Every institution has its legends, and Harvard Business School is no exception. In its 100-year history, dozens of exceptional faculty have used their personal force of gravity to shape the School and influence the students who were lucky enough to come into their sphere.
Most who know HBS history would put Ted Levitt near the top of this list. Levitt, who died in 2006, both intimidated and awed his marketing students -- as well as his colleagues. He also had a deep influence on the practice of marketing, and was an early thinker on the idea of global brands and focus on the customer.
"An industry begins with the customer and his or her needs, not with a patent, a raw material, or a selling skill," wrote Levitt, citing the railroads as one example of a business that lost its way. "They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. . . .They were product oriented instead of customer oriented."In a lively article, The HBS Alumni Bulletin recently looks back on Levitt's life and times.