Larry Compeau doesn't just defy convention—he challenges all accepted wisdom.
In his marketing courses at Clarkson University's School of Business, he asks students to give presentations, then proceeds to “grill them relentlessly” until he’s satisfied with their arguments.
The Professor of Consumer and Organizational Studies admits that he comes across as aggressive, and even annoying, in his questioning.
“Talk to any of my students, and they’ll tell you I’m absolutely brutal. I just don’t accept crap. I won’t accept it,” Dr. Compeau said. “I push them because I firmly believe in the intrinsic satisfaction of doing something you thought couldn’t do, and doing it well.”
Despite that tough reputation in the classroom, Dr. Compeau has a special place on his office wall where his most prized recognition hangs—the 2007 Clarkson University Distinguished Teaching Award. The honor goes each year to the faculty member who alumni say has had the most impact on their lives after graduation.
“My classroom philosophy is simple: If you’re not challenging yourself, intellectually and professionally, why are you bothering?” he said. “Our students are very in tune and intuitive. You can be obnoxious, but if they know you’re doing it for them, they will thrive.”
It also helps that despite his Socratic method, Dr. Compeau is extremely affable. He’s also very good at explaining complex market behaviors in an understandable way.
For that reason, the professor has been contacted for interviews by journalists from major publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, Newsweek, TIME and Crain's New York Business. He sheds light on issues related to his main research interests of pricing, consumer behavior and psychology and marketing strategy.
He also serves as an expert witness for legal cases, like one in Canada recently where a chain store advertised limited-time “sale” prices, even though items were rarely sold at regular prices.
In addition, he has taken a close look at the impact that having bad credit as a result of going into debt has on consumers.
“I look at consumers who have suffered bad credit, and how that impacts their lives, how they reconstruct their identity,” Dr. Compeau said. “Whether it’s buying clothes or bowling or traveling, what if you could no longer buy things that are ‘you’ anymore? It’s hard to fathom how deeply troubling this can be for people.”
Often, Dr. Compeau’s work has a strong public policy bent, with the aim of drawing the attention of state attorneys general or the Federal Trade Commission about deceptive pricing practices.
“I’m proud that my research has had an impact, in that consumers are better off today as result of my publications and that feels good. I’m a sucker for the underdog—all my life I have been,” he said.
Today, Dr. Compeau serves as Executive Officer of the Society for Consumer Psychology, headquartered at Clarkson. He has also served as adviser to the University’s award-winning student Solar Knights racecar team.
By the way, Dr. Compeau says he’s seen the level of innovation grow exponentially at Clarkson over the years, and he should know.
The Massena, N.Y., native earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree here before returning as a professor in 1991, after completing his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech. Plus, two of his children are Clarkson grads, too.
“People say I bleed green and gold, but last I checked, it’s still red!” he said, laughing.