Marketing prof hits the jackpot
Laroche co-wrote texts that were standard issue to Quebec business student

Michel Laroche has a black belt in Marketing. The Concordia University professor has received so many degrees, awards citations and credentials that more letters appear after his name than are in the Japanese alphabet.

And last month, Laroche received got more acclaim, when he was awarded the Royal Bank distinguished professorship in marketing at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business. Professorships are highly coveted honors in academia. This one was established in 2000 with a $550,000 donation from the Royal Bank.

"This money will help fund research seminars, such as one to be held this fall on the influence of culture on services," said Laroche. "It gives international researchers from different disciplines a chance to share their knowledge."

Although he does not do that much teaching anymore - limiting himself to one graduate course per term, - almost everyone who studied business at a Montreal university during the last two decades will recognize Laroche's name.

His "Marketing in Canada" text, was standard issue to Concordia business students between 1981 and 1992, and its translated version was also used in Quebec's three largest French universities. Many of the 27 books that he either wrote or co-authored are still in print today.

In a fast changing world, universities are having an increasingly difficult time producing qualified graduates that can hit the ground running in their new jobs. In few sectors is this is this more apparent than in the fields of marketing and advertising.

In the three years this correspondent has been covering the sectors, not once has an executive made a comment like "we were in a real bind, so we called in the academics," or "have you read the new study by professor so-and-so."

"The advertising industry is having a rough time," said Laroche. "They are so caught up in the day-to-day aspects of their businesses, that they don't have the time to think strategically."

But while industry clamors for more qualified and specialized graduates, Concordia has taken some concrete steps to produce them, notably at the masters in science (administration) program, where Laroche hangs his hat.

Concordia's M.Sc. program is different than a conventional MBA. Although both graduate programs focus on conventional business disciplines such marketing, management and finance, MBA students get an education that is much broader, but that does not necessarily prepare them to hit the ground running in their new jobs when they graduate.

M.Sc. students get a more specialized education that focuses on intensive research in the discipline they have chosen. For example, before graduating, Laroche's students have to complete a comprehensive thesis in a specialized area of marketing. Many of his ex-pupils hold high profile research jobs at such companies as Gillette and L'Oréal.

"Once students have completed their thesis, they have extensive knowledge in one subject," said Laroche. "We recommend that they use that knowledge and their thesis as a springboad, when they apply for a job."

At Laroche's level, professors are expected to produce original research and get to get that research published. And in the game of credentialism, Laroche is a master. You don't read academic CVs, you weigh them. And Laroche's runs 52 pages, jammed with reports written, seminars given, books edited and other accomplishments.

Unfortunately this does not leave Laroche as much time to get involved with industry as he would like, although he was called as an expert witness in several court cases, and did consulting work with the Promotional Products Association of Canada.

So how does Laroche see the role of the university evolving in the Internet era? "I don't think online universities are going to be very popular, said Laroche. "Those programs appeal to the kind of person, who, when he wants to know about something, heads down to the library to read a book."

"But libraries have been around for centuries, and universities are still here," said Laroche. "You have to remember that (universities) also fill and important social role. It gives students a chance to meet new people, and make new contacts. For many, it will be the first time they live outside their childhood homes."

"I think that in an information economy, universities will be even more important than ever."


Photo caption: Concordia professor Dr. Michel Laroche, known for the 27 business texts that he wrote or co-wrote, was honored last month with the first Royal Bank distinguished professorship in marketing.


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