By Amanda Ballard, UA News
There are employees who count the days until they can retire, and then there’s Sidney Levy.
Levy is the Coca-Cola Distinguished Professor of Marketing at the UA Eller College of Management. On May 29, he celebrated his 93rd birthday.
“People say to me, ‘Sidney, at your age, why don’t you retire?'” he said. “I think that’s silly. Why would I retire? What would I do? I don’t play golf.”
From a young age, Levy was an academic. But he wasn’t always the outgoing conversationalist he is today.
“I was a silent child,” he said. “All I did was read. At dinnertime, I would go to the small shelf with the few books we had – we were a poor immigrant family – and I would close my eyes and pick one of those few books, which I had already read several times. I would take it to the dinner table, open it up and start to read while my family was having dinner.”
By reading a lot, Levy says he learned a lot, and over time he started coming out of his shell. As a college student, he acted in the University of Chicago’s student theater program.
Levy started his career as a college professor in 1961 at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, where he is the Charles H. Kellstadt Professor Emeritus of Marketing. He joined the UA faculty in 1997 as temporary head of the marketing department – a position he ended up holding for seven years.
In his current job, Levy mainly helps conduct doctoral seminars, guest lectures and special projects within the college. The self-proclaimed jokester says being around students keeps him feeling young.
“I like teaching the students who want to learn,” he said. “I think it’s a sin to not want to learn.”
Over the years, a lot has changed in the marketing industry. Watching trends come and go is all part of the evolution, according to Levy.
“Technology has changed a lot,” he said. “You hear a lot about how newspapers are dying. A lot of things don’t die. They change; they moderate. They said radio would die – well, it didn’t. They said when TV came along, movies would die, but they didn’t. Things change their character.”
Despite all the changes, there’s one challenge he’s been working to confront throughout his career.
“Aristotle, Plato, the early Greeks, and ever since, people have said nasty things about marketing,” Levy said. “People associate it with bad advertising, or shoddy goods, or some bad experience. It’s interesting that hasn’t changed over the years. Marketing has a marketing problem.”
To help address this problem, Levy co-wrote an award-winning article titled “Broadening the Concept of Marketing.” In it, he argues that all people market themselves in one way or another.
“All individuals market,” he said. “It’s about offering something, and we all do that in order to get a job, to get married, or to get a response to anything we do.”
Over the years, Levy has been published countless times. His most recent publication, however, may be the most meaningful.
“One Man in His Time” is Levy’s autobiography, released earlier this year. The book started as a family history record for his daughter and to honor the memory of his late wife, to whom he was married for more than 52 years. But after he shared the story with friends, they encouraged Levy to self-publish it.
“It’s very candid in some respects,” he said. “At first I was worried to have other people read it, but then I thought, ‘I’m going to be 93 years old. Do I care what anybody thinks?'”
For Levy, retirement just may not be in the cards. As he says, why retire when you have a job you treasure and are already doing the things you love?
“If I retired, what would I do?” he says. “I would go to the opera – I’m a big opera buff. I would go to the theater to see plays and go to concerts. I would travel. Well, I do all those things. I’ve been to over 32 countries. In any other ordinary job, I couldn’t have afforded to do that. Isn’t that lucky?”
Levy’s autobiography, “One Man in His Time,” is available for purchase and Kindle download on Amazon.
Top photo of Sidney Levy by Ken Sterns/UA News.