While traveling with a delegation to Martinique recently, I met with one of the members, Greg Campbell, president and CEO of Rainmaker, a Dallas-based investment and advisory firm he founded. He spoke effusively about a man who had a tremendous and enduring impact on his professional life. “He was my mentor,” Campbell said, “and I wouldn’t be where I am today without his influence and guidance.” That man was professor Howard Naylor Fitzhugh, one of the first African-American graduates of the Harvard Business School.
But the distinction he achieved at Harvard is just one leaf in a cluster of remarkable accomplishments for Fitzhugh, most significantly credited with creating the concept of target marketing so universally applied in the world of commerce.
Fitzhugh’s promise was quite evident at a very early age. Born Oct. 31, 1909, in Washington, D.C., he was only 16 and still a student at the illustrious Dunbar High School in the nation’s capital when he earned a full scholarship to study at Harvard. As a student at Harvard, his aim was to become a doctor, devoting many hours to the sciences, so much so that he graduated cum laude in 1930.
Somewhere along the way, his pursuit of medicine was joined with his passion for business, and three years after graduation, he earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. Frustrated in finding a job in the business world, he returned to his hometown and began teaching a business course at Howard University.
A planned temporary stay at Howard University eventually became a 31-year commitment. During this long tenure, he developed the school’s marketing program, organized Howard’s Small Business Center and, through his advising of students, encouraged many to consider the field of business as a profession. One student who followed his advice was Lillian Lincoln Lambert, who did so well under Fitzhugh’s tutelage and counseling that by 1969 she was the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Business School.
Fitzhugh practically took Lambert under his impressive wings, making sure she possessed both the will and self-confidence to excel. And excel she did, and then went on touch others as her mentor had touched her, as she worked diligently to increase the number of African-American students at Harvard Business School.
When he accepted a position at Pepsi-Cola in 1965, Fitzhugh perfected his concept of target marketing, primarily focused on the Black community, and for this success he later became vice president for special markets at Pepsi. In this capacity, he provided a number of innovative initiatives that increased Pepsi’s coffers and popularity, none more lucrative than the company’s sponsorship of “Tony Brown’s Journal” on PBS.
His ascent up the corporate ladder at Pepsi did not go unnoticed, and in 1974 Black Enterprise named him the “Dean of Black Business.” Recognition also came from White House the following year, when he was presented with a special African-American enterprise achievement award by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Accumulating awards did not distract Fitzhugh from other endeavors, including his yeoman commitment to helping create the National Association of Market Developers, an organization with the goal of studying the buying behavior of Black consumers. Not only did the academic world prosper from his insight and valuable consultation, but these services were also extended to the Census Bureau, where he was a chief advisor from 1975 to 1981. And when the Black Alumni Association was founded at Harvard Business School in 1978, he became the first chairman.
In 1992, Fitzhugh, after a lengthy illness, passed at New York University Medical Center. He was 82 and had resided in Yonkers. One of the subsequent honors ensuring his legacy was the establishment of an endowed professorship at Harvard Business School in his name. Ten years after his death, in 2002, the African-American Student Union renamed its annual conference in his honor. Also, a portrait of him was commissioned by the group in 1993 and presented to Harvard. Today it remains a centerpiece for visitors in the bustling corridor of Aldrich Hall.
A humanitarian award also bears Fitzhugh’s name, and a recent recipient was Dr. Barron Harvey, who in 2009 was the dean of the School of Business. The award is bestowed upon members of the National Alliance for Marketing Developers who have made significant contributions to marketing as it relates to business, community development and the education and well-being of aspiring youths, all attributes in keeping with the name on the award.
“My wife and I met Naylor Fitzhugh soon after I graduated from Harvard Business School,” said Robert Ryan, who earned an MBA from Harvard in 1970. “What struck me was that, despite the obstacles that confronted him early in his own career, he maintained a positive outlook and focused on making things better for those who came after him. He was a remarkable person who left an inspiring legacy of achievement.” These words echoed what I had heard from Greg Campbell, and they are clearly indicative of hundreds, if not thousands, who benefited from Fitzhugh’s immense wisdom and passionate regard.
Some measure of Fitzhugh’s continuing legacy can be seen in this year’s keynote speakers: Don Thompson, retiring president and CEO of McDonald’s; Mellody Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments and a former aide to President Barack Obama; and hip-hop artist Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean. No matter the field of endeavor, if it has anything to do with business, Fitzhugh’s massive footprint has left indelible traces.