ISU alumnus Jan Eglen manages the risk

June 16 2008

INDIANAPOLIS -- Although Jan Eglen worked with the pioneering efforts to send man into space, developed one of the first hovercraft and co-founded a company that mixes psychology with pricing, he doesn’t consider himself a risk taker.

Instead, he sees himself as a risk manager.

“I’ve always made a difference between people that take risks and people that manage risks," said the psychologist and business entrepreneur who has earned four degrees from Indiana State University. “Managing risks you have some idea of what the outcome’s going to be and you have some control over the risk. Taking a risk is just going for it without any control over your situation.”

Eglen has managed the risks as his work has taken different turns through the years since he earned his bachelor’s and first master’s degree -- in psychology -- from ISU. His life’s steps have taken him from the U.S. space program, to owning a company developing hovercraft, working as a psychologist for 25 years and now to building a company that applies behavioral methods to the marketplace. That company, Digonex, recently signed an agreement with Warner Music Group to bring fair pricing to the music industry.

“What makes Jan the natural curiosity of a scientist, the imagination of an artist and the entrepreneurial instincts of a good businessman,” said Maurice Rodgers, an internationally known blues musician and Eglen’s friend since college days. “Not too many people can think like Jan, which puts him in the league of a small group of what I call “˜real thinkers.’”

It was in Eglen’s hometown of Seymour that he began building relationships that have remained with him through his life and amassing life skills that he uses today.

“For the most part, most kids in Seymour made a lot of whatever they played with,” he said. “That isn’t as bad as it may sound. You learn how to be creative and how to build things. You learn to use your imagination. You develop your own skill set.”

It’s necessary to acquire a variety of life tools and skills that can be used in different situations, Eglen said.

“Maslow [Abraham Maslow, a psychologist], said there are five basic needs of human life, but he also said something else,” he said. “He said “˜If the only tool you have is a hammer, then you tend to treat everything else as if it were a nail.’ I like to have a toolbox that’s got lots of different tools in it.”

One of those tools came through a blood-brother relationship. When Eglen was 8 years old, he was sitting outside his mother’s drive-in with Richard “Sonny” Mellencamp, who worked for his father.

“All of a sudden he pulls out his switchblade knife and opens it, grabs my left hand and makes a small cut in my finger,” Eglen recalled. “He does the same thing to himself and then rubs our fingers together.”

Mellencamp told him they were now blood brothers, and if one of them ever needed help, he would just need to call the other.

After graduating from high school, Eglen, who planned to become a doctor, decided to attend Indiana State University because of its excellent pre-med program.

“At the time that I went to ISU, no one that had ever made it through their pre-med course had ever been denied admission to medical school,” said Eglen.

In addition to studies, music -- a passion for Eglen -- became a core part of his college life. A meeting in the ISU student union led to the creation of the Maurice Rodgers Combo, and life-long friendships.

“There was a piano and I was jamming with a congo player,” Rodgers recalled about meeting Eglen. “Later, Jan got us booked in the auditorium of the college where we played for the students. From there we started playing for all the frat houses. Jan was doing all the bookings. “ Jan was the first person I knew who did multi-task things, and did them all well. He made it look easy.”

Combo members fondly remembered winning a “Battle of the Bands” contest at Indiana University, as well as played at a professional music association conference in Saint Louis and knocked out the attendees.

“We had the best band in the Midwest,” Eglen said. “We played every place and my sophomore year I played off campus 32 out of 36 weeks.”

Although Eglen, along with his eight other pre-med classmates, were accepted into medical school, he opted to pursue a master’s in psychology instead and spend another year and a half at ISU.

“I’d met this girl,” he said. “I went ahead and got a master’s and got married.”

On the day of his wedding to his wife, Jo, on Oct. 1, 1966, Eglen and his new bride headed more than 2,000 miles away to Costa Mesa, Calif., and jobs at McDonnell Douglas with the Manned Orbital Laboratory program. His wife worked in programming while Eglen worked with the astronauts through the crew requirements group.

“We would build mockups of control panels and the lab interior and then practice tasks until we figured out how you do things in space,” he said. “We designed the first sleep restraint, which is still pretty much the same system they use today. My responsibilities were pretty broad, but included contingency task analysis and biomedical activities. I worked with the astronauts in pressurized environments and we developed techniques for working with tools, exercising and so forth in space.”

While testing the sleep restraint system on astronaut Jim Lovell, Eglen asked him if he would take a picture of the Earth when they went around the moon on Apollo 8. Lovell agreed. One of the members of Eglen’s group met the astronauts after they returned and Lovell threw him a roll of film, which was given to Eglen.

What they saw when the film was developed was something that no one but the astronauts who circled the moon had seen -- the Earth rising. Eglen still has a framed print from the first picture on the roll.

After spending three years in California, Eglen returned to Indiana where he worked on hovercraft; a vehicle that fascinated him since he first saw one on the cover of a magazine in 1959 and built one out of aluminum foil, wire, solder and coat hangers with a model airplane engine for power.

“It was not a financial success as such, but was a pioneering effort,” Eglen said about the business.

After 10 years in operation, a man who broke in to burglarize the company, set fire to it to cover his crime. At the time, he and Jo had a son Jeremy who was 18 months old and Jo was pregnant with their daughter, Jocelyn. During the summer of 1979, he and Jo decided that he would return to school, where he had already received a second master’s degree in life sciences.

Eglen enrolled at ISU in the counseling psychology program and received his doctorate. For 25 years, Eglen counseled people. He and two partners established Associated Psychologists in Terre Haute, which grew to be the largest in Indiana with nine offices around the southern part of the state.

“It was a great career and I loved doing it,” he said. “Managed care ruined behavioral health in my view, plain and simple.”

Through different career paths, music has always been a part of Jan Eglen’s life, and as his psychology career began to arrive at a coda, he turned to it again. Now, he’s on the business side of it through Digonex, a company that applies psychology to the marketplace.

Digonex is a software development company that has developed a dynamic pricing system. One area where that system is being put to use is the music industry.

“We’re determining the elasticity change in price due to quantity demand,” said Jeff Eglen, who is working with his older brother Jan at Digonex. “Older albums, catalog albums when you go to Best Buy or Wal-Mart are typically priced higher than Jay Z’s new album or Cheryl Crow’s album. It’s price versus demand. The number sold and demand drops off over time. Demand for The Carpenters is very, very small.”

Through specially created software, Digonex looks for the right price to sell albums, whether of The Carpenters or Mariah Carey, so that the consumer and the record company both are happy.

“We try to get the price right so the vendor and consumer wins,” Jan said.

For developing that system to get the price right, Digonex already has two patents with 12 more pending. One is for a system that allows Digonex to change prices in stores and on the Internet at the same time by using wi-fi and specially designed price devices.

“We’ve carved out a niche and the government recognizes that,” he said.

So has Warner Music Group, which signed a deal with Digonex in May for the company to recommend varying wholesale prices on select digital album downloads.

It took the company seven years to get a major label interested, and during those seven years, Jan Eglen reached into his past and called his blood brother, who decades before had promised to help. Mellencamp’s son, John Mellencamp, had become an internationally known rock star.

A meeting with Mellencamp’s business manager and Richard Mellencamp led to a meeting with Mike Wanchic, who is the leader of the Mellencamp band.

“Mike “˜got it’ and became a consultant for us,” Jan Eglen said, adding Wanchic is now vice president of digital media at Digonex. “My blood brother of some 50 years -- at the time -- made good on his promise.”

After spending three years at Rose-Hulman Ventures in Terre Haute, Digonex moved to downtown Indianapolis in October 2005 and now has 25 employees.

On the desk in Jan Eglen’s downtown Indianapolis office sits a pair of drumsticks and a practice pad, and on youtube.com is a video of the reunion of the Maurice Rodgers Combo performing “The Band is Back Together,” which Jan Eglen wrote.

“As only Jan can do, he got the members of the band from Indiana and California. We played in the studio and recorded and played live at two different venues all without much practice,” Burnett Caudill, magistrate in Marion County Superior Court and original combo member, said. “It was the thrill of a lifetime for me. Jan again herded cats and made it happen.”

During the 2007 Brickyard weekend, the band played at the Slippery Noodle in downtown Indianapolis -- its first live gig in 42 years -- and about 700 people showed up.

“Music kind of chronicles history. You know, if you listen to music there are a few songs that aren’t about anything, but most of them are about the times in which we live. I think the best songs are the ones that have a message,” Jan Eglen said. “Now I didn’t really intend it to be that way when I wrote “˜The Band is Back Together.’ I really wrote it because we were getting the band back together, but if you listen to it, it’s my life story.”

-30- Contact: Jan Eglen, Digonex chief executive office, at 317-638-4150 ext. 210 or at jan@digonex.com

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or at jsicking@indstate.edu

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/269802089_D2oCo-D.jpg

Cutline: Jan Eglen, ISU alumnus, explains about Digonex, the company where he is now the chief executive officer. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/304106186_rskFg-D.jpg

Cutline: Jan Eglen shows framed Earth rise photo, which he had astronaut Jim Lovell sign after Lovell spoke at ISU in 2003. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/269802737_GgpKz-D.jpg

Cutline: ISU graduates working at Digonex are: front, Holly Cooper, Jan Eglen, Tobias Switzer and Jocelyn Eglen. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem

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Story Highlights

Although Jan Eglen worked with the pioneering efforts to send man into space, developed one of the first hovercraft and co-founded a company that mixes psychology with pricing, he doesn't consider himself a risk taker.

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