guest article by Cristina Mele

I was delighted to be nominated for the Guest Article, considering my acute awareness of the way role modeling can influence both the people around us and the culture of the teams and institutions of which we are a part. Role models have the power to open previously unimagined possibilities. In this sense, writing My Academic Role Model gave me a novel opportunity to think about my career and the people who have helped and guided me—forcing me to break for a moment from the hectic schedule of students, courses, publications, and academic roles that marks our daily lives.

My initial thoughts jump to my two academic mentors, whose guidance in terms of my personal and professional development have led to decisions that affected the outcomes of my life, as well as my satisfaction and fulfillment in my professional career: Paolo Stampacchia and Evert Gummesson.

Professor Stampacchia introduced me to the pleasure of research during our debates on customer value in the 1990s. He pushed me to go abroad to develop an international habitus with worldwide relationships and networks. He has been a constant supporter of my academic and private choices. I will never forget how pleased he was when I told him I was expecting my third child (and I was only a researcher then!).

My first meeting with Evert Gummesson was an opening glimpse into a new weltanschauung. I hold Evert in the highest esteem not just because he is an eminent professor and academic—and one of the founders of the Nordic School—but because he has always expressed interest in good new ideas and support for colleagues, no matter who they are (young researchers as well as well-known academics) or whence they come (famous university or tiny institution). Evert also introduced me to leading scholars and helped me realize how the academic system works. Dialogue with Evert is a constant source of learning. For example, during one of his first visits to Naples, he brought me Vargo and Lusch’s 2004 Journal of Marketing article, noting that it would represent a breakthrough in service research—one of his many accurate intuitions. The list of what I have learned from him would be too long for any single discussion; in a broad sense though, he has coached me to be open minded, to stimulate my intellectual curiosity, to be a critical thinker, to stay motivated, to persevere in challenging projects, to be free from the pressure to publish or perish, and to balance work with private life.

During that same Naples visit, on a short trip to Capri, Evert told me, “This is a perfect venue for a conference!” A few years later, he introduced me Francesco Polese, a Neapolitan colleague, and from that meeting came the initiative to organize the Naples Forum on Service in Capri. This wonderful biannual endeavor held its fifth meeting in Sorrento in June 2017 (http// Evert and Francesco have devoted continuous effort and enthusiasm to each iteration of the Naples Forum. Our Naples–Stockholm–Naples triumvirate stays easily in tune, without ever a problem or conflict among us. As one colleague told me, “The Naples Forum on Service is like a family. Every time I feel a wonderful atmosphere, while living an extraordinary experience.”

Notably, the Naples Forum—and my career—would not have been possible without Robert Lusch, Stephen Vargo, and Jim Spohrer. All three colleagues have been supportive of my work and responsive to my requests. Their ideas and our dialogues have deeply informed my efforts. They are not just admirable professors and practitioners but, most of all, inspiring people. For me, it’s a huge honor to have co-created the Naples Forum with them, in the spirit of the service-dominant (S-D) logic and service science.

A great memory of Bob, who recently passed away, reminds me of how much I will miss him: In my office still sits a letter he wrote to my dean after the first Naples Forum in 2009 (“You demonstrated that bold dreams are magical”) and messages he sent me, taking the time to make note of some my publications. Bob’s valuable insights and encouragements included “keep up with good work”—a special motto for life! Perhaps his most stellar gift was his ability to adopt a wider view to explore issues and problems and offer a comprehensive view.

Steve similarly has inspired me with research discussions over the years. His continual efforts to advance and expand the S-D logic have spurred me to engage in continuous expansion of my own theoretical efforts. Every time I listen a speech by Jim, I find new domains and new opportunities to consider as a service scholar. He is always on the frontier of service priorities.

Furthermore, some of the people I have met in my academic journey deserve special mention for their inspiration: Christian Gronroos’s work has deeply stimulated my interest in service research. Jay Kandampully is an exceptional editor, whose precious advice on how to write effective articles has improved my publication opportunities over the years. I am grateful to Marja Toivonen for her encouragement and broad scientific insights during recent projects; she is always ready and willing to join research proposals. Anu Helkkula gave me the pleasure of running a course at the University of Naples Federico II in recent years, creating key opportunities to work on common projects without being forced to contend with the frenetic context of conferences. The passionate, knowledgeable scholar Roberta Sebastiani provided me with the opportunity to join the CFMT (Service Management Training Center); with Daniela Corsaro, we learned so much by carrying out several service research projects.

Silvia Gherardi is a pioneer of the practice-based approach, such that my reading of her articles and books, as well as meeting her in person for further discussions, have greatly influenced my work on innovating in practice. In addition to being an exceptional scholar, Silvia is easily approachable and encouraging, always pushing me to free myself from theoretical constrains and fly high, to dare more. Kay Storbacka and Suvi Nenonen are other outstanding scholars with whom I have appreciated the awesome opportunity to collaborate. They know how to see things expansively (thinking outside the box); at the same time, they are concrete and resolute in their approaches. Our Skype meetings (which also often include Jaquie Pels as we seek to span our time zones) are absolutely a value-feeding experience.

Special thoughts go to two of my great, dear friends and the best coauthors a scholar could have, such that every new project is an engaging challenge: Jaquie Pels and Tiziana Russo Spena. Jaquie, a brilliant scholar and a delightful person, encourages me to believe in my ideas, pursue my goals, and function constantly as a critical thinker. Working with her is an absolute privilege, creating synergistic harmony every time we collaborate. She has a deep understanding of theory and concepts, while at the same time exhibiting a level of detailed accuracy that enables her to identify the missteps in our thinking and writing. She is an excellent and tough reviewer. Tiziana Russo Spena has offered continuous support and help in recent years, especially during tough times. Some projects and publications would not have come to fruition without her stimulus and perseverance. A tireless and outstanding scholar, she never says no when there is an opportunity for new projects. Her ability to conduct thoroughly theoretical and empirical research is exceptional. Collaborating with her is always an outright pleasure, with great empathy and friendship.

Finally, I cannot come to a conclusion without thanking Maria Colurcio, a great friend. We began our academic adventures together. We co-authored several articles and books; we shared important moments in our private lives, through marriage and children. In this, we share a great passion for our work but even more so for our family. A quick story summarizes our link: One afternoon at my home, we were working hard (and did not have children yet). My mother, a long-time high school teacher, came into the room and exclaimed, “Why are you writing so many papers? I suggest: less papers and more children!” We took her advice at least partially, and each of us now has three fantastic children. We continue to work hard on writing more papers though, such that we balance our work and our families to function as “scholarly mums.”

I next nominate Jaquie Pels; I would be thrilled to read about her role models and inspirations.

Cristina MeleProfessore di Management
Coordinatore del dottorato in Management
Co-chair del The Naples Forum on Service
Dipartimento di Economia, Management, Istituzioni.
Università degli Studi di Napoli “Federico II”