Lou Wigdor Retires After 40 Years of Writing About Isenberg
February 25, 2021
In the four decades since Lou Wigdor joined Isenberg’s staff, his colleagues have learned to appreciate more than just the articles and profiles he writes about alumni, faculty, and students. They count on him for book and music recommendations, as well as for his deep institutional knowledge, his trademark satirical commentary, and his willingness to participate in (or be the cheerful victim of) office pranks.
Chris Agoglia, the Richard Simpson Endowed Professor of Accounting, who maintains an ongoing prank war with Wigdor, admits to once hiding the editor and writer’s phone in a desk drawer and then calling it repeatedly. “Some choice words emanated from Lou’s office when he couldn’t determine where the ringing was coming from,” says Agoglia (with whom Wigdor shares custody of an office houseplant).
Another faculty member, Associate Professor Bradley Bennett, once asked Wigdor to pose as Professor Tom Kida during a visit from Bennett’s University of Alabama dissertation chair.
“At the end of their meeting, ‘Tom’ was proudly showing-off a rubber-band gun,” Bennett recalls, “taking aim at different items around the office and shooting rubber bands. You know, like all highly respected professors do with guests.”
Wigdor developed his unorthodox approach to academia early in his career. When he joined the Isenberg staff in 1980, he had already been doing contract work for the school, skimming books and articles and summarizing them for a now-defunct publication called Management Research. “That was when the management department really ruled the roost,” Wigdor says, recalling that the dean, George Odiorne, was a leading proponent of Management by Objectives, or MBO.
“I have no idea what that was,” says Wigdor.
But he did have a strong interest in social science, having completed one year of an anthropology PhD program at Rutgers before deciding to search for work in Amherst. “With that background, I probably had a greater tolerance for jargon,” he says. “But it’s diminished over the years.”
Wigdor has assiduously explained and demystified business jargon for the past four decades, writing about faculty research projects, classroom projects, alumni careers, and student initiatives. During the 1980s, he founded Isenberg’s quarterly alumni magazine, the Commonwealth—Wigdor wrote and edited 100 percent of every issue himself, and collaborated with the university’s publications staff to have it designed and printed. Isenberg’s administrators trusted him to tell the right stories.
“I self-indulgently wrote an entire magazine devoted to a 2006 trip to China I went on with a group of MBA students, led by Alan Robinson,” he says, referring to a professor of operations and information management. “The country was really gaining steam as an international economic power and the Olympics were two years away, so they were trying to clean up Beijing.”
Wigdor also tagged along on trips to Canadian Toyota and GM plants and met Jack Welch at the GE headquarters. He toured the Singer Company with an Isenberg group during the 1980s when Joseph Flavin ’53 was its chairman. “The sewing machine business was pretty much in the past for them,” Wigdor says, recalling the fortuitous timing of the visit at that pivotal moment in the company’s transformation. “They had become an aerospace and military provider—this was the story of plowshares to swords.”
As paper has given way to pixels, more of Wigdor’s stories appear online, though his work always finds its way into Isenberg’s annual Dean’s Report, departmental newsletters, program brochures, event programs, promotional videos, speeches, emails, and social media posts. The school’s changing profile and priorities over his tenure at Isenberg have made for a continuous bounty of interesting subjects to write about.
Perspective on Change
“Tom O’Brien, who became dean in 1987, was my mentor,” Wigdor says. “He is completely unstuffy and really smart. He’s also a very well-educated student of public policy and he’s irreverent, which has always been a plus for me.”
O’Brien appreciates Lou’s perspective and his personality. “Lou and his sense of humor, his wonderful zany self, and his ability to capture the context of the Isenberg School and history of the university, are qualities we cannot replace,” he says. “Lou is unique.”
Wigdor (whose son Ariel Wigdor is currently a 4th-year Isenberg PhD student in Management Information Systems) notes that the school has changed for the better in many ways since he started. For one, the university banned smoking on the premises. “Back in the eighties, a number of us had an addiction to really expensive imported cigars,” Wigdor says. “We would walk around the school smoking them in classes. It was disgusting.” Beyond the healthier air though, he emphasizes that the school has taken in both the Hospitality & Tourism Management Department and the McCormack Department of Sport Management in the past twenty years, both of which have added topical industry strengths, and Isenberg’s physical space has grown from the original 1964 building to incorporate both the 2002 Alfond addition near Massachusetts Avenue and the 2019 Business Innovation Hub, with its signature copper fins.
“Mark Fuller deserves tons of credit,” he says of the school’s dean from 2009 until 2018, who recently became interim chancellor of UMass Dartmouth. “He really energized the place and students loved him.”
Wigdor is also excited by the direction Dean Anne Massey, who took the school’s reins in 2019, is taking Isenberg. “I like her pan-campus perspective,” he says. “She’s a real researcher and a substantive academic.”
Moving on but Staying Close
Although Wigdor is retiring from full-time employment in Isenberg’s marketing and communications department, he has signed on to continue helping write the school’s stories as a contract employee. That comes as a relief to his colleagues, who can’t imagine Isenberg without him.
“Lou has always been a great source of musical knowledge,” says Kim Figueroa, director of internships, who counts on his recommendations. “The depth of his listening across so many genres has been an inspiration over the years.”
Many colleagues depend on his literary suggestions as well. “I would bump into him regularly at Amherst Coffee where I escaped after class, and we would often have a chat about the latest book he was reading,” says Nikunj Kapadia, the chair of the finance department. “He’s become my go-person for recommendations of books that I would not otherwise have come across.”
And, of course, they appreciate his storytelling skills. Management Professor Marta Calas recalls a 1991 federal grant proposal she wanted help with; Dean O’Brien sent her to Wigdor, who helped her complete it and win the grant. “The moral of the story is, with Lou’s help anyone can look good,” Calas says.