Kyle Murray

Top 40 Under 40 2010

Photography Constantine Tanasiuk

Age: 37

Job Title: Director, School of Retailing, University of Alberta

Why He’s A Top 40: In just two years, he has helped raise millions of dollars for a little-known research centre and helped it grow into a top-level academic business program.

Key To His Success: Pursuing opportunities and ideas that excite him and taking a job that rarely feels like work.

Kyle Murray knows why you left the mall feeling unsatisfied: There were too many choices. Though that probably sounds like a good thing to you and the store owners and the economists, Murray and other social scientists in his field argue that this has led consumers to feel mental chaos and dissatisfaction in the age of department stores, megamalls and Internet shopping.

As a consumer psychologist, Murray knows more about the reasons behind what you buy than you do. He has published papers on how the weather affects spending and how consumers buying clothes or food can make more satisfying purchases if there are fewer choices bombarding them.

Murray is director of the School of Retailing, part of the University of Alberta’s School of Business. He also consults with companies including General Motors and Microsoft and writes for publications including the Journal of Consumer Research and the National Post. Retail, he explains, is “the part of the economy that is closest to the consumer and the engine that drives global commerce.”

Since the U of A psychology grad returned to campus in 2008 to head the School of Retailing and be an associate professor (with automatic tenure), he has helped raise over $7 million for the new school, plus $12 million in pledges. He has helped build the small consumer research centre into a top-tier university program in retailing.

Despite his success in raising funds for the school and expanding its scope, Murray says, “I think the biggest impact that I have is through the students I teach directly.”

Some of his PhD students now have professorships at universities around the world, from Boston to China.

Murray knows that his findings are more likely to be noticed by the corporate world than by you or me. But he does hope some of it is picked up by public policy and consumer groups.

In particular, Murray hopes his research into “self-regulated eating patterns” – or how humans can make healthier eating decisions – will lead to “better labelling and better education, and a better understanding of the costs of the things we consume. Because left to our own devices, our focus is going to be on the pleasure.”

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