UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Although Fred Hurvitz was born into a retail family and ran the business for about 20 years, he found his greatest reward teaching hundreds of students the ins and outs of retail, marketing and business.
“I don’t like teaching something on a theoretical basis,” said Hurvitz, a marketing lecturer and Kohl’s professor of the practice of retail research who will retire in late 2022. “I like to give examples to my students, and if I’ve lived through some of these examples myself, I think they understand and appreciate it better.” “
He began his teaching career in the late 1970s as an adjunct professor at Smeal with full course assignments, before moving to a full-time faculty in 1988.
Along the way, he estimates that 50,000 to 60,000 students have passed his courses in the 45 years he has taught. “I’m proud of the fact that I’ve taught so many different students,” he said.
He also helped develop and run the Jacobs Fellows program for distinguished seniors. The capstone event is taking them to the National Retail Federation’s mega-show held annually in New York City to showcase case studies, network and learn more about the industry.
“I believe the most rewarding part of teaching is seeing some of the students I’ve taught go on to develop distinguished careers,” Hurvitz noted.
“Fred is probably one of the nicest people you could ever want to meet,” said Robert Novak, an associate professor of supply chain management.
“He had a great sense of humor. He’d stop by my office and we’d always have a chat and a good laugh,” Novak added. “He has a great heart and a passion for teaching his students, and I have a lot of respect for that.”
Deep retail roots
Hurvitz’s father opened Hur’s Men’s Shop at State College the year his son was born, so Hurvitz grew up working there after school and during the summer. The first store is centrally located on College Avenue, just across Old Main Street.
After Hurvitz received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Pennsylvania State University in 1969, he began his MBA at SUNY Buffalo before deciding to work at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City.
But two days before he was supposed to start, his father underwent emergency cancer surgery and asked his son to take over the family retail and apartment building business. Within a year, his father died, and Hurvitz, who was about 23 at the time, remained at State University, where he continued his MBA at Penn State in 1983 while working full-time.
Hurvitz was approached shortly after by H. Leigh “Buck” Matthews, his golfing partner and Penn State business chair. He wondered if Hurvitz would be interested in teaching retailing. he is.
The next department chair, Pete Benton, asked him if he wanted to teach more courses—particularly a course in distribution channels, followed by an introductory marketing course. He did it. By the late 1970s, he was a full-time adjunct professor.
“I was doing all this while I was in business,” recalls Hurvitz. “I didn’t think of my career as teaching.”
Over the years he has operated several retail businesses in Lewiston, including three men’s clothing stores, a newsstand/tobacco shop, a pants and tops store, and a men’s and women’s clothing store. Even his wife, Jan, owns a store called Spirit, a women’s/teen clothing store that specializes in dance and cardio apparel.
He later moved from retail to manufacturing. A piezoelectric ceramic manufacturing company was the first; it was bought by a customer a few years later. He then started an injection molded plastics company. In 1989, his partners bought out his stake so Hurvitz could focus on teaching.
His connections to retail organizations and observations of the market over the years have shown Hurvitz how business is changing and new areas such as retail analytics are changing the industry.
“When I first started, we went with our instincts, and there’s no reason to do that now,” he said, noting that good data can really help drive success in a retail business. “The retail industry is constantly changing. When I think about who the main retailers were when I started out – Sears, Kmart – they weren’t actually here at all. My students didn’t even know who Woolworth’s was. So, the field is amazing. excited.”
Jon Grosso, who received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Penn State University in 1989, is currently Executive Vice President and Director of Store Operations for Kohl’s. He met Hurvitz about 15 years ago when he started serving on Smeal’s visitors’ committee and wanted to connect with a retail professor who could pass on Kohl’s retail to students.
“Our similar goal is how to get students to actually understand and engage with Retail 101 in the real world,” said Grosso, who often talks about Kohl’s and the industry in Hurvitz’s classes. “I also want to use these conversations as a recruiting tool and break down some of the stereotypes about retail as it has changed and evolved dramatically.”
Hurvitz’s dedication to the field has led to his appointment as Kohl’s Professor of the Practice in Retail Research.
“You just have to talk to Fred for two minutes, and right away the authenticity comes out,” Grosso said. “It was a very easy decision.”
Hans Baumgartner, Smeal Chair Professor of Marketing and former chair of the marketing department, remembers using Hurvitz to teach various classes.
“Fred’s teaching expertise is in retail and service marketing, but he is versatile enough to teach almost anything,” he says. “For example, when we had to find someone to teach a course at the last minute, Fred was always helpful. His hands-on experience in retail and his extensive network of contacts in the retail industry have been of great help to generations of students who want to pursue a career in retail. Saying it is priceless.”
In addition, Hurvitz is popular, has many friends, and has been an important leader in the community for many years, said Richard Bard, Hurvitz’s friend of five years and former Smeal visitor council chair.
“He’s almost unique today because he spent his youth in the same neighborhood,” said Bard, founder and CEO of Bard Capital Group LLC, a private equity firm with offices in Colorado. period, career and married life.” “In that role, he ran various retail and other businesses.”
“Marketing and retailing are ever-changing disciplines, influenced by social media and technology. Having a professor who is ‘current’ and also has real-world experience in retail has been a unique value of the Smeal program,” added Bard.
Kara (Benson) Harvey, Director of Warehouse Operations for ALDI Inc. Center Valley Division, took two retail courses under Hurvitz, one of the many students who credit Hurvitz with helping their retail careers.
“He’s passionate about retail. It’s been great to get his real-life experience and knowledge through the classroom,” said Harvey, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1993. She celebrates her 30th anniversary with ALDI in 2023 and has been a regular at Hurvitz classes for years. “As Director of Purchasing, I was able to use the purchasing information that Fred shared in class.”
Robin Stevens, director of the Treasury Department’s Wall Street Program, was instrumental in Hurvitz’s appointment as Cole Professor of the Practice in Retail Studies.
“Fred was a great man who flew under the radar for the most part, but his contribution to the University and its reputation with employers and students deserves recognition and reward,” Stevens said. Very honored to receive the Kohl’s Award. Being respected among his peers means the world to him. He loves teaching and helping to inspire young students.”
Additionally, his close relationships with many retailers, including Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Macy’s, mean a lot to serving Smeal’s students, she added.
“He has formed lifelong friendships with some of the recruiters, which is a testament to his commitment and his value with employers,” Stevens said. “He knows his students really well, he motivates them to want to work for these companies, he prepares them for internships and encourages them along the way. That influence is very, very important for employers because they want to hire the best and brightest. They can rely on Fred to train them properly.”
Current marketing department chair Meg Meloy credits Hurvitz with being an integral part of Smeal’s faculty for decades. “His work introducing new programs enhanced the department’s retail offerings and influenced a generation (or two) of students,” she said.
She commended Hurvitz for his role in developing and running the Jacobs Fellows program, named for Melvin Jacobs, a Penn State graduate and former Chairman and CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue.
In a video message honoring Hurvitz at a retirement party, Meloy talked about how he was always helpful, even when she was a graduate student at Cornell in the 1990s. She said Hurvitz allowed her to talk to students in his BA 303 Marketing course to gather insights about their decision-making process.
“Themes that continued to glean insights in the classroom also carried over to future generations of Smeal graduate students,” she noted. “You support the educational mission of all Smeal students.”
She added: “You have been a very important part of the faculty and we will miss you. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement.”
Hurvitz said he looks forward to playing golf three to four days a week, but wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to be an expert witness in a retail-focused national civil case.
His first case came years ago when an 85-year-old woman was injured when she stepped on a cabbage doll during a post-Thanksgiving promotion at Kmart. He testified for plaintiffs about how other retailers safely manage customer traffic during sales of hot-selling products. This woman won her case.
“If I didn’t believe in the cause, I wouldn’t take the case,” he said.