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The spirit of Kellogg: research and teaching

Professor Lakshman Krishnamurthi

Professor Lakshman Krishnamurthi  
Professor Lakshman Krishnamurthi  
A. Montgomery Ward Professor of Marketing Lakshman Krishnamurthi discusses the strengths of Kellogg as both a teaching and research environment.

Kellogg World: Kellogg has traditionally been known as a Marketing powerhouse, but that academic area is certainly no longer the school’s only strength.

Professor Lakshman Krishnamurthi: Kellogg has been in the top three business schools for the last 12 or 14 years. You can never be ranked at that level without being really exceptional everywhere. The Marketing department can only reflect so much of this success.

So a school has to be balanced throughout the organization to earn top rankings?

Yes. Now, across the board, Kellogg is a high-powered organization. Wharton and the University of Chicago you can say are finance-driven, while Harvard is known for its general management curriculum. Stanford is often considered more entrepreneurial in its bent. These labels may serve to give an identity to the institution, but by and large schools cannot be reduced to their label. From Kellogg’s perspective, the departments here that are very, very well regarded—both in terms of overall reputation and research impact—include Finance, Marketing, Management and Organizations, and Management and Strategy.

What accounts for the legendary status of Kellogg’s Marketing department?

One reason we are so well known in Marketing is because of the early leadership books written, even before Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking work. This goes back a way. It’s helpful to visit the Marketing department’s Web page to learn the history of the department as well as obtain a perspective on our early scholars.

What are some of the differences, from a research perspective, between some of the early marketing studies and what we see now?

Research then has a much broader focus, a more macro aspect to it. A lot of the institutional knowledge of how marketing functions came from Kellogg researchers. We had our share of marketing leaders. Of course Phil Kotler joined us in the mid-1960s. He was not a marketing expert at that time, but came, I believe, from an economics background.

Early in the life cycle of a discipline, when it’s just starting to grow, a person from the outside can come in and make an impact, even if they have not been formally training in the discipline. More or less this is what happened with Phil Kotler. When the disciplines are more mature, it’s harder to do this. You cannot have an economist coming in and teaching marketing, at least not so easily.

What accounts for Kellogg’s ability to develop such strong programs and curricula across a variety of disciplines?

When you’re in some sense a dominant player in a particular discipline you tend to attract high quality people, and that helps you get better. We call it the virtual cycle effect: the strong attract the strong. Clearly, over time we attracted some very talented people.

Marketing as a discipline has, of course, grown much more deep and broad since those early days. It’s grown into three basic areas. One is the managerial side, one is the behavioral side—where a lot of ideas come from psychology and anthropology—and one is the quantitative side, which involves more economic, statistics and operations research. If you look at our Marketing department over the last seven years, we’ve hired high-quality individuals in each of these areas. Many of us have written cutting edge articles that have won major awards.

This kind of acknowledgment is one highly visible manifestation of the knowledge capital at Kellogg.

That’s right. Prof. Greg Carpenter has twice won the O’Dell Award given by the American Marketing Association. This award is given to the person responsible for writing the article that has had the most impact over a five-year period. He’s done this twice. [Ed. note: Prof. Krishnamurthi has also been a finalist for this award.]

The John Little Award is given for the top paper in Marketing in a given year. Dean Jain, Prof. Robert Blattberg and myself have all won this award for different papers that were published in the highly prestigious Marketing Science journal. We’ve have people in our department serve as president of the Association of Consumers, the parent association that publishes the Journal of Consumer Research, among other things. Prof. John Sherry was the most recent president.

Very impressive. Sounds like everyone is interacting with one another here, each benefiting from the other great minds and talent. How does this fact impact the research conducted here?

The research process is one that, as a faculty member, you think about a lot as you work to develop your ideas. But you also need good, quality people to work with. One of the things that happens in an academic institution is that quality faculty attract quality students, including PhD students. Look at the history of this department. We have graduated more students who, in totality, have won more awards than any other school. Our winning these awards says something about the quality of the program here, and of the Kellogg faculty.

What would you say tends to make Kellogg stand apart from its peers?

One of the hallmarks of our tradition here is collaboration. Yes, we all have to compete and we’re all evaluated based on our production and the caliber of our research, but we all have a very close relationship with our students. PhD students in particular come to seem part of your family. As a professor, you are helping them achieve, but they are enhancing your skills too. Our close relationship with our students is noteworthy. We work closely with them when they are here, and after they leave. I think that collegiality, that sense of trust and respect in the student, those qualities really help in creating a very nurturing and professional climate at Kellogg.

What keeps you excited about teaching and research?

I’ve just gotten better at doing it. In the last five years I’ve gotten much better at being a teacher, and that makes it exciting. I live and breathe this business: I teach, I research, I read all the time, I consult. These are not independent activities; they’re all connected in some fashion. When you’re in the classroom teaching, you are on stage for three hours and the high comes when you make a connection with the students. Teaching is very hard, especially in a place like Kellogg where the expectations of the administration and students are very high. Teaching is a personal kind of relationship, a connection. It involves imparting structure and flexibility in the classroom. There’s a lot that goes into it.

©2001 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University