Professor Stephen Greyser: A Savant of Practical Academia

Boston University has been fortunate enough to host many talented visiting professors over the years. This past fall, the College of Communication once again had the pleasure of doing so–this time, with a professor of communication research: Dr. Stephen Greyser.

Professor Stephen Greyser, an emeritus Harvard Business School (HBS) professor, is well-recognized in the world of academia due to the exemplary contributions he has made in his fields of study. His research interests revolve around the topics of branding, communications, and reputation.

Along with a career teaching for the past five decades, he has published various journal articles and over 300 case studies in the fields of branding, communications, marketing, and cultural management, as well as the business of sports.

A visiting faculty member during the Fall 2017 semester at Boston University, Greyser’s skill in immersing the students into informative discussions to generate ideas complemented his expert knowledge in this niche field.

I got the first-hand experience of this in his very first class, which I attended as a trial in the process of choosing my elective courses for the semester. He gave a lecture on the analysis of print advertisements of several watch brands focusing on the brand’s message and how it is communicated through the print media.

What really stuck with me was the fact that Greyser effortlessly made this class into a springboard for student discussions. Students contributed ideas on the topic during the lecture, and these became the focal point of the class discussion. The intensely engaging nature of the class, where student contributions formed the basis of the lecture, was the dominant selling point for me. As Greyser said, “The opportunity to learn what’s on the student’s mind is there…[and] even better learning happens when there is a dialogue.”

Greyser follows the case study method of teaching.  He believes that his role in the equation of learning is to moderate the discussion by extracting the right information from the students and steering them toward the learning points. His role in class is quite analogous to that of a symphony conductor. Similarly, Greyser participates in the discussion in order to lead it and set its course.

He makes sure each student plays the right part at the right tempo, and everybody’s contribution complements one another’s.

Greyser immaculately explains this: “They (the students) should be able to talk to each other. Just like in a symphony, the horn section might echo what the brass or the strings section does. That is important to me to try to get the discussion to be more than people just talking to me in the front of the room and having me send it out to other people.” He further expands, “The case or the material for discussion is pretty much like the manuscript, the notes that the composer wrote.”

An additional reason for Greyser’s interest in the case-study method of teaching is the two-way communication process. For him, this method provides an avenue to not only teach the material to the students in class but also to learn from their thought process and ideas discussed in the class. The way students learn and develop ideas from the material provides a further enriching experience. Greyser finds this exchange to be the source of his ability to remain what he terms as ‘intellectually young,’ due to the fresh ideas provided by his students.

Greyser attributes his ability to remain energetic throughout his lectures to the students. According to him, “It is the ideas that come from the students that provide fuel for my own energy.”

Some of the innovative ideas act as stimuli that lead him to dig into new aspects of the topic in the spur of the moment, resulting in further enrichment of class discussions for the students and himself.

Greyser’s foremost priority is to emphasize learning from practice. His major aim in teaching case studies is to instill in his students the ability to critically analyze the situation at hand. His passion for teaching extends from conducting lectures to creating academic material.

As a researcher, he also gives importance to creating material for other classes and students to whom he could impart his knowledge only remotely. To Greyser, creating academic material for students and classes that will be conducted in other parts of the world and at different times, both in the present and in the future, is a part of contributing to a larger infrastructure of academia. As he says, “That’s a part of understanding the framework of a larger intellectual endeavor.”

This also reflects on his attitude of giving back to society—by sharing his own knowledge from academia to aid practice in the professional and non-profit worlds. Furthermore, Greyser has developed a course on the business of sports which stemmed from his own interest in branding, communications and reputation, and professional expertise in the topic.

Despite the fact that sports as a field was not considered academically significant, Greyser’s published cases and articles on the business of sports led him to create an entire course on the strategies of sports business taught at the Harvard Business School. He mentions that his daughter perfectly describes his ability to create and establish a course regarding the topic as: “What he (Greyser) has been able to do with regard to the field of sport; he has been able to make his passion into his work.”

In addition to his passion for sport as a leisure activity to follow and enjoy, Greyser has always had an interest in sports analytics. His case studies shed light on the business of sport, as well as the communications and reputation aspect of it. The cases compel the reader to dive into the reasons and impacts that the issue would have on the sport on the whole.

In his case studies regarding the creation of Women’s Basketball Leagues in the USA, Greyser highlights the status of professional sports for women, the key contributors that led to initially successful materialization of the leagues, and the factors that made it viable for them to try to thrive in the sports environment. They also raise questions on the brand image and reputation of the sport as a game and an institution.

His passion to teach translates into his commitment to his classes and students. Greyser is never late to any of his lectures, let alone misses them. This is precisely the reason that he is known as ‘The Cal Ripken of HBS,’ as per his Harvard University bio. Having written the case studies and learned them inside out, he comes to class prepared and shares his key points at the end of the discussion to make sure everything have been covered. Greyser possesses the art of expanding the horizon of his students in the light of the learning from the practical world.


Saniya Farooqi, Contributing Writer

Saniya is a first-year graduate student studying marketing communication research. Before coming to BU, she worked as a media planner at an ad agency in Pakistan. When she’s not conducting research or studying, Saniya enjoys food, exploring new places, and working out.

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