Prof Balmer remembers corporate identity guru Wally Olins (1930-2014)

Written by Prof John Balmer

Marketing faculty and postgraduates (especially those on our MSc in Applied Corporate Brand Management along with many of our current and former PhD scholars) will be profoundly saddened to learn of the death of Walter (Wally) Olins who died in April at the age of 83.

The doyen of corporate identity consultancy, his work on corporate identity was of seminal importance. He was a global brand in his own right. Wally was an occasional visitor to Brunel Business School and was a regular speaker at ICIG (International Corporate Identity Group) symposia including the first in 1994 at The University of Strathclyde which I organised.

His reflections on corporate identity still meaningfully inform our lectures on corporate identity, branding and corporate marketing.

Prof Balmer (left) with Walter Olins (right)  in 1994

Prof Balmer (left) with Walter Olins (right) in 1994

Whilst obituaries in the Economist, FT, Times and Daily Telegraph etc. have focussed on the influence of his consultancy work and writing to generations of senior managers and scholars his profound influence on academic research, scholarship and teaching has largely been ignored.

His books on corporate identity and, more recently branding, have been – and continue to be – highly influential within the academy. He held numerous Visiting Professorships in leading British and Continental Universities.

As an MBA student at DUBS (Durham University Business School) from 1987-8 it was a meeting with Wally in his London office which fired my growing interest in the corporate identity field. Also of significance were the reflections penned in his book, “The Corporate Personality” The book is broad in scope and is rich in thought. To me, it surpasses anything else written by him.

The rest is history: my PhD in corporate identity (Wally was one of the examiners); a Chair in Corporate Identity Management followed by Chairs in Corporate Brand Management and Corporate Marketing. All of this rather surprised Wally but as I told him: it was largely his fault!

I will miss his sometimes irascible behaviour, wicked humour, striking socks, colourful bow-ties and his black, retro spectacles. Moreover, I will miss his intelligence and good-sense. There is no doubt that he will be accorded a prominent place among the pantheon of thinkers in the broad corporate marketing field. Although he has died, his writing and influence will live on and has, no doubt, inspired many prominent academics who have been associated with Brunel Business School (Professors Abratt, Elving, Greyser, Melewar, Nielsen).

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