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Dozens of friends, family and colleagues joined Professor Philip Kotler, center, on Aug. 8 to celebrate the marketing scholar's 75th birthday with reminiscences and testimonials. Guests included Kotler's wife Nancy, left, and Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain, right.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Marketing!

At 75, Kellogg scholar Philip Kotler still making great contributions to the profession he helped develop, say colleagues who feted him for his diamond jubilee

By Matt Golosinski

8/8/2006 - He may not have invented marketing, but Philip Kotler sure has done more than any other person to reinvent the discipline and bring it to its modern maturity.

In fact, some would argue that marketing truly came of age only as Kotler did.

With more than a half-century of academic leadership, dozens of hugely influential books and more than 100 articles, the Kellogg School marketing expert is internationally preeminent. But on Aug. 7, friends, family and colleagues gathered to celebrate both the man's achievements and the man himself, as this year marked his milestone 75th birthday.

Admiration flowed for the economist-turned-marketing-guru during the career retrospective and dinner in Kotler's honor held at the James L. Allen Center. Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain noted that his friend and colleague has “added so much glory and recognition to Kellogg” that, in some ways, he has “become the [school's] brand.”

Born the son of a merchant in Albany Park on Chicago's Northwest Side in 1931, the same year the Empire State Building was completed in the height of the Great Depression, Kotler himself would go on to achieve towering regard as a trailblazing thinker who brought his economic training to bear on marketing, a field that in the 1950s was still largely descriptive rather than scientific.

Before he would pen landmark texts such as Marketing Management (1967) or co-author “Broadening the Concept of Marketing” (1969, with Sidney J. Levy), Kotler early on demonstrated an unquenchable curiosity and desire for learning. As a child, Kotler would retreat under the kitchen table in his family's modest apartment where he would tear through books such as 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary and the dictionary, among many other educational texts.

“Phil has the unbelievable ability to synthesize material and an unbelievable appetite to learn about things,” said Irving Rein, a Northwestern University communication studies professor and co-author of The Elusive Fan: Reinventing Sports in a Crowded Marketplace, a new text written with Kotler and Ben Shields. “It is amazing that such a person, who was born so long ago, knows so much about cutting-edge technology,” added Rein, noting that Kotler's expertise extends to marketing high-tech products as well as nonprofit organizations and even nations. (Kotler's extensive bibliography includes titles such as Marketing Global Biobrands: Taking Biotechnology to Market; Creating Social Change; and The Marketing of Nations: A Strategic Approach to Building National Wealth.)

On faculty at Kellogg since 1962 — when it was the Northwestern University School of Business — Kotler, today the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, is perhaps best known for bringing academic rigor to marketing and extending the frameworks for what the discipline could be. He, along with colleague Sid Levy, first introduced the idea that all organizations market, not simply for-profit businesses.

Levy, one of six friends and colleagues who delivered heartfelt testimonials during the birthday celebration that drew several dozen invited guests, recalled the seminal collaboration with Kotler. “‘Broadening the Concept of Marketing' created a sensation” when it was published in the Journal of Marketing in January 1969, said Levy. The article was considered, by some, too radical in its claim that marketing could, and should, be among the tools leveraged by entities such as government organizations, hospitals and nonprofit groups.

But the critics were soon proven wrong.

Kotler would go on to develop the “broadening” concept, said Levy, applying insights that transformed the way professionals in arenas as disparate as the arts, education, healthcare and public policy formulated strategy and communicated their messages. In so doing, Kotler influenced a generation of scholars, inspiring them to “do more exciting, forward-thinking work,” said Alan Andreasen, professor of marketing at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, and co-author with Kotler of “Strategic Marketing for Non-Profit Organizations.”

The scholar's influence remains “wide-ranging and voluminous” today, said longtime colleague Louis Stern, the John D. Gray Distinguished Professor of Marketing. And, he added, Kotler shows few signs of slowing down. (In fact, Kotler's actual birthday was May 27, a date that found him traveling and lecturing in Prague, necessitating scheduling the August event.)

“Phil seems to write a book or article a month,” said Stern. “I get exhausted just being his friend.”

Despite Kotler's fame and accomplishments, Stern pointed out that the marketing guru demonstrates “indiscriminate generosity” and will often devote time to others, patiently answering questions and sharing insights — even as Kotler himself continues a lifelong habit of taking down observations in a notebook, where the musings often develop into ideas for yet another publication.

“He is famous. He draws rock-star crowds, especially overseas,” said Stern, “but if you met him in the street, you would never know how famous he is [because of his easygoing nature].”

For Kotler, the effusive praise was part of “a wonderful trip down Memory Lane.”

“It was a joy to have my co-authors, along with my former and current colleagues and my formal doctoral students who have become eminent, all gathered in one location at the same time,” said Kotler. “This will be one of my most treasured memories.”