Albert Madansky, University of Chicago statistics professor newstrendslive

Albert Madansky was a statistics professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School — now known as the U. of C.’s Booth School of Business — and also was a deputy dean as the school shifted its focus from purely research and scholarship to the student experience.

“The faculty, of course, resisted doing anything differently and the rest of the world, including students, wanted us to do everything differently,” recalled Sam Peltzman, a retired U. of C. economics professor at the business school. “Al was the one who had to — gently, kindly, respectfully but firmly — nudge us into the new era. I think he succeeded; it could have been disastrous in other hands.”

Madansky also was a standout in his field of statistics whose research included valuing corporate stock options and analyzing the likelihood of nuclear war.

Albert Madansky in an undated photo. Madansky was a standout in his field of statistics whose research included valuing corporate stock options.

Madansky, 88, died of heart failure on Dec. 8 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, his daughter Michele said. He had been a Streeterville resident.

Born in Chicago, Madansky was the son of Polish Jewish refugees. He grew up on South Kostner Avenue in the West Side Lawndale neighborhood and graduated from Marshall High School. Madansky received a bachelor’s degree from the U. of C. at age 18 in 1952, a master’s in 1955 and his doctorate three years later.

Madansky worked as a mathematician for the RAND Corp., and then was a senior vice president with the New York-based advertising agency holding company Interpublic Group before becoming president of a company called Dataplan from 1968 until 1970.

Madansky taught computer science from 1970 until 1976 at the City College of New York City, where he was department chair starting in 1971. In the mid-1970s, he returned to his hometown as a professor at the U. of C.’s business school.

Madansky taught courses in statistics, econometrics and a class on great books in business, and he eventually was named to an endowed professorship, the H.G.B. Alexander professorship of business administration.

“Al had a delightful sense of humor and brought that to most everything he did,” said Jim Schrager, a clinical professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at the U. of C.’s business school. “His love of a good joke — never at anyone else’s expense — was his trademark.”

Schrager also termed Madansky “the model” of a U. of C. professor, in that he was “massively brilliant and often challenging, but always with a wonderful sense of adventure.”

“Al was clearly brilliant with numbers and statistics,” Schrager said. “But he was much more than that. He broke the stereotype of a super-smart person in one highly technical area who was not interested in tackling problems outside of their area of expertise. Al was interested in almost everything.”

Madansky was named the business school’s associate dean in 1985 and then deputy dean in 1990.

“Al was a practical, no-nonsense kind of guy, but a warm and kind human being. The practical part of him saw exactly what needed to be done and how to do it without any intermediate obfuscation,” Peltzman said. “It made him an effective consultant and also an effective deputy dean.”

In his research, Madansky could be incredibly serious but also lighthearted. While at the RAND Corp., he tried to calculate the likelihood of the risk of nuclear war. He also helped develop a method for pricing corporate stock options, known as the Gastineau-Madansky model.

The Modern Library, a book publisher, asked him in 1999 to devise a statistically sound method for rating the 100 best nonfiction books of the 20th century. He accomplished the task in a way that was accompanied by none of the controversy that had come the previous year involving a similar list of English-language novels.

Ultimately, the Modern Library compensated Madansky for his effort not with money, but with books.

Another of Madansky’s more whimsical analyses took place in the 1970s, when he and a Yale professor conducted a blind taste test to reach a conclusion on which Manhattan delicatessen made the best pastrami sandwich.

Madansky stepped down as deputy dean in 1993 but remained as a full professor until retiring in 1999. In retirement, he ran a consulting firm that provided litigation support for price-fixing cases and wage analysis, and he also took physics classes at Northwestern University and was involved with the Lake Shore Drive Synagogue, his daughter said.

Peltzman noted that Madansky was “part of a generation of Chicago Jews who contributed much to the university.”

“I saw this aspect of Al constantly, because Yiddish is my mother tongue and Al knew that,” Peltzman said. “He was much more fluent than I, who had mainly forgotten the language. But we conversed with a twinkle in each of our eyes.”

A first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter, Madansky is survived by his wife of 32 years, Paula; three other daughters, Susan Groner, Cynthia Madansky and Noreen Ohcana; 13 grandchildren; two stepdaughters, Deborah Haizman and Rebecca Hirschfield; one stepson, Jonathan Klawans; and one great-grandson.

Services were held.

Bob Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.

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