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Kanishka Misra

Kanishka Misra

Since he joined the faculty of the Rady School of Management in 2017, Kanishka Misra, associate professor of marketing and Jerome Katzin Faculty Fellow, has made his mark in more ways than one. He is a respected teacher who engages and inspires his students. He is a researcher who asks incisive questions on topics of great relevance to public policy. As director of the Rady Ph.D. program, Misra is making transformative curriculum changes to prepare students for teaching and research.

A Questioning Mind

Is the widespread use of pricing algorithms by companies burning a hole in the pocket of the consumer?

As algorithmic pricing has become the de facto way of setting prices in industries as varied as airlines, ride-sharing, streaming and furniture retail, regulators have taken notice. So has Kanishka Misra, associate professor of marketing and Jerome Katzin Faculty Fellow. His rigorous investigations have yielded valuable insights on a practice that has great relevance for consumer protection and public policy.

“When multiple firms are experimenting with price at the same time, what happens to the market?” questions Misra, considered a leading subject matter expert on pricing. “Can algorithms implicitly learn to talk to each other and arrive at the same price?” 

Groundbreaking Research

In “Collusive Outcomes via Pricing Algorithms,” published in 2021 in the Journal of European Competition Law & Practice, Misra collaborated with Karsten Hansen, professor of marketing at Rady, and Mallesh Pai, associate professor of economics at Rice University, to take stock of the ways in which algorithmic pricing by all firms can result in prices far above what’s competitive. The researchers found that collusive pricing may result even when firms utilizing pricing algorithms are unaware of prices set by competitors.

“As my career has progressed, I have become more and more interested in questions relating to public policy and how marketing relates to public policy,” says Misra. “Let’s try to figure out what are the implications for society.”

When a tax on sugared drinks imposed by cities such as Philadelphia and Berkeley didn’t make much of a dent on consumption, Misra began to question if there was a better way to induce consumers to make healthier choices.

The results of “Will a Fat Tax Work?”, published in Marketing Science, showed significant implications for public health policy. Misra, along with Romana Khan of Northwestern University and Vishal Singh of New York University, studied six years of milk purchase data at 1,700 grocery stores in regions where the price of milk decreases with fat content. They found compelling evidence that even small price differences were effective in inducing customers to choose milk with lower fat content. What was notable in this case, unlike the tax on sugared drinks, was that consumers had visibility to the price differences.

“It’s not going to make any difference unless it’s clear and apparent to the consumer that the taxes are being charged,” he states. 

Misra has published papers in prestigious marketing and business journals, as well as top publications in other disciplines such as economics, psychology, and statistics. His research on the impact of tax subsidies on populations of different income levels has been cited by the President's Council of Economic Advisers and referenced in leading media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, Slate and Atlantic Wire.

In 2020, he was named Jerome Katzin Faculty Fellow in recognition of his scholarship.

“It’s a great honor,” he says. “It’s very important for me to push the boundaries of research and a requirement for my research is heavy computing power. The Jerome Katzin fellowship has been great because we purchased a computing grid in the UCSD supercomputing network and I have been able to upgrade my computing capacity.”

Where it all began

Misra grew up in the history-imbued Indian capital city of New Delhi. His father was on the faculty of the chemical engineering and polymer science department at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. His mother ran a nonprofit organization that served girls from disadvantaged backgrounds.

After completing high school, Misra went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Cambridge University. He was a curious and motivated student who also excelled in sports including cricket, field hockey, soccer and rugby. His professors were role models who planted the seed for his future in academia. One moment that made a great impression on Misra was when his teacher, the acclaimed mathematician Tim Gowers, received word during class that he had been awarded the Fields Medal, one of the highest honors in mathematics.

Upon graduation from Cambridge in 2000, Misra’s first job was at a Chicago-based consulting firm. Making the choice was easy, he recalls. “At that time, it was the only company that was talking about big data.”

He plunged into his work helping clients find solutions for operational issues. Soon, however, he found himself wanting to do a deeper dive into problems in marketing.

“There were a bunch of questions asked that I found very interesting but I was intellectually a little unsatisfied by what we were producing in consulting,” he says. “It was not at the depth I wanted. What we were producing for companies was quick and efficient but I wanted to delve deeper and get a more thorough understanding. Clearly it required a lot more time that a consulting company could not afford.”

Misra’s intellectual curiosity did not go unnoticed at his workplace. Two trusted colleagues, both former professors, suggested that he consider a Ph.D. program in marketing. The advice resonated with Misra. He enrolled in the doctoral program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business.

For Misra, the program provided a rigorous foundation in how to conduct independent research. He found classmates who shared his academic interests. He was inspired by his professors. One of them was Karsten Hansen who is now Misra’s colleague at Rady and a collaborator in multiple studies.

“Entering my program, I came from the operations side of marketing,” says Misra. “My Ph.D. program was where I learned economics for the first time. It was a natural fit for me. My advisors made a big impact. I also learned a ton about how to think about a problem and think about research from colleagues who were doing the Ph.D. with me. We would spend endless hours together, talking about research.”

Developing Future Academics

As a teacher, Misra draws from his own knowledge, training and experience to nurture the next generation of academicians. Since becoming the director of the Rady Ph.D. program in 2019, he has expanded the number of doctoral classes from three to 12. Graduates have found faculty positions at top-ranked institutions such as Harvard Business School, UCLA Anderson School of Management and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Misra is an approachable, energetic and engaging teacher whose classes are sought after by Rady students. The elective class he has developed on how to use data and other tools to make profitable pricing decisions is hugely popular with all cohorts of master’s students.

What is his teaching style?

“I have learned, especially with three-hour classes, to have the class more as a discussion,” he says. “I break the class up into smaller groups of three or four. I present a problem, everyone goes to work in their subgroups. That makes for fruitful discussion. Without that you have only one or two voices. Once you have breakout groups, you get more participation, have more people speaking up. I am really proud when my students say ‘I disagree’ and provide a good argument for why they disagree.” 

A Future Full of Possibilities

We can expect more insights on algorithmic pricing from Misra as the topic will continue to be a focus of his research. Along with Rady colleague Hansen and Mallesh Pai of Rice University, he will delve deeper into the nuanced effects of algorithmic pricing and their implications for public policy. One question he is interested in answering is the impact of scaling algorithmic pricing.

“When you try and scale algorithmic pricing, when you are trying to set prices for 10 or more goods, do we still need to worry about collusion or is the market so diverse that collusion is no longer a concern?” says Misra. “The literature is going to grow. It will be nice to shape it.”