Eugene Fram’s legacy: ‘You have to be responsive’

Business professor to receive Presidential Medallion at commencement

A. Sue Weisler | photographer

Professor Emeritus Eugene Fram will receive the prestigious Presidential Medallion during an official ceremony May 23.

Winston Churchill’s famous words—the price of greatness is responsibility—ring true for marketing professor and retail expert Eugene Fram, who retired from RIT after 51 years of teaching in the E. Philip Saunders College of Business.

This message came home when Saunders College Dean Ashok Rao first arrived on campus two years ago and met with several faculty members, hoping to learn more about the history of the college. He was told Fram was the best source. “Talk about commitment,” says Rao. “I called Gene and though he had not been feeling well, he drove in and took me to a Chinese restaurant, and over fried rice and General Gau’s chicken—which he barely touched—he gave me a concise and cogent history of the college.

“I asked Gene what he did to be so successful getting his name in print and quoted across the country. He was very generous in sharing his secret: ‘You have to be responsive,’ he said. And Gene was responsive. If I sent him an e-mail or asked him for material, Gene responded within a day.”

For his significant contributions, the J. Warren McClure Research Professor of Marketing will be awarded the Presidential Medallion during RIT’s 2008 commencement ceremonies. According to Lois McClure, she and her late husband were very impressed with Fram’s reign as research professor since 1989. “He has truly been the finest person to fill a chair at any university or college in my experience. He always kept us up on what was going on at the college, and his frequent contact by mail, telephone and e-mail kept us ‘in the know’ about all things RIT and marketing.”

Responsibility for Fram also meant working closely with RIT’s University News Services. Although Fram labels it as shameless self-promotion, in 2005 he beat a record for RIT with 107 media news placements during the year.

“He’s always seeking the limelight,” says Paul Stella ’03, director of RIT University News Services and former MBA student of Fram’s, with a laugh. “But Gene’s willingness to share his expertise with the media has really done a great deal to heighten RIT’s visibility.”

A tidal wave of reporters across the U.S.—from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Associated Press, Boston Globe, Washington Post, St Louis Post-Dispatch and Sacramento Bee, to Money Morning and—have utilized Fram’s marketing expertise. He has expounded on everything from mall space, eBay, scrapbooking, Black Friday tips and Christmas shopping frenzy, to corporate governance, Enron, Wal-Mart, Kmart and Rochester Fast Ferry strategies.

On April 8, Fram was awarded RIT’s Professor Emeritus distinction during his farewell luncheon. Earlier in the day, the Democrat and Chronicle paid tribute, “RIT teaching legend retires,” but on the evening newscast of WHAM-TV (Channel 13) Bright Spot, anchor Don Alhart seemed genuinely stumped at the final clip of Fram and asked, “Who are we going to call on now about retail?” Good question.

One that could only be answered by Saunders College alumni Mike McCarthy ’79, ’88 (business administration, MBA), who has collaborated with Fram on a number of research studies as assistant professor of marketing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “Gene is the Cal Ripken of the academic world,” McCarthy says. Fram was also responsible for McCarthy’s shift from advertising and marketing executive to academia. And it isn’t the first time Fram has run career interference.

According to RIT alumni Frank Sklarsky ’78 (accounting), Eastman Kodak chief financial officer: “Fram talked me out of an engineering degree at RIT. He told me the up and coming profession was accounting, and I ended up with a 3.96 GPA and a solid career.” Speaking of GPA’s, alumni Paul Comstock ’71 (retail management), chairman of Paul L. Comstock Co. Wealth Advisory Services of Houston, recalls the “best one-liner for excellence I received from Dr. Fram, and that I have referred to repeatedly in my work . . . on his expectations for my last course, Marketing Research.

“I remember his comments at the beginning of the course, that there will only be three marks, A, B or F. And then the one-liner, ‘business does not pay for Cs and Ds.’” As Mark Boylan, Saunders director of development says: “When I speak with alums—which is all the time—the teacher they most often ask for is Gene. And when I relay this to Gene, he has never failed to recall the student—even the ancient ones—including where they sat in class, their first job upon graduating and all the subsequent career moves. Clearly, Gene became for me a great source of intelligence, a fact he was always quick to remind me of.”

Although Fram maintained a strong allegiance to his students and received RIT’s Eisenhart Award for outstanding teaching in 1997, one of his special events was preparing for the biennial McClure lecture, which was open to the Rochester community.

“He started to worry about planning and organizing the event nine months before it would take place,” says Donna Slavin, assistant director of special events and programs at Saunders College. “He would grace my door, asking me for ‘numbers’—wanting to know how many people were coming to the McClure lecture. Of course I had no way of knowing because there was no pre-registration. He seemed to think I had a crystal ball.”

And Nancy Heuer, administrative assistant to the dean, says after working with Fram for 23 years, she knew his persistence. “He loved doughnuts and for health reasons, his wife, Elinore, would make sure he stayed away from them. But he always managed to sneak a half donut while he thought no one was looking, and I would always tease him about it.” Clues to his “sweet tooth” also permeated his interviews with local media, especially when asked about the rising cost of food prices. “I used to buy my favorite muffin at Wegmans for 99 cents, and it’s now $1.25; that’s a 25 percent jump in just a few weeks,” Fram would say.

Fram will soon be missing Wegmans superstores as he moves to the west coast to be with his family in Palo Alto, Calif. But he’ll be back at RIT to receive accolades on May 23. “I’m going to be presented with the Presidential Medallion by Dr. Destler and 3,000 miles couldn’t stop me from coming,” says Fram, who will be the 63rd recipient of this prestigious award that was first issued in 1979. “This will be a highlight to a 51-year-run that I will sadly miss. But when I look back over my career, its challenges and its rewards, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed going to work every day. Not many people can say that.”

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