02 Nov 2021

Harvard Business School Professor Alvin J. Silk, Dies at 85

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Alvin Silk

Alvin J. Silk, a renowned marketing expert and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Business Administration Emeritus at Harvard Business School (HBS), passed away in October, 2021. He was widely recognized as an influential scholar and educator in the field of marketing.

Silk joined the HBS faculty in 1988 after a year's visit and two decades at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he served as deputy dean from 1981-87. Earlier in his career, he taught at the University of California, Los Angeles (1963-66) and the University of Chicago (1966-68).

“It would be hard to overstate the significance of Al's impact at the School,” said HBS Dean Srikant Datar. “His humility and sense of humor made him instantly approachable and he quickly became a thoughtful and caring advisor to doctoral students and a trusted mentor to faculty colleagues. A measure of his remarkable intellect is the fact that he carried on an active research agenda long after he had retired from the School.”

Silk’s research examined the economics of the advertising and marketing services industry, the development and management of advertising campaigns, and decision support systems in marketing. He is the author of numerous journal articles, working papers, book chapters, and case studies, and the co-edited book, Behavioral and Management Science in Marketing (Ronald Press, 1978). These publications span five decades, including 2021 articles in Marketing Science and Foundations and Trends in Marketing. He was recognized as an Edelman Laureate by INFORMS in 2013 for innovative applications of operations research and management science. In 2015, he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa (L.L.D.), from The Ivey Business School at Western University.

“Al was a serious and committed scholar whose ground breaking research on the marketing services and advertising industries is still referred today as the gold standard,” said Rohit Deshpandé, Sebastian S. Kresge of Marketing. “But as his friend, I got to enjoy the side of him that was passionate about living life to the fullest. He was a lover of jazz music with a finely tuned palette for French cuisine, and a wonderful story teller with a great sense of humor.”

Silk introduced students to his research through the Brand Marketing elective he created in the MBA Program; he also taught Research Design and Measurement in the Doctoral Programs. He served as co-chair of the Marketing unit from 1994-1998.

“When I first learned that Al Silk—the person with the highest research standards in our profession and the most encouraging way of expressing them to you—was coming to spend a year with us, I was thrilled,” said Robert Dolan, Baker Foundation Professor. “I never imagined that Al would stay with us for more than three decades and retain a significant presence in the Marketing unit even after his retirement. He leaves a lasting legacy at HBS where so many have been impacted by his 'slow down, dig deep, cover all the angles, express it clearly and concisely' approach.”

The family's obituary can be found here. Silk’s impact and legacy at the institutions about which he cared so deeply will carry on through his generosity. He established an endowed chair at HBS in 2013, the Diane Doerge Wilson Professorship of Business Administration, in honor of his late wife; it is held today by its first incumbent, Robin J. Ely. He also endowed fellowships at Ivey Business School at Western University, MIT Sloan School of Management, and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 200 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and doctoral degrees, as well as more than 70 open enrollment Executive Education programs and 55 custom programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, HBS faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching to educate leaders who make a difference in the world, shaping the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.