Profiles from the Academy: Leigh McAlister

Matt Weingarden, Curator
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Leigh McAlister, University of Texas
Key Takeaways
Leigh McAlister was named an AMA Fellow as a part of the 2015 cohort.

She is a past Executive Director of the Marketing Science Institute.

Professor McAlister is an authority on marketing management and marketing strategy.

Leigh McAlister can tell her story much better than any AMA staff writer, but as a brief introduction, she is currently the Ed and Molly Smith Chair in Business Administration and Associate Dean for Research, McCombs School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin. Among her honors, in 1978 the American Marketing Association selected her thesis as the best doctoral dissertation. She won the 2003 O’Dell Award for the most impactful paper published in Journal of Marketing Research in 1998 and was a finalist for the 2007 MSI/H. Paul Root Award for the Journal of Marketing Paper with the most impact on practice. She served as Executive Director of the Marketing Science Institute from 2003-05, was named the AMA Irwin/McGraw-Hill Distinguished Marketing Educator in 2014 and was inducted as an AMA Fellow in 2015. 

What attracted you to marketing as a discipline of study?

Long, long ago, I grew up in Wynnewood, OK (population 2500).  I studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Stephens College (Columbia, MO) and University of Oklahoma.  After graduation I approached the oil company that paid for my college education to ask for a job.  They asked me how many words a minute I could type. 

I moved to California in search of opportunity and, luckily, met a Stanford student.  Encouraged to make a last minute application to a Stanford Engineering Masters program, I got lucky again and started school.  Wishing to never again be consigned to the typing pool, I applied to Business PhD programs and was, early on, assigned to present a paper jointly with Prof. Seenu Srinivasan.  The rest is history.  

Profiles from the Academy from other past MSI Executive Directors: 

Is there a contribution that makes you feel exceptionally proud? 

I am most proud of the doctoral students with whom I’ve worked:  Jim Lattin, John Roberts, Pete Fader, Fred Feinberg, Jeff Inman, Niket Jindal and others.

How do you pick research partners and/or co-authors?

I am drawn to doctoral students.

Was there a pivotal moment or key person in your career? 

When I was 8 years old, my dusty, just-graduated-from-high-school sister was invited to compete in the Miss Oklahoma contest.  My mother got new tennis shoes and we loaded the pickup.  On the advice of the beauty-pageant-gladiators, my sister bought a black strapless bathing suit.  At rehearsal, the 40 gladiators paraded across the stage in white swim suits with straps.  My sister dissolved in tears, unable to even practice her talent.  The night of the competition, though, my sister walked out on stage in her black leotard and tights.  With the spotlight on her, she WAS Peter Pan, come back to get Wendy for spring cleaning.  Crushed that Wendy had grown up and couldn’t travel to Never Land, my sister raised her silver flute and played in the low register:  Haunting. Beautiful.  My sister won the talent competition and I learned that it doesn’t matter if you are dusty and naïve, it doesn’t matter if those around you are ruthless.  If you are talented; if you are willing to work very, very hard; and if you can rise above your fear; no one can stop you.​

What current trends in marketing do you find fascinating?

I am currently fascinated by the search for “marketing’s footprints” in firms’ publically reported financial data.  I am happy to report that marketing’s influence is widely evident and that marketing is demonstrably at the foundation of firm value.

What about you surprises new students and/or colleagues? 

The decibel level of my piercing, no-hands whistle.

If you had not gone into marketing, what would have been your alternative career?

Miserably frustrated typist.

Learn more about Professor McAlister at the McCombs School of Business​. ​

The following questions and responses were selected from a Profiles from the Academy questionaire. To learn more about the Profiles from the Academy or to suggest a subject, email Matt Weingarden at

See more Profiles from the Academy and other news from Marketing Academia in the AMA's Academic Community pages. 

Author Bio:

Matt Weingarden, Curator
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