Jagdish Sheth, an Expert on the Power of Giving Back

Marketing Professor Jag Sheth created a fellowship to support doctoral-level business research, which is often difficult to finance.
Tony Benner

You may not remember why you selected a certain brand on your last shopping trip, but Jag Sheth could help break down the loyalties at play in your decision.

The Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing is a renowned expert on how relationships affect what we buy. When it comes to his own spending, Sheth follows a key discovery from his research and personal life: A small financial gesture at the right time can lead to long-term loyalty.

That’s why each year, five doctoral students who have passed their qualifying exams at Goizueta Business School receive a $1,000 Sheth Fellowship. It’s the same amount Sheth received in 1962 to finish his dissertation research on consumer marketing, which helped him coauthor The Theory of Buyer Behavior and establish the field of consumer research.

“That $1,000 was enormously valuable to me because business schools, unlike medical or engineering schools, do not receive research grants from the government,” says Sheth, who has published more than two hundred books and research papers on marketing. “It’s up to the graduate student to find support for lab experiments, psychological testing, accessing data, or acquiring software to analyze that data. Any little funding to help your thesis research is really valuable.”

Each fall in the Dolive Executive Commons at Goizueta, Sheth Fellows receive plaques and checks. Fifty years ago, Sheth received $500, respectively, from his department at the University of Pittsburgh and a foundation run by S&H Green Stamps. He spent it surveying foreign students about how they acquired brand preferences for toothpaste, rice, and canned soup. The money was important financially and emotionally.

“I had a sense of gratitude and relief, because just as important as the economics of graduate school is the psychological survival,” he says.

Two recent Sheth Fellows said the money and recognition helped their long push to a PhD.

“After the course work is done, it’s all about research, and the reality is that you need resources to accomplish the research,” said Donald Young 13PhD, who will become an assistant professor of accounting at Georgia Tech after graduation. “It takes a lot of legwork to get the funds, and the Sheth Fellowship saves time and offers the opportunity to immediately engage in research. It’s amazing also because it’s not just for individual students in Dr. Sheth’s area of marketing. He gives to students like myself, whom he has never interacted with.”

The fellowship helped Young pay for pilot studies that tested the influence of incentives on decision making related to financial reporting.

For Yanwen Wang 16PhD, the Sheth Fellowship helped purchase advertising spending data for her dissertation on counter-marketing. She focuses on breaking loyalty to unhealthy food, cigarettes, and alcohol. Her research also relates to political campaigns, which seek to break the loyalties of opposing voters.

“Commercial research firms are willing to give a research discount, but you still have to buy the data,” she says. “The fellowship is enough funding to make this process much more smooth.”

Through the Madhuri and Jagdish Sheth Foundation, Sheth and his wife also established the Sheth Distinguished International Alumni Award and the Sheth Lecture on Indian Studies. The fellowship represents what he is known for: relationship marketing. Economic, social, and emotional connections can make a buyer more loyal.

“And there’s a fourth element that I believe is strongest, but it’s not based on research,” he says. “Nothing is more binding than giving back to a relationship.”

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