New Leadership Structure at LIS

Dear LIS Community,

I am happy to share the news that today is the first day of a new leadership structure at LIS. Below I offer some key information and recognize several people who have made LIS what it is, over many years

The new leadership structure

Since its inception in 1983, LIS has had a single Director, responsible for the overall operation of LIS. Tim Smeeding served in that role from 1983 to 2006. Ten years ago today, Tim handed me “the baton”, and I stepped into his shoes (a daunting assignment). Tim was, of course, joined by Lee Rainwater, who served as LIS’ Research Director from 1983 to 2005, and I was joined by Markus Jäntti, who succeeded Lee in that same position, from 2005-2014.

Since 2006, LIS has grown tremendously and it is now too large and complex to be well-served by a single Director. A few years ago, I sought guidance from our Board President, Sir Tony Atkinson, and our Executive Committee. Together, we arrived at a plan for a new leadership structure and, today, that new structure takes effect.

As of 1 September 2016, LIS will be overseen by two Directors. Daniele Checchi, an economist at the University of Milan, will serve as “Director of the Luxembourg Office of LIS”. Daniele will also take on the legal role of LIS’ Secretary General. I will serve as “Director of the US Office of LIS”; the US Office remains situated within the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). In the coming years, Daniele and I will assume differentiated responsibilities, but we will work in close cooperation, making major decisions jointly about the scope of LIS’ work and its overall priorities.

Daniele will have a partner in Luxembourg, Thierry Kruten, who will continue to serve as Director of Operations and IT Director. I will work closely with Caroline Batzdorf, who will continue as Assistant Director of the US Office and Director of Development.

Daniele, Thierry, Caroline and I look forward to working together. We four are grateful that LIS’ tremendous staff – in both offices – will remain in place (albeit with the usual pattern of periodic turnover).

A brief look back at the last ten years

I must say – with considerable pride and some amazement – that our small team in Luxembourg has accomplished a great deal since 2006. Here are some highlights:

  • We added four additional “waves” of microdata (2004, 2007, 2010, and 2013) to the LIS Database, our longstanding income database.
  • We added datasets from Japan and Korea, and then prioritized acquiring data from middle-income countries; we were able to add data for the first time from India, China, South Africa, Egypt, Serbia, and Georgia, as well as from Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay; several more new countries are in the pipeline.
  • We extensively revised our variable template, twice, markedly improving the comparability and ease-of-use of our microdata.
  • We launched and then re-launched the LWS Database, which enables our community of researchers to study assets and debt, in conjunction with other socio-economic outcomes.
  • We rebranded our institution as “LIS: Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg”, released a new website, and joined the world of social media.
  • We upgraded LISSY (our remote-execution software), making it increasingly efficient and user-friendly.
  • We built a modernized documentation system known as METIS (to be introduced this autumn).
  • We initiated several new collaborations with supranational organizations, including the World Bank, the IMF, the ILO, UNICEF, UNDP, the OECD, and the European Central Bank; we also worked with the New York Times and The Guardian on in-depth media reports based on our data.
  • We added an EU-funded Visiting Scholar program and welcomed our first pre-doctoral and post-doctoral scholars funded by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR).
  • We held a large international conference on “inequality and the status of middle class”; that resulted in an edited book published by Stanford University Press in 2013; the book has received uniformly excellent reviews in diverse academic journals.
  • With support from the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy, in 2009, we launched the annual LIS Summer Lecture Series, which has featured prominent economists including Lawrence Mishel, Paul Krugman, Thomas Piketty, Holly Sutherland, Branko Milanovic, Stephen Jenkins, and Francisco Ferreira.
  • We helped to found a new unit at the University of Luxembourg focused on inequality scholarship.
  • We welcomed a remarkable roster of LIS Senior Scholars into our circle, including Professors Louis Chauvel, Conchita D’Ambrosio, Paul Krugman, Branko Milanovic, and Frank Cowell.
  • And, last but not least, our Luxembourg office moved from Luxembourg City to Belval, the new scientific and cultural center in southwest Luxembourg; this geographic move deepened our ties with our colleagues at the University of Luxembourg and renewed old ties with LISER (formerly CEPS).

During this past decade, there have, of course, been frustrations and disappointments as well. We have been denied access (we hope temporarily!) to microdata from a few key country participants and the financial crisis led to some funding instability. Nevertheless, all told, we close out these years as a small but robust organization, poised to retain our strengths and build on them in the coming years.

LIS rests on many shoulders

Transitions are, of course, times for reflection and acknowledgment. I want to recognize several people who built LIS and who helped me over the course of many years.

Nearly 35 years ago, Lee Rainwater and Tim Smeeding transformed a set of ideas into an accessible cross-national microdatabase and then built a small organization. Their energy and talent, and their unique partnership, gave LIS the foundation on which it sits today. After Lee’s retirement from LIS in 2005, he kept in touch and followed our accomplishments with pleasure. The LIS community grieved when Lee died in 2015; we remain grateful for the intellectual standards that he set for LIS. Tim’s immense contributions defy description; his dynamism and commitment to LIS remain the stuff of legend.

Tim and Lee were supported by colleagues in Luxembourg, who took a leap of faith in welcoming this odd little project – and later, institution – into Luxembourg. Gaston Schaber, Serge Allegrezza, Marc Cigrang, and Germain Dondelinger gave in myriad ways. Sadly, Gaston died in 2010, and Germain in 2015. As with Lee, their contributions to LIS live on. We enjoy productive relationships with Serge and Marc to this day.

Two extraordinary academics have served as LIS’ Board Presidents. Robert Erikson masterfully guided LIS through a difficult, but mercifully brief, episode of institutional instability; he was invaluable in shepherding LIS, fifteen years ago, as we transitioned into an independent non-profit organization. Tony Atkinson succeeded Robert, on 1 January 2012. Since taking over from Robert, Tony has brilliantly, graciously, and generously helped us to make a multitude of decisions. Tony always reminds us to think big and to look to the future, even when making decisions that seem small in the moment. I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity to work with both of them.

Finally, while many people in the Luxembourg Office of LIS have worked with me, and helped me, during my ten years as LIS’ overall Director, there are three people to whom I have turned for advice and support on literally thousands of occasions. When I arrived in Walferdange in June of 1990, to work at LIS, Caroline de Tombeur greeted me with warmth and wisdom; for 26 years, I have relied on her in countless ways. Since I became Director of LIS, Thierry Kruten and Teresa Munzi have linked me to the daily work of LIS, enabling me to do my job from across an ocean. I have learned an immense amount from them both, and I look forward to collaborating with them in the coming years. I am also grateful, of course, to the many talented people who have served on LIS’ data team over the years; they produce the foundation of our work.

A substantial expansion in New York

Today’s major change in Luxembourg is paired with an exciting development across the Atlantic – in New York. When I became LIS Director in 2006, I opened a small “US Office of LIS”, within my university, the Graduate Center (the doctoral-granting campus) of CUNY. In 2009, the LIS Center became an official center within the Graduate Center. The LIS Center has been a venue for administrative, outreach, and fundraising work in support of LIS; from there, we have also organized an array of courses, public programs, and research projects.

Earlier this year, we decided that, when LIS’ leadership reorganization was implemented – today – we would simultaneously change the name of the LIS Center, at CUNY, to the Center on Socio-Economic Inequality/ Home to the US Office of LIS. (The US Office of LIS will be a component of the Center.) The purpose of the name change is to make the content of our work more evident to a broad audience.

We were nearing completion of that transition, including creating a new website, when we received some extraordinary and welcome news. Three weeks ago, a pair of Boston-based philanthropists – Jim and Cathy Stone – gave the Graduate Center US$2,500,000 to support our new Center. Following tradition, our new Center will be named after the Stones; it will be called, in short, the “Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality”. Please visit our new website for a fuller introduction to our renamed and expanded Center. (Note that one official step lies ahead. At CUNY, namings associated with physical space are subject to approval of the CUNY Board of Trustees; that step is scheduled to take place this autumn.)

We are thrilled and delighted by this gift. It puts the US Office of LIS on solid ground. That, in turn, will enable Caroline and me to concentrate our efforts on support for the Luxembourg Office of LIS.


So, today, I hand “the baton” to Daniele – a different baton than the one that I was handed ten years ago, but one that, for him, is new nonetheless. I wish Daniele the best in his work at LIS, and I look forward to collaborating with him in the coming years.


September 1, 2016 | News