Washington People: Chakravarthi Narasimhan

Marketing professor is ‘pillar of program’ at Olin Business School

Chakravarthi Narasimhan
Chakravarthi Narasimhan, PhD (right), the Philip L. Siteman Professor of Marketing at Olin Business School, chats in his office with Taylor Bentley, a doctoral student in marketing. “Chak has very high standards for research and teaching and has been a pillar in our doctoral program,” says Glenn MacDonald, PhD, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy. “He has also been an ardent advocate of challenging and high quality education.”

It’s not easy being a Chicago Cubs fan.

It’s especially difficult being a Chicago Cubs fan in St. Louis.

Just ask Chakravarthi Narasimhan.

“I’m a long-suffering Cubs fan,” says Narasimhan, PhD, the Philip L. Siteman Professor of Marketing at Olin Business School.

“I almost cried when they lost to the Marlins in 2003,” he says. “I thought for sure that was the year, and it would be the Cubs beating the Red Sox in the World Series. But it turns out that the Billy Goat curse is worse than the curse of the Bambino.”

Though his sports life may have more downs than ups, his professional life has been a grand slam.

“Chak is a key member of the school’s senior faculty and has built an outstanding marketing group here at Olin,” says Todd Milbourn, PhD, the Hubert C. & Dorothy R. Moog Professor of Finance. “His loyalty and dedication to the school are unquestionable, and I certainly value him immensely as a colleague.”

Coming to America

Born in Bangalore, India, Narasimhan came to the United States in 1977, earning a doctorate in business from the University of Rochester in New York in 1982. His dissertation was on “A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation of Cents-Off Coupons.”

He got his first academic job as an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Chicago, where his passion for Chicago sports began.

Narasimhan was lured to Olin in 1988 by Robert L. Virgil, PhD, now dean emeritus of Olin and professor emeritus of accounting. He started as associate professor of marketing in the tenure track.

“Part of why I came here was what Bob described to me as his vision for Olin,” Narasimhan says. “He was hiring faculty from other very good places to come here. I knew there was a nexus of very energetic and brilliant people coming to Olin. I was very confident that we would move forward, and we absolutely have.”

Narasimhan comes from a quantitative background. In fact, he has two undergraduate degrees — one in physics and the other in electronics. He also has a master’s degree in computer science.

“My work relies on building models and frameworks,” Narasimhan says. “I use mathematical representations of market participants — consumers, retailers, distributors and manufacturers — to see how one can explain different kinds of marketing strategies and quantify or explain when one type of marketing strategy might be better than another.”

Narasimhan tests whether predictions of these theories hold up and how to quantify the magnitude of the impact of different marketing strategies, whether on consumers, sales or profits.

Ongoing research

Narasimhan currently is working on three different research papers.

The first is on pharmaceutical products and the impact that pharmaceutical representatives have when calling on physicians.

Narasimhan and his co-authors find that the marketing effort by pharmaceutical companies, through their salespeople, has multiple effects, from improving the physicians’ ability to better match the drug with a patient to learning more about the efficacy of the drug.

Interestingly, they find that the impact on the physician is greater when a sales visit is associated with buying a meal than without.

“What we can’t tell is that positive impact results from spending more time with the physician and answering more of his questions, or if it merely is that act of paying for a meal that is buying influence,” Narasimhan says.

Another paper he is working on looks at store brand products at major retail chains, like Wal-Mart, Schnucks and Dierbergs.

Through use of several mathematical models, Narasimhan and his colleagues examine optimal product line design and pricing strategies of a national brand manufacturer competing with store brands, which accounted for nearly a quarter of products purchased in U.S. supermarkets in 2009.

In a third recent paper, Narasimhan and colleagues modeled the decisions of firms to provide intra- and interconnectivity to their customers and the effects on the firms’ pricing decisions.

In addition to his research duties, Narasimhan teaches a PhD seminar in marketing, an elective in the MBA program and serves as director of the marketing platform. He advises MBA students and was director of the PhD program until last year.

“Chak has very high standards for research and teaching and has been a pillar in our doctoral program,” says Glenn MacDonald, PhD, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy. “He has also been an ardent advocate of challenging and high-quality education. He has been a terrific colleague.”

Award-winning teacher

Narasimhan and his wife, Sudha, have two grown children. Narasimhan is a big sports fan, following the Cubs and Chicago Bears as much as he can, though finding time to watch games can be a challenge.

He likes fiction and enjoys going for hikes with his wife as well as good food and wine.

“I love puzzles, like Sudoku,” he says. “I’m always looking for a bigger challenge. In the newspaper, the puzzles have star rating. I really want to solve all the hard puzzles I see. Sudoku is a great companion on long flights to India as well.”

Narasimhan normally returns to India each January to see his mother and brother, who still live there.

He serves as area editor for the journal Marketing Science and associate editor of Quantitative Marketing and Economics.

In 2009, he won the Emerald Literati Network Award for Excellence for his publication “Understanding Custom Level Profitability Implications of Satisfaction Programs.” His papers have won or have been finalists for the Best Paper Award multiple times by the INFORMS Society for Marketing Science.

Narasimhan has been recognized for his teaching and mentoring abilities, receiving recognition from the WUSTL Graduate Student Senate with Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awards in 2003 and 2008 for his commitment to graduate students and excellence in graduate training.

Narasimhan has enjoyed his tenure at the university.

“I like mentoring students in our marketing platform and interacting with doctoral students,” he says. “It’s very gratifying when you know you played a small part in your students’ accomplishments.”

Fast facts about Chakravarthi Narasimhan

Title: The Philip L. Siteman Professor of Marketing at Olin Business School
From: Bangalore, India
Research interests: Marketing management, pricing strategies, brand management, product policies, business statistics and quantitative methods
Hobbies: Rooting for Chicago sports teams, watching Tiger Woods play golf, reading fiction, taking hikes with his wife and enjoying good food and wine