Neil Beckwith

NEIL BECKWITH (1937-2012)

Neil Beckwith was a versatile and distinguished scholar whose contributions to academe, the for-profit-practice world and policy making have been impactful.  He moved among these three worlds effortlessly.  Robert (Bob) Leone, a fellow Bass doctoral alumnus and a former faculty member in The University of Texas and Ohio State University and now J. Vaughn and Evelyne H. Wilson Chair in Marketing testifies to this, “Neil was certainly one of the earliest ‘brick layers’ of quantitative marketing and always had his hand in both the academic world and practice.”

After his B.S. in Engineering Science, Neil went to work for Bendix Corporation working on Telos Missile System.  After a stint in private sector, Neil got his MBA (Michigan State University) and doctoral (Purdue) degrees.  His doctoral dissertation supervisor was Frank M. Bass – Neil was one of his very early doctoral students.  Neil was a faculty member in Columbia University and Wharton.  During this time period, he consulted with and worked for Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the Office of Policy Planning and Evaluation.  After FTC, Neil went back to private sector – first as Vice-President to ARA services (now ARAMAK), a national diversified services company and then as Vice-President of marketing at Deluxe Corporation.  After these contributions, Neil circled back to academe as professor at Notre Dame University.

Neil’s work was impactful both in academe and outside academe. Don Lehmann, a fellow doctoral at Purdue under Frank Bass who is now the George E. Warren Professor of Business at Columbia University has this to say on the pioneering nature of Neil’s scholarship: “Our 1975 paper on the halo effect used, without labeling it as such, the average of what people thought about an alternative as what is now called an instrument for its true value and explored whether the series of equations were identified not just in principle but empirically, arguably the first time this was done in marketing.”

What about the policy work at FTC?  At FTC, Neil was formulated the early regulations on comparative advertising and those (core) regulations have stood test of time and policy changes.  William (Bill) L. Wilkie, Aloysius and Eleanor Nathe Professor of Marketing at Notre Dame University, and a colleague of Neil at Notre Dame who recruited Neil to FTC, speaks to the sustained impact of Neil’s work at FTC: “He did a great job there, contributing to improved marketing regulation in our country.”  Bob echoes this, “(Neil) affected their (FTC’s) policies on comparative advertising.”

Here is what makes Neil a very special person.  He was truly a renaissance scholar. 

Neil was an avid cyclist – he did not dabble in cycling, he excelled in it.  Listen to what Bill has to say: “Neil then talked me into biking with him: he had been a paperboy in his youth, and would relive those days with these rides. He'd come by my house at 6:30 am, and we'd ride (slowly) all day, sometimes for over a hundred miles, then we graduated to formal ride events in nearby states. Neil revealed great enthusiasm on these, and we sometimes delved into deep discussions. He then began taking incredible solo rides as well (staying in motels at night), the first to Bismark, North Dakota, then another to Boston and on to Raleigh, NC, and so forth!”  And Don Lehmann confirms that Boston trip, “One year he planned to attend the American Marketing Association (AMA) conference in Boston and rode his bike to get there (from Indiana.)”

Michael Etzel, now Professor Emeritus at Notre Dame University and a (former) colleague of Neil, speaks with awe Neil’s passion for cycling and his incredibly zestful life and living, “One day in the office I noticed an unusual line on the side of his face.  When I inquired about it, he said it was from the strap on his biking helmet that had prevented the space from tanning.  That struck me as quite ambitious, so I asked how much he was riding. He told me he had started out from South Bend to ride north, maybe as far as Kalamazoo MI.  Well, it turned out he just kept riding, going all the way to Northern Michigan, becoming the first bicyclist of the season to cross the Mackinac bridge to the upper peninsula.   Then he turned west and rode into Wisconsin!  I don't know exactly how far he finally went, but he said when he was too tired to ride back, he stopped and caught a bus back to South Bend.  Virtually the entire ride (which covered several days) was unplanned and spontaneous.  Who does things like that?  Quite a guy.”

Neil loved the stars and the skies.  Here, too, not a casual observer of the wonders of nature but a keen and insightful examiner of the mysteries of the world.  Bob recollects, “He was into astronomy and he even traveled to a conference in Seattle with his telescope since there was going to be some kind of ‘event’ in the sky that he didn’t want to miss!!”

Neil was a man with passion for excellence and diligence for thoroughness.  Recollecting his doctoral scholarship, Don says (in his inimitable style), “As an indication of his thoroughness, when we studied for comprehensives he forced me to prove all the theorems in a statistics book.” And Bill this, “His passions ran deep.”

Neil had a deep sense of irony and self-deprecation.  Don recollects vividly Neil’s bicycle ride to Boston (from Indiana) for the AMA Conference and what happened next: “He got there early and, rather than wait around, simply got on his bike and rode back to Indiana.”

Neil was a gentleman and a humanist. Many were impacted by his care and concern, from his mother (“(he) returned to (Indiana) to care for his aging mother,” Bill) to colleagues and friends whose lives he made better.

Bill reflects poignantly thus, “Neil was a fine scholar, but also a genuine, unique man, and I treasure having had him as a friend and colleague."

Of this gathering of Frank Bass who was a master-magician in mentoring doctoral scholars (and apparently a wonderful match-maker of scholars too) in the early days of marketing science, Bill recollects this after more than 50 years, “I first met him (Neil) at Purdue, when Frank Bass walked me down the hall to Don Lehmann's and Neil's PhD office, introduced me as a Stanford PhD student there for a faculty job interview, and instructed them to interview me (Frank clearly didn't want to). I have no recollection of that interview itself (I did get the job), but it did lead to a career of friendship with both of these guys!”


Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (G.K.)
Dated: October 2021