leonard Mirman (now at Virginia), and Andrew Postelwaite (now at Penn.), put together the first Midwest Math Economics Meeting. The purpose was to provide scientific stimulation to young Midwest theorists. Since then these meetings have grown in size and stature. They take place twice a year at Big Ten universities and are now attended by attack theorists from across the nation. Midwestern trade theorists joined the meetings and now the conference is known as the Midwest Economic Theory/Trade Meetings. For this gala occasion, about 120 economists presented papers. A strong effort was made by conference chair Nicholas Yannelis to ensure that many of the leading economists in the field who were once at Illinois could attend. Joining the three who began this group were Alvin Roth (Harvard), Steve Matthews (U. Penn), and Izthak Zilcha (Tel Aviv).

Yannelis notes that Illinois has always been very strong in economic theory. Franco Modigliani, who retired from MIT and won the Nobel Prize in Economics about a decade ago was here in the late '40s and early '50s, as was Leonid Hurwicz (retired from Minnesota), who won the National Medal of Science in the '80s.

The conference was funded in part by the Dean's Office in the College of Commerce, the Department of Economics, and the Office for Research.