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Centers | Center for Customer Insight & Marketing Solutions

Faculty Spotlight: Professor Leigh McAlister

by Kapil Jain, Academic Director, CCIMS

Is marketing in the “path to general management” at your firm? Prof. McAlister suggests that Financial Analysts should want to know. 

Professor Leigh McAlister is the Ed and Molly Smith Chair in the Department of Marketing. Leigh’s research and professional activities have, for a long time, addressed issues at the intersection of marketing knowledge development and marketing practice. She won the 2003 O’Dell Award for the most impactful paper published in Journal of Marketing Research in 1998, the 2005 and 2011 Davidson Prizes for the best paper in Journal of Retailing and she was a finalist for the 2007 MSI/H. Paul Root Award for the Journal of Marketing Paper with the most impact on practice. During 2003-2005, Prof. McAlister was also the Executive Director of the Marketing Science Institute (MSI), a non-profit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between marketing theory and business practice.

Leigh McAlisterProf. McAlister’s current research projects seek to improve our understanding of the importance of marketing, both as a functional capability and as a managerial orientation, on a firm’s growth and long-term strategy. While serving at MSI, Leigh was struck by senior marketers’ need to identify and communicate the value of marketing to top management. Leigh believes that marketing’s value cannot be determined simply by relating a firm’s advertising expenditures to its stock price – this leads to conflicting results. Instead, Leigh proposes that changes in marketing investments by a firm tend to be viewed by the capital markets within the overall strategic orientation of that firm. Has the firm historically, as represented by its top management, sought growth through an external orientation as manifested in the building of brands and customer relationships, or has the firm sought growth through an internal orientation that was largely cost and technology driven? Management research suggests that a firm’s strategic orientation is representative of its top management’s thinking and this, in turn, is shaped by the ‘path to general management’ within the firm. When, as in firms such as Proctor & Gamble, Pepsi, and Sara Lee, marketing is the ‘path to general management,' top management tends to have an external orientation and sustained marketing investments become a key route to long-term growth. In conjunction with Prof. Raji Srinivasan, also in the marketing faculty at McCombs, her doctoral students, and colleagues from other business disciplines, Leigh is currently investigating her thesis.

Prof. McAlister’s research interests are broad and span areas of marketing strategy, consumer behavior, and marketing models. She has partnered previously with CCIMS sponsor firms in research endeavors that led to publications in the marketing literature. While recognizing that collaboration between industry and academe always requires the alignment of objectives, problem-definition, and time-frames, Leigh remains extremely interested in practitioner-relevant research questions.