BOSTON -- Harvard Business School Professor Theodore (Ted) Levitt, a monumental and iconoclastic figure in the field of marketing and former editor of Harvard Business Review, who influenced generations of both scholars and practitioners with his groundbreaking, carefully crafted, always provocative, and often controversial books and articles, died yesterday (Wednesday, June 28) at his home in Belmont, Mass., after a long illness. He was 81 years old.
Levitt joined the Harvard Business School (HBS) faculty in 1959 and quickly gained an international reputation as an extraordinary scholar, writer, and teacher. His article "Marketing Myopia," which was first published in Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 1960 and which argued that companies and entire industries declined because management defined their businesses too narrowly, immediately became a huge success, with requests for 35,000 reprints from 1,000 different companies soon after its publication. More than 40 years later, more than 850,000 reprints had been sold, making the article one of the best-selling HBR articles of all time.
The key question that all managers must be able to answer, he advised, is "What business are you in?" The railroads, for example, "let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business instead of the transportation business," he wrote.
Nearly a quarter century later, Levitt created a still-raging controversy in the worldwide business community with his 1983 HBR article "The Globalization of Markets." Besides coining the word "globalization," he asserted that new technologies had "proletarianized" communication, transportation, and travel, creating a new commercial reality -- the emergence of global markets for standardized consumer products at lower prices, thanks to economies of scale -- a sea change that was especially evident in companies such as Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, and McDonald's. He insisted that the future belonged not to the multinational corporation, but to the "global corporation" that did not cater to local differences in taste.
The ongoing …