The experts behind our expertise.
We started Willow Research to give our clients the insights and clear-headed strategic direction that can only come from carefully blending art and science. We’re motivated to find the story in the data by both our commitment to our clients and our passion for the truth.
Sara strives to provide clients with the insights they need to move forward with confidence and succeed in meeting their strategic goals. As Willow’s leader, Sara is responsible for setting company strategy, and finding the kind of people who will allow Willow Research to tackle any new challenge on behalf of our clients. Sara believes each day at Willow is an opportunity for growth.
Sara’s research expertise is grounded in her academic training in the social sciences and 30+ years of experience working on hundreds of projects across a broad range of industries, doing deep dives into client issues and questions using a process that is both iterative and advancing. Her knowledge of the field allows her to lead the Willow team into the future and continue a tradition of collaborating with clients so they can use research to see around the corners.
Intellectually curious, Sara thrives on creating clarity out of complexity, a drive which spurred her to complete both an MA and PhD in Sociology, which earned her University of Illinois-Chicago’s “outstanding dissertation” award, all while working full-time. Versed in the full suite of qualitative and quantitative methods, she continues to stay abreast of the latest developments in social theory, research methods, and statistics. Sara is also a recognized survey expert who testifies in commercial litigation and presents on research methods and findings at professional conferences and seminars.
Sara pairs her belief in growth at work with exploration when she’s away from the office. She’s passionate about music and nature, and she enjoys hiking in the woods with her husband and their two Tibetan Terriers, Dolly and Earl.
As co-founder and company Vice-President, Vandana Razdan saw joining Sara Parikh in starting Willow Research as her chance to further a lifelong curiosity about human behavior. Having accumulated more than twenty years of experience in social and behavioral science research, Van’s curiosity is rooted in her BA from the University of Chicago in Psychology, which included time as a research assistant in the university’s Department of Psychology and a stint as a mental health counselor in Northwestern Medicine’s Norman and Ida Stone Institute of Psychiatry. Starting her market research career in 1998, Van felt like she’d found her perfect fit.
As an expert in both qualitative and quantitative research—from design to analysis to data inspection to reporting—Van thrives on answering the most difficult questions. To further her goal of giving clients information that drives their strategic direction, she completed an MBA in Marketing and International Business from Loyola University of Chicago.
In addition to her involvement in all aspects of the Willow business, with a focus on client relationships, Van serves as a kind of quality control officer, making sure that the company’s work is reflective of our values and delivers what was promised, and then some.
It is her client relationships forged over the years that Van values most, believing in the mission of giving clients information that they can act on with confidence, while building expertise and knowledge of the client’s business that allows her to add insights that clients sometimes didn’t know they needed.
Away from work, Van’s thirst for knowledge extends into her personal life, where she’s always searching for the next adventure. When she’s not planning her next trip or sampling Chicago’s many and varied dining destinations with friends, you can find her curled up on the couch with a good book.
For John, working at Willow has felt like coming home, rejoining former Leo J. Shapiro & Associates colleagues Sara Parikh and Vandana Razdan as Willow’s Senior Analyst and Communication Strategist.
John’s MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English Literature from McNeese State University inform his work both as an analyst and a writer. John’s commitment to curiosity and experimentation rooted in continuous improvement is reflected in his 20 years of teaching writing at The University of Illinois, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and the College of Charleston. As a nationally recognized expert in writing and communication pedagogy with two books on the topic, John uses his deep knowledge of the field to help clients understand not just what the data says, but also what it means.
John has published five other books, including a Washington Post #1 best seller, and writes a weekly column about books and reading for the Chicago Tribune. John also contributes columns twice a week to Inside Higher Ed, writing on a range of issues facing higher education institutions today, and is an in-demand speaker at schools, campuses, and educational organizations.
A Chicago-area native, John now lives in Charleston, SC with his wife Kathy and enjoys his once-a-week, no-check ice hockey league, as well as travelling to see some of the world’s natural wonders. He’s pleased to have more occasions to visit Chicago, the place he still considers home.
As Project Director for Willow Research, Betsy Kniffen maintains a vigilant eye to make sure that even the slightest bumps in the road are anticipated long before arrival.
With both BA (DePaul) and MA (University of Baltimore) degrees in graphic design, Betsy finds that her educational background fits well with a job which requires her to keep an eye on the big picture and on each of the project’s individual parts simultaneously. As projects move phase-to-phase—from initial research design, to questionnaire development, to sample management, data collection, quality control, and reporting—Betsy manages the flow of information, while coordinating with outside vendors and ensuring that the project will meet its deadline and exceed expectations.
Starting her market research career in 2010, Betsy realized that she’d entered a field that rewarded her natural curiosity about human behavior. She used to say she’d love it if she could get paid for people-watching, and now she does it for a living. She still looks forward to coming in to new data first thing in the morning and seeing the answers to client questions develop in real time.
Joining Willow at the company’s founding in 2015 has allowed her to put her personal stamp on the Willow process, as she works to find the best route to gathering the data and information which will result in the best possible work product.
Both disciplined and spontaneous, Betsy enjoys wandering a farmer’s market with her toddler and watching documentaries on all kinds of subjects.
Marketing & Communications ManagerMakes insights elegant and accessible.
Jennifer Cox, Willow Research’s Marketing & Communications Manager, entered the world of research through a side door, not knowing she’d found a home.
After earning an MFA and working high-end retail while trying to make a living as a theater artist, she answered the call for a “Document Specialist,” a job that soon had her working closely with market research pioneer Leo J. Shapiro at his namesake firm. Leo mentored Jennifer in the world of research as she became an expert in making the work of that world—questionnaires, reports, presentations—both clear and compelling.
Jennifer quickly came to love research, in particular how every project is unique, offering up surprises even in seemingly mundane questions (as it turns out, there’s no such thing). In many ways, market research—especially as it is practiced at Willow—reminds Jennifer of the theater: an inherently collaborative process where each participant has an important role and missing even one of those people results in a diminished overall experience.
Valuing her native curiosity and critical thinking skills, Willow throws a wide variety of jobs Jennifer’s way, including overseeing its public presentation and client communications. No two days at Willow are the same for Jennifer, which is just how she likes it.
Jennifer also teaches Public Speaking at Harold Washington College, directs the occasional storefront opera, and is a lousy but enthusiastic archer.
Sara Parikh knew that in order to do market research the way she wanted to do it—rooted in curiosity, fostering close relationships with clients, and using the most rigorous social science methodologies—she would need to set up her own shop.
After 30 years at Leo J. Shapiro & Associates, Sara founded Willow Research in 2015 with her LJS colleague of nearly 20 years, Vandana Razdan. Willow carries on the tradition of thoughtful methods and practices learned under market research pioneer Leo J. Shapiro, while continuing to advance as practitioners of sophisticated market research, discovering truths that guide client decision-making.
Sara and Van have surrounded themselves with experienced researchers who share their native curiosity and passion for answering complex questions. Today, Willow has grown into a company capable of handling any project for any client.