In Memory of Robert D. Willig

With the heaviest of hearts and the deepest of sadness, we share that Robert (Bobby) D. Willig has passed away.

Bobby’s impact on the firm is beyond description. To put it bluntly, without Bobby, there would have been no Compass – and thus no Compass Lexecon. He was the “hub” who brought the “spokes” together to start the historic Compass. It was his idea to name the firm Competition Policy Associates – “Compass” for short. And it was through his long-term relationship with John Klick that he facilitated the deal with FTI, which ultimately brought historic Compass and historic Lexecon together.

But Bobby’s contributions go well beyond his central role in our firm’s history.

His contributions to the antitrust space are remarkable. He provided the intellectual underpinnings to the 1992 Horizontal Merger Guidelines when he served as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Economics at the Department of Justice; it was Bobby’s influence that put economic analysis at the center of merger matters. His seminal work on consumer surplus in the 1970s helped to improve welfare analysis of imperfectly competitive markets. In the 1980s, Bobby, along with Will Baumol and John Panzar, developed the theory of contestable markets – that is, where firms may act competitively even though they operate in a highly concentrated market. He also developed a deeply insightful approach to bottleneck pricing – the so-called Efficient Component Pricing Rule (or the Baumol-Willig rule) – which had broad impacts on railroad, postal, and telecommunications markets. Later, Bobby wrote influential papers on other critical antitrust issues (mostly with Janusz Ordover), such as how to analyze properly predatory pricing and bundled discounts (the so-called Ordover-Willig rule) and how to introduce quality into an Upward Pricing Pressure analysis. 

Bobby’s impact on so many of us wasn’t constrained to his academic writings though. He was the smartest person in just about any room he walked into. Bobby’s brain was like a supercomputer. He could process an amazing amount of information and was 5 (or more) questions (and answers) ahead of everyone – and he knew it too. He had a way of letting you know that you were wrong or that he had a better idea: He would simply clear his throat audibly. But one of his best qualities was that he loved to teach, and he was very generous with his time – especially between midnight and 5 am. He spent countless hours conveying his knowledge to so many of us about how to think deeply about antitrust issues – and we are all smarter and more thoughtful for those mentoring sessions.

Our loss of Bobby and Janusz – in such a short period of time – is crushing. But there is some comfort in knowing that they are back together: Drinking a glass of wine, chit-chatting about economic theory or some case or new paper, and chuckling about the story of how they first met. And we can only smile about that – and for the time we had with both of them.

In honor of Bobby, Global Competition Review has published an obituary with messages from colleagues and friends.