Female Professors at HBS Series: Jill Avery

Loujaine AlMoallim, Women’s Leadership Editor
Jill Avery, Contributor

Loujaine AlMoallim (MBA ’24) interviews Senior Lecturer of Business Administration Jill Avery about her personal journey, her time at HBS, and her advice for HBS leaders.

Can you briefly tell us about your journey that got you to where you are today?

I was an English and art history major as an undergraduate at University of Pennsylvania. From there, I started my career in advertising, working with large CPG clients (e.g., Pepsi, Maxwell House, Ban deodorant, Citi, AT&T) on consumer promotions. I went back to business school at Wharton where I majored in marketing and finance after I realized I wanted to switch to the client side. I then worked for ten years post MBA in CPG brand management, managing brands for Gillette, Braun, AT&T and Sam Adams. 

When I had my first child (my daughter Tess), I decided that I needed more work-life balance, so I began teaching part time. I loved it and after the birth of my second child (my son Larson) decided to return to school to get my PhD in marketing at Harvard Business School. A mid-career switch to academia has been a blessing for me – allowing me to fully immerse myself in my career with the flexibility to be the kind of mother I wanted to be. My research interests (brands and branding, CRM, and digital marketing) are informed by the real world questions I encountered as a manager and my interests in storytelling and visual imagery that stem from my undergraduate studies.

How has your teaching experience been at HBS so far? What do you like most about the case method and classroom experience?

I have been lucky enough to teach several courses in the MBA program and in the Executive Education programs here at HBS, including RC Marketing, EC Creating Brand Value (an elective that I developed), and FIELD Global Immersion. I love writing cases and have written more than 50 of them so far. My favorites include cases on Nike/Colin Kaepernick, HubSpot, Longchamp, Glossier, Supreme, White Claw, and Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi.

Your research focuses on brand management (BM) and customer relationship management (CRM) and the balance between serving businesses vs serving consumers. Could you give us a summary of how to balance these two goals that are often contrary to each other?

My research attempts to balance two goals often perceived to be at odds with one another — 1.) to serve businesses in their search to improve their marketing effectiveness by providing insight into how to manage their brands as meaning-based assets, and 2.) to serve consumers by providing insight into the critical role brands and their meaning play in our lives as individuals, in our relationships with others, and in the evolution of our culture. In my work, I try to guide managers to build brands that create real value for customers – that bring meaning to their lives and make their lives better. Staying focused on creating value for customers helps managers apply marketing principles to doing good in the world. In my other work, I try to open consumers’ eyes to the meaning of brands in their lives so that they can take a more critical approach to consumption that enables them to better understand why we buy things and make more informed choices about what is best for their own consumption.

What recommendations would you give current and future HBS leaders when it comes to achieving such balance in their positions?

Make improving peoples’ lives your guiding light and stay focused on creating value for them. If you can successfully create value for others, you will receive valuable gifts back from them in return. (see my life advice below for more details on how to do this).

Throughout your journey, what is the greatest lesson that you believe you learned and what is one piece of advice you would give people reading this?

Words of wisdom for MBAs: Find, hone, and contribute your own unique voice to the HBS experience, both in and out of the classroom – that’s why we invited you to be here with us. Remember who you are, where you came from, and who you would like to be, and hold those things dear to help you prioritize your time and energy. Relax and focus on your own learning – take risks, allow yourself to make mistakes, and challenge yourself to stretch your skill sets beyond what you believe is possible. 

Words of wisdom for life: Think about what is important to you and to those whom you care about. Use that input to develop a personal value proposition that drives you to craft a life filled with purpose and meaning. Be intentional about living your value proposition: Build competencies, grasp opportunities, and envelop yourself in relationships that empower you to deliver true value to your world and to the people who matter to you. Google’s mantra, “Don’t be evil,” sets too low a bar for your value proposition. Be good, be kind, be generous, be a role model, be someone upon whom others depend, be a voice for those who are silenced. Use your life to inspire the next generation, to raise up those beneath you, to make a difference. Leave your legacy in the lives of the people who have been touched and moved by you. That will become your personal brand.

Loujaine (MBA ’24) is a Saudi Arabian who spent most of her formative years in Canada. After completing her undergraduate degree at McGill University majoring in International Management, she moved back to Saudi Arabia and worked in Consulting. She enjoys traveling and exploring new places, hosting people over for small gatherings and baking and decorating cakes.

Dr. Jill Avery is a Senior Lecturer of Business Administration and C. Roland Christensen Distinguished Management Educator in the marketing unit at Harvard Business School. She is a respected authority on brand management, customer relationship management (CRM), and digital marketing. She brings a distinctive blend of skills and experiences to serve as an important bridge between the worlds of practice and academia.