"He was an original mind," said Philip Kotler, the S.C. Johnson Professor of Marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "He opened the eyes of companies to the role of marketing as more than just a department."
Born in Vollmerz, Germany, in 1925, Mr. Levitt joined the Harvard Business School faculty in 1959, and a year later drew international acclaim for "Marketing Myopia," an article in the Harvard Business Review that framed a question that quickly became part of the standard litany for corporate consultants everywhere.
"What business are you in?" he wrote. The railroads, for example, "let others take their customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business instead of the transportation business."
Twenty-three years later, he offered another revolutionary notion by coining the term "globalization," arguing that technology had effectively shrunk the globe, and that corporations could best exploit this new reality not by catering to local tastes, but by offering the same products everywhere at lower prices due to scale.
"I'd characterize him as one of the most influential marketing-thought leaders of the second half of the 20th century," said Stephen Greyser, Harvard's Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration Emeritus.
Mr. Levitt also distinguished himself as an editor. At the helm of the Harvard Business Review from 1985 to 1989, he helped solidify the journal's position as the best in its category.
"He was arguably the best editor in HBR's history," Thomas Stewart, the current editor, said in a statement. "He helped bring the magazine to a new standard of readability while ensuring its quality was never higher."
Mr. Levitt is survived by his wife of 58 years, Joan, four children, six grandchildren and two sisters. A memorial service was held July 7 in Belmont, Mass.