Steven Klepper: A Life Dedicated to Research and Teaching
Steven Klepper, the Arthur Arton Hamerschlag Professor of Economics and Social Science at Carnegie Mellon University and a distinguished member of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, died Monday, May 27, at age 64. A renowned teacher and researcher, Klepper's pioneering work integrated elements of traditional economic models with evolutionary theory, bridging gaps between the study of entrepreneurship and mainstream economics.
"Steven Klepper was a true friend of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program. He was deeply involved in our work in the area of Technological Change and Entrepreneurship, where he helped to create our dual degree doctoral program, led research collaborations, and mentored several students. He was an outstanding scholar, incredibly devoted to his teaching and research, and to the students and colleagues that he worked closely with. His passing is an enormous loss," said João Claro, national director of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program.
As a contributing member of the CMU Portugal program, Klepper was the lead investigator at CMU on a project titled Human Capital, Knowledge Based Firms, and the Entrepreneurial Life-Cycle. He collaborated with Rui Baptista, Professor at Instituto Superior Técnico of the Universidade Técnica de Lisboa (IST) and lead investigator of the project in Portugal, to investigate the role of general and specific human capital on successive stages of the development of knowledge-based firms, and to look at the role played by human capital on individual decisions taken by entrepreneurs over their lifecycle. The project involves teams from academic institutions (CMU, IST/UTL, Universidade Católica Portuguesa, and ISCTE – Lisbon University Institute) as well as companies (YDreams and Alfama).
Collaborating with Klepper over the past two decades, Baptista came to know him as an extraordinary scholar and an even better human being. “Some scholars make an impact with innovative ideas,” said Baptista, “others with outstanding analytic rigor. Steven was that rare specimen who was outstanding in both sweeping vision and attention to detail. Steven’s approach to modeling,” Baptista added, “was only made possible by the collection of a staggering amount of knowledge about the way industries evolve over time, and how innovation impacts such development. The depth of thought he put into minimal details was remarkable.” When Baptista connected with Klepper in August 1997 and chose to relocate to Pittsburgh for his postdoctoral research, Klepper was exceptionally welcoming. “From the moment he picked me up at the airport and took me to watch his son’s soccer practice (which he coached), I felt home,” Baptista recalled.
In addition to his research contributions, Klepper was instrumental in establishing the Technological Change and Entrepreneurship (TCE) Ph.D. within CMU Portugal Program. “His remarkable research work and seniority did not preclude his willingness and commitment to the program since its inception. He always contributed at meetings in Lisbon or Pittsburgh, seminars, and students’ presentations, and even in his office at CMU when going through all the TCE students’ Ph.D. plans. We will miss his example, guidance, and wit,” said Francisco Lima, Professor of the Management and Engineering Department at IST and faculty of the TCE Ph.D. Baptista echoed this by saying that “Steven’s commitment to the Carnegie Mellon Portugal initiative was the true measure of his character: an established scholar with nothing to prove and no need for more funding or disciples, he was involved from the first minute as if his career depended on it. His leadership was fundamental for the establishment and progress of the Ph.D. in Technological Change and Entrepreneurship. He can never be replaced.”
Klepper advised a number of Dual Degree Ph.D. students in TCE and had a significant impact on their professional and personal lives. Students advised by Klepper include Ana Venâncio (enrolled in 2007-08), Carla Costa (enrolled in 2007-08), Cristina Carias (enrolled in 2007-08), Cristóbal Cheyre (enrolled in 2008-09), and Soheil Hooshangi (enrolled in 2010-11).
Costa appreciated how Klepper would use “tough love” to encourage his students to constantly fine-tune their work. “I fondly remember the day that I went into his office to discuss a presentation of my research, which I was happy to have finished one week ahead of schedule. He patiently showed me what was wrong with each slide, why it was wrong, and what I could do to improve it. After a long meeting, not a single slide was left untouched. I remember saying to him, ‘Okay, I’ll start over,’ and then leaving to change everything. In the end, I had to recognize that the final result was 10 times better than the initial version,” Costa reflected.
Carias also cherishes Klepper’s ability to challenge and inspire as it has helped her considerably in the long run. “In one meeting with all the students and professors in the [TCE] program, I recall him saying that one day we would appreciate and better understand the difficult process of obtaining a Ph.D. That day was my first day at my current job. Today, I meet with senior directors at the federal agency where I work; I feel grateful as I had the best preparation I could ever have had, having been Steven’s student,” Carias said.
Although his flair for bringing the best out of his students will surely be missed, his kindness and compassion will forever be remembered by those he mentored. “I will always be in debt to Steven, for he was an incredible role model as a scholar and he always compelled me to become a much better researcher than I ever imagined I could be. On top of that, he was also a very kind and warm person, even willing to talk about his own difficulties to encourage me to overcome mine. I feel very privileged to have worked with Steven and I know that he will be deeply missed, for his shoes will be really hard to fill,” said Costa.
“Upon my arrival in the United States in June 2008, Steven kindly gave me his and [his wife] Florence’s phone number, should I need anything. I was an emigrant in a foreign country, had no family or friends in Pittsburgh, and will never forget that act of kindness. I shall also remember that even though he was already a giant in the research world, and I was still only making baby steps, he always kindly referred to and treated me as a colleague, which I could and can only aspire to be,” said Carias.
Carias summarized the broad reach of Klepper’s professionalism and personality: “Steven’s legacy far surpasses the well-known published research that has changed the minds of many; his legacy continues in the many students that learned from him how to go from the known to the unknown, the difference between the trivial and the fundamental, and countless other lessons we learned from him,” said Carias. “I will forever be honored and grateful I had such a wonderful mentor.”
Klepper is survived by his wife, Florence Rouzier, and their two children, Arielle and Julian. A memorial service was held Wednesday, May 29, at the Homewood Cemetery Nondenominational Chapel at 1599 South Dallas Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, 15217. Memorial contributions may be made to the Crossroads Foundation, 2915 Webster Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
A memorial is being planned for the fall on the Pittsburgh campus.