Hair: ‘Colorful’ prof believes in self-branding

Neil Hair is probably one of the most colorful professors on the RIT campus, although he wears “black and nothing but black—particularly when teaching.”

“What I wear makes a statement about who I am, and I’m remembered for it,” explains the assistant professor of marketing in the College of Business.

Hair says it’s the result of what he calls “personal branding”—just part of his research, which also looks into how and why people form bonds and relationships in electronic communities, measures of brand equity and students’ positive learning experiences.

“Students need to learn how to market themselves,” Hair says. “I tell them they must develop a consistent image where they can be instantly recognized both physically and virtually because this is one of the most important ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors.”

It certainly works for Hair, who for some time now has been “Hair apparent” to receive one of RIT’s teaching awards. He was nominated (but ineligible because he was a visiting professor) six times, from 1999 to 2005. “I received nominations even after leaving RIT to return home to the United Kingdom to earn my doctorate degree in management from Cranfield University. That was very special to me, showed I hadn’t been forgotten.”

Hair says: “I burst into tears when I opened the letter from the provost congratulating me on winning the award. I was over the moon, bloody delighted. It’s a huge compliment.”

Hair immediately called his fiancée, Rose Talbot, in the UK, where they will be married on June 6. “She was screaming over the phone because she knows how passionate I am about my teaching career,” he recalls.

“Ever since I was very young, I was convinced I was put on this Earth to teach,” Hair says. “Although most academic environments place a heavy emphasis on research and publication, my heart belongs firmly in the classroom and I hope this enthusiasm comes across to my students at RIT.”

Hair literally has the world spread out in his office and students enjoy stopping in to take a look while getting feedback about their pro-bono consultancy work with local companies or help with their research papers.

On one wall is a map littered with thumbtacks indicating places Hair has explored—from the Canary Islands, Cairo and Slovenia (ex-Yugoslavia), to Venice, Berlin and Prague. Draping another wall is the United States flag he received as a parting gift in 2001—filled with signatures and messages from RIT students and faculty. Across the room is an around-the-world assortment of empty, natural spring water bottles he has collected to support his Principles of Marketing class.

And near his computer is a very special trophy where Rose has attached a cryptic note—“Idle.”

“I won this year’s COB American Idol contest and I can’t sing,” says Hair with a laugh. “Imagine someone from Britain singing New York, New York with bright orange shoes.”

Hair certainly has a keen sense of humor. On his Web site, neilhair.com, he offers “The Musings of a Professor of Marketing.” Not only does he have photos of himself and Rose, a streaming video called “My Girl,” where he tries to get his cat Spooky (black in color, of course!) to say hello, but also descriptive commentary linked to latest technological trends or topics in the news, details of his academic research and streaming lectures for students.

On a personal note, he offers a number of “useless facts” including “I hold a professional bartender’s certificate for the state of New York, have met the Queen’s husband, have been slapped by a French teacher for being insubordinate, pulled a man from a wrecked car, introduced Sir Winston Churchill (in person) to three Americans, and placed a union jack on the dearly departed woolly mammoth in the COB, which stayed there for three whole months after I left in 2001.”

But number 37 is probably one of Hair’s more significant musings: “(I) get a kick out of seeing a student move from a D to an A in less than three weeks.”

“The greatest pleasure,” Hair says, “is to see a struggling student come back and perform. Knowing I’ve made a difference makes me want to celebrate, a little Bombay Sapphire and tonic with lime, at home of course.”

RIT News & Events, May 18, 2006