In Memoriam

Ira Kalb, a marketing professor popular with students and the press, passes away after a long battle with cancer

August 17, 2020

Ira S. Kalb, a marketer, musician and longtime assistant professor of clinical marketing at USC Marshall, has died.

He died at his home in Santa Monica, Wednesday Aug. 12, 2020 after a long battle with cancer, according to friends and colleagues.

Kalb ran a busy marketing consulting firm—Kalb & Associates—and taught at business schools around the Los Angeles area.  After several years as an adjunct, Kalb became an assistant professor of clinical marketing at Marshall in 2006. He taught courses in marketing, international management, business systems and sales.

He won the Golden Apple award—given to favorite faculty as voted on by graduating students—four times. Friends and colleagues remember him as someone who always went the extra mile for his students.

“Whenever I chatted with Ira, he always wanted to talk about his students,” said Anthony Dukes, professor of marketing and chair of the Marshall School’s Marketing Department. “They meant so much to him.”

Friends say he was the rare combination of someone who loved his professional life but also loved teaching young people.

“I don’t know many professors who go out of their way to talk to 18-19-year-olds, but Ira always did,” said Adrian Stern, a CPA, entrepreneur and lecturer at USC Gould School of Law who was a close friend. “He’d hold court during office hours, officiating on marketing and business, and the students always benefitted from his wisdom and attention.

“He would insist I give this student a job, or that student an internship, and these young people always turned out to be brilliant,” he said.

Kalb would meet Stern and other friends, including Leventhal professor Charles “Chuck” Swenson at Morton’s The Steakhouse every other Thursday for dinner, waiting for traffic to die down after late afternoon classes.

“We’d talk about life, philosophy, politics and marketing,” said Stern. “We could get loud. All the waiters wanted our table, not just because we were good tippers, but because we were having the most fun in the place.”

“Whenever I chatted with Ira, he always wanted to talk about his students. They meant so much to him.”—Anthony Dukes, Professor of Marketing and Chair, Marketing Department  

Prior to starting Kalb & Associates, he served eight years as vice president of marketing and president of Compal Computer Systems, a firm that developed, marketed and installed microcomputer systems and software for business in the era when computers were transforming business systems. Prior to that he spent six years as a staff and senior consultant for firms including Accenture and Economics Research Associates.

He was widely published on the topic of marketing, with 10 books under his belt, including “The DNA of Marketing.” He was also regularly quoted in the press, always making time to meet broadcast reporters on tight deadlines. He sat on a panel of experts for the Wall Street Journal, and was most recently writing regularly for the Huffington Post and Business Insider.

He also taught marketing for 27 years as a professor with UCLA Extension.

In 2016, he was knighted by the Finnish government as a Knight First Class of the Order of the Lion of Finland, for his work at the Helsinki School of Economics (now known as Aalto University) in the late ‘90s/early aughts. It is the highest honor a non-Finnish citizen can receive.

Kalb was born in New Jersey and came to Santa Monica as a young child.  As a young man he gravitated toward music and art, becoming a jazz saxophonist and playing gigs around town. When he graduated from Santa Monica High School he won a Lawrence Welk scholarship for music. But he pursued engineering instead, graduating from UCLA in 1970 with a cum laude BS in bio-engineering systems (where he minored in economics and music, and was active in the marching, jazz and concert bands). He would go on to earn an MBA from UCLA.

In 1988 he took some time off to study drawing and painting at the Royal College of Art, London.

An early marriage ended in divorce and he never remarried or had children. He was close to his many nieces and nephews, who survive him.

“Ira was known by many, but kept only a handful of close friends,” said Stern. “He was comfortable with himself. He was just Ira.”

His family has created a virtual memorial site where friends and colleagues can leave memories.