Interview was executed by Matt Weingarden, AMA
Ruth Bolton is Professor of Marketing at the W.P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University. She is a past Executive Director of the Marketing Science Institute. She studies how organizations can improve business performance over time by creating, maintaining and enhancing relationships with customers. Her recent research has focused on high technology, interactive services sold in global business-to-business markets. She previously held academic positions at Vanderbilt University, the University of Oklahoma, Harvard University, University of Maryland, and the University of Alberta. She also spent eight years with Verizon, working on projects in the telecommunications and information services industries. She was born in and spent the early part of her career in Canada.
What attracted you to marketing as a discipline of study?
My professors at Queen’s University encouraged me to apply to Carnegie-Mellon University, where I eventually studied. Carnegie-Mellon offered a PhD. in Industrial Administration. I enjoyed my first marketing seminar there and decided to take a marketing concentration. There were many excellent economists and econometricians there, so it was a great learning opportunity.
Is there a contribution that makes you feel exceptionally proud?
From a research standpoint, I am very pleased with my work building models of customers’ judgments and behavior over time. It is challenging to collect rich longitudinal data at the level of the individual consumer or firm and to develop a theory-based model that explains how customers’ judgments or behavior have changed over time. I hope my work has contributed to advances in services marketing and customer relationship management. Much of my work was done with cooperation from different companies. My goal has been to advance marketing practice, as well as marketing science.
In terms of contribution to the marketing community, my service as Editor of the Journal of Marketing and (subsequently) as Executive Director of the Marketing Science Institute was interesting and important. A key “behind the scenes” aspect of both jobs is that you can help advance the field as a whole by encouraging advances in marketing science and practice. The same observation is true for serving on Academic Council or the Board of Directors of the AMA – but the ultimate outcomes are not directly observable in such administrative roles.
Was there a pivotal moment or key person in your career?
Dr. Richard Staelin, Chair of my dissertation committee, was my most important academic role model. He demonstrated intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm, and integrity — as well as rigorously applying scientific principles to a wide variety of marketing problems. In addition, he was a dedicated teacher, served in many administrative and service roles and demonstrated an amazing work ethic.
A pivotal moment in my career was my 7-8 years working for GTE (now Verizon) in their research and development laboratories. (Verizon is a large telecommunications provider.) I had the opportunity to work on many business problems faced by managers in the three strategic business units of the organization: wireline, wireless, and information services. I was able to deepen my capabilities in all aspects of marketing research (experimental studies, survey research etc.) The telecommunications industry was going through deregulation and wonderful technological advances were being made (e.g., video on demand). I was able to study how these market changes were affecting customers. I really enjoyed working with Jim Drew, a statistician. During this time period, we worked closely on many projects and published many papers together.
How do you pick research partners and/or co-authors?
I don’t really feel that I “picked” research partners or co-authors. I was a member of the faculty at many different business schools. In general, I worked with whoever was around me (faculty or doctoral students) who seemed interested in the same kinds of problems as me. I really enjoyed working with Dr. Katherine Lemon (Boston College) because we both thought about research problems in the same way.
What current trends in marketing do you find fascinating?
I’m intrigued by “big data”, but I’m more interested in “deep data.” It is exciting to think that we can harness deep data to learn how to better understand the customer experience and develop services that meet their needs.
What about you surprises new students and/or colleagues?
I think the “default assumptions” are that (1) I was born and educated in the USA and (2) I have spent a lifetime in the academia and (3) I have no interests outside marketing. None of them are true!