On an unseasonably warm day with early-evening sun brightening Mason Hall on Johns Hopkins University’s main campus, Provost Sunil Kumar accepted Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Dean Alex Triantis’ introduction and stepped to the podium microphone.
“This is forever,” he told the faculty, staff, and friends gathered. “It is rare that a collection of chairs actually helps set a true intellectual direction for the school and allow the school to paint itself as an intellectual destination in business.”
Economist Michael Keane sat in the front row, about to officially become the second Wm. Polk Carey Distinguished Professor at Carey Business School, one of three professorships endowed by the Carey Foundation and first presented to management scientist Ritu Agarwal in October 2022.
“This is a commitment from this part of the university to forever make sure that someone as talented as Michael is in the seat,” Kumar said.
“Talented” is a gracious understatement. Like Agarwal, Keane has built an academic career that spans decades and holds influence over not only innumerable students and fellow researchers, but also their very industries. A prolific contributor to top journals in economics and marketing, Keane’s 1994 Econometrica paper set the foundation for the GHK economic algorithm; the K stands for Keane. His 1996 paper with Tulin Erdem in Marketing Science is considered foundational in consumer learning and brand equity literature. His Econometrica paper the following year with economist Kenneth Wolpin holds the same esteem in the field of human capital. And he won the 2008 Kenneth J. Arrow Award for best paper in health economics.
One may be forgiven for thinking these seem like disparate topics. Keane has written about seemingly everything, from how people make decisions about housing to holiday locations, work to welfare programs. The common denominator is choice modeling, an area where Keane is considered one of the world’s leading experts.
“These sorts of choice models have a very similar mathematical structure,” Keane told the attendees after formally accepting the chair. On that basis, he said, he created a way to estimate models with hundreds of choices. “Once I had that apparatus in place, I just applied it to all sorts of problems.”
For Carey Business School, the focus of the professorships is the business of health, and that’s one of the problems Keane’s work has solved for. His choice modeling has led to formidable work on health care and insurance choices.
Keane joins Carey Business School from the University of New South Wales in Australia, where he was a professor of economics and Australian Research Council laureate fellow. Prior to UNSW, he was the Nuffield Professor of Economics at the University of Oxford. His tenured academic career began in 1993 at the University of Minnesota, followed by New York University, Yale, and the University of Technology Sydney. His economics PhD is from Brown University, and his bachelor’s degree in the field is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“In recent years I've been doing more and more health-related research, and the strengths of Johns Hopkins and Carey Business School in that area are very attractive to me,” said Keane, who officially joined the Carey faculty in January.
In addition to his seminal work in econometrics, Keane has served in several policy-related roles, including as a consultant to the Australian Federal Treasury, an international research fellow for the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and a member of the National Institutes of Health Social Sciences Panel.