SMU Cox School of Business to gain first U.S. academic institute for educating customer engagement leaders

A $10m gift from Diane and Hal Brierley will establish the first U.S. academic institute for educating customer engagement leaders.

Hal Brierley

Dallas, TX (SMU) – The nation’s first academic institute devoted to the study of customer engagement will be based at SMU in the University’s Cox School of Business thanks to a $10 million gift from Diane and Harold (Hal) Brierley.

Marci Armstrong, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs at SMU Cox - Albert Niemi, Dean of the SMU Cox School of Business - Harold (Hal) Brierley
Hal Brierley (right) with Cox Dean Albert Niemi and Cox Associate Dean Marci Armstrong.

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A pioneer in database marketing and customer loyalty programs, Hal Brierley is perhaps best known as the only consultant for the launch of American Airlines’ AAdvantage program, the nation’s first frequent traveler program.

The Brierley Institute for Customer Engagement will support a critical and growing business need: capturing customer attention in what Brierley has described as “a time-starved, social media-obsessed environment.” The gift – among the largest in the history of the Cox School – will be formally announced at a ceremony on the SMU campus in the James M. Collins Executive Education Center, 3150 Binkley Ave., at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14. 

“It is an honor for SMU and the Cox School of Business to serve as home of the Brierley Institute for Customer Engagement,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “We are grateful for the Brierleys’ foresight and their generous gift to establish endowments and provide operational funding that will support curricular innovation, graduate scholarships and faculty leadership to address the issue of building and maintaining customer relationships.”

The ceremony will be followed by a 5 p.m. panel discussion, also in the Collins Center, focusing on customer engagement insights for the future. Panelists will include John Deighton, Baker Foundation Professor and Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School; Karen Katz, CEO & President of Neiman Marcus; Suzanne Rubin, former president of American Airlines AAdvantage program; Hal Brierley; and Marci Armstrong, SMU Cox associate dean of Graduate Programs. SMU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Steven Currall will host the panel discussion.

“This gift will greatly enrich our marketing concentration, provide extra funding and create depth,” said Albert Niemi, dean of the Cox School. “The Brierley name is magic in customer engagement. Hal will have an office here and serve as an executive-in-residence. He’ll be engaged in the classroom with our students. Both his gift and his presence will strengthen the program.” 

“It’s more than serendipity when the right program comes to the right University,” said Currall.  “Our existing course offerings within the Cox School are a strong foundation for the new Brierley Institute, and we look forward to partnerships with other disciplines across campus, which will multiply the Institute’s value to our students and faculty members.”

The Institute will create innovative learning experiences for SMU Cox MBA students that lead to successful careers in marketing, business analytics and consulting.

“I look forward to having Dallas and SMU viewed as a center of excellence in customer relationship management,” said Hal Brierley. “I’m pleased that SMU Cox has stepped up to create effective curricula to teach tomorrow’s marketers the techniques that are essential to design and manage successful customer loyalty programs. The Brierley Institute will take an active role in advancing the techniques employed by consumer brands for their current and future customer engagement efforts.”

Associate Dean Armstrong, a veteran professor of marketing and six-time teaching award honoree, will be the institute’s first appointment as the Harold M. Brierley Endowed Professor.  

“The Brierley Institute will honor the contributions of the man many consider ‘the father of customer loyalty programs,’” said Armstrong. “It will bring together students, practitioners and academics to increase what we know about how engagement drives loyalty and profitability. Already, a new Customer Engagement specialization is being developed for SMU Cox MBA students who will lead the customer engagement efforts of tomorrow.”

According to Armstrong, these students will learn to promote business practices that build customer relationships, leverage digital and traditional media, measure financial impact, and create customer experiences that engage customers and create loyalty and value. MBA scholarships and student research grants will be offered. To advance knowledge and improve business practice, the Institute will feature an annual invitation-only conference focused on bringing together young scholars from top academic institutions and practitioners from well-known corporations to develop faculty research agendas, influence curricula and solve current business challenges. In addition, the Institute will offer faculty research grants.

“Hal and Diane Brierley have long been active in their support for Dallas and SMU, and the Cox School will benefit beyond measure from both their financial gift and the time that Hal Brierley intends to spend with students,” said Brad Cheves, SMU vice president for Development and External Affairs. “They have our sincere thanks.”   

Hal Brierley
Hal Brierley

Hal Brierley is the chairman and CEO of The Brierley Group, LLC. Over the past 30 years, as founder and chief loyalty architect for Brierley+Partners, he has counseled scores of clients, including such iconic brands as American Express, AT&T, Hertz, Hilton, Neiman Marcus, 7-Eleven, Sony, and United Airlines.

In 1985, he established Brierley+Partners in Dallas, served as president and CEO through 2006, and then as chairman until the firm was sold to Japan’s largest technology services firm, Nomura Research Institute, in 2015. He is also co-founder of Epsilon, a pioneer in database marketing. In 1999, he founded e-Rewards (now known as Research Now), the world’s largest online market research panel providing survey respondents for over 2,500 research firms.

Diane and Hal Brierley, who make their home in Highland Park, are active locally and nationally through board service and philanthropic outreach. Hal is a member of the SMU Cox Executive Board and previously served on the Meadows School of the Arts Executive Board. Hal Brierley earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering at the University of Maryland and an MBA from Harvard Business School, from which he graduated as a Baker Scholar with High Honors in 1968.


About SMU

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls more than 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

About SMU Cox

 The Cox School of Business was originally established in 1920 on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and was named in honor of benefactor Edwin L. Cox in 1978. SMU Cox offers a full range of highly ranked undergraduate and graduate business education programs, academic centers of excellence and an active alumni network with chapters globally.