During the past 35 years, FedEx (formerly Federal Express) has grown from the U.S.’s largest venture capital start-up to a global leader in shipping and logistics. Under CEO Fred Smith, many people have contributed to FedEx’s success, but few are aware of the role played by someone who was not even employed by the company.
In the mid-1970s, Christopher Lovelock, then an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, wrote three cases on Federal Express. These cases became wildly popular among marketing faculty, are among Harvard’s top-selling cases and have been taught to MBA students in introductory marketing classes around the world. (At Columbia, we still use the Federal Express (B) case in our core marketing class because of the marketing lessons that it imparts.) But in the early days, when it was struggling for recognition and profitability, the exposure to tens of thousands of potential customers that Lovelock’s cases gave FedEx was arguably an important element in its success.
Christopher Lovelock died in February at his home on Cape Cod. He left the full-time academic world in the mid-1980s for a successful career as author, teacher and consultant, but continued to accept visiting appointments at major business schools. He became a leader in services marketing and his books are widely used in business schools and service organizations around the world.
But Christopher will probably best be remembered for his 50 or more marketing cases, some of which are still on bestseller lists a quarter century after they were first published. He had a remarkable ability to capture the marketing challenges that companies face at critical junctures in their development. In addition to Federal Express, my favorite is the Southwest Airlines series, also from the 1970s. Here Lovelock shows the visionary Lamar Muse, CEO of fledgling Southwest Airlines, as he must develop a market strategy to combat the then voracious Braniff Airlines.
FedEx, Southwest Airlines and many other organizations whose marketing challenges Christopher Lovelock captured went onto great success. Marketing faculty around the world owe him a debt of gratitude for providing them with teaching materials that generate student excitement and offer deep insight into the real world of marketing.
Noel Capon is the R.C. Kopf Professor of International Marketing at the Graduate School of Business, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027. His marketing textbook, Managing Marketing in the 21st Century, is available online fir students who pay-what-they-think-it's -worth.