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Thursday 26 January 2017

In Memoriam Professor Christopher Kobrak

It is with great surprise and sorrow that we, the professors of the Finance Department at ESCP Europe, have learned of the passing of our colleague Christopher Kobrak, whom some of us had known for more than 25 years.

We have discovered the very touching tributes written by Chris's Canadian colleagues that were published (Tiff Macklem, Dean of Rotman School of Management, Andrew Smith, University of Liverpool Management School, Andrea Schneider, European Business History Association), and felt grateful but not surprised, considering Christopher's human and even humanistic qualities. These texts speak as much of the man of ideas, of the professor and researcher, as of the man with a big heart.

It is along the same lines that we have wished to express our testimony to Christopher, and of his life that we feel fortunate to have shared.

All existence is a letter posted anonymously. Christopher’s, so abruptly interrupted, bore three prestigious stamps: New York, Berlin, and Paris. Fate cast him there by chance, but everything, in his being, in his life, led him to love these cities with equal love.

New York... He was more than an American, he was a New Yorker, with the extravagance that this implies, and with the fascination, the very affection that the inhabitants of this world-city feel for the old continent. He was born there, he did his studies there and remained faithful to it - except perhaps in his political choices. He was a Republican in a city of Democrats. But such a scant Republican that he paid a very strong and unexpected tribute to the French medical system when he had to have an urgent operation a few years ago. He made us laugh at the time...

It is perhaps thanks to this European leaning of the Big Apple and especially to his own origins that he was always fascinated by history and precisely by the tragic and tormented history of the old continent. His father was a Jewish German, his mother an Irish Catholic, a fruitful, explosive blend, a vector of all the tears of the last century and not only that one.

He told us recently that after his mother's passing, he found a document attesting that his father's first name was not Hermann as he had thought until then, but Adolf, a terrible detail that he had never known. He made this confession as if whispering, with a touching fragility, in striking contrast with his giant physique.

Berlin. Chris was a man of memories, culture and feelings, never a man of resentment. He therefore loved the capital of Germany as one loves a long-lost friend, whom one forgives everything even when one knows that she has sinned. He particularly liked its cabarets (ahhh, his admiration - voice cracking with emotion - for the Distel, the Thistle, a cabaret of chansonniers in Friedrichstrasse). He tried, as every good historian, to understand before judging, and still less, to condemn. I remember his eager air of amused provocateur when he started singing mezza voce Deutschland über alles, the German anthem, in the corridor of the 5th floor. Berlin was the city where he spent time examining the most austere archive documents to research and describe how companies organized themselves in the face of political perils, joining his two passions, history and economics.

Paris. Even more than Berlin, he loved Paris because he loved Frenchmen, and French women – let’s not go any further... He chose to stay with us, even if we exasperated him by our well-known defects. They made him a little angry and in these moments his French, a language he always enjoyed mangling with a kind of destructive and blasphemous glee, became an American pidgin, blended with German when addressing some of us. He loved our city so much that he settled there in a beautiful apartment open to all, where he often invited his friends and colleagues and where Prohibition was not the rule. He eventually oscillated between Canada (Toronto) and France, becoming a prestigious "jet professor" always between two planes, two projects, two or three languages.

Never again will we use the 5th floor corridor without seeing his massive silhouette weighted down with a huge satchel full of books, archives, brochures and course material, and without hearing his thundering and always friendly voice - interspersed with a breathlessness which we now realise was a bad sign – calling out: "comment vas-tu ? how are you? wie geht’s?"

The ESCP Europe Finance Department


A ceremony in honor of Christopher Kobrak will take place at the Crematorium du Pere Lachaise in Paris on Saturday February 4th, 2017 at 10am.

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