Catching Gremlins

PROVO, Utah – Aug 14, 2019 – All roads lead somewhere, and for BYU Marriott assistant professor of marketing John Howell, the many roads he's traveled have brought him back to where it all began—academia. In high school, Howell found a passion for using math to answer to difficult questions. Now back in the classroom as a professor, he’s making strides in marketing research, improving what we know about consumers by identifying the impostors.

Howell knew he loved math from a young age. It was during a high school statistics class that he realized he wanted to use his affinity for numbers to answer real-world questions. “Discovering the unknown about something relevant attracted me,” he says. “By learning to make sense of what I didn’t know in an organized and formulated way, I could make reasonable guesses about the way the world works.”

Following his passion, Howell received a bachelor's degree in statistics from BYU in 2003 and loved his studies so much that he decided to stay and complete a master’s degree of the same subject. However, once he graduated in 2007, he decided he was finished with schooling. Howell got a job in Sequim, Washington, for a software company as a statistics and methods consultant. 

Though Howell enjoyed his work environment, he was disenchanted with his responsibilities. “I was doing research, but I wasn’t answering the big questions,” he recalls. “I found myself stuck. I wanted to not only think about what we should do, but why we should think that. The need for a career change became obvious to me.”

After five years at the software company, Howell’s desire to ask deeper questions spurred a career change from consultant to professor. With a strong background in research, Howell decided to study marketing at The Ohio State University in order to find answers to the problems that intrigued him. He quit his job, moved his family of five across the country, and lived off of student wages for three years. "My wife was super supportive, which helped me have the courage to go back to school,” he says. Howell completed his PhD in marketing in 2013.

Once Howell became heavily invested in market research, he started getting strange results—inspiring his interest in discovering false data. His findings are gaining significant traction. In 2016, his research titled Gremlins in the Data won him the Best Paper award at the AMA Advanced Research Techniques conference. “I love making a difference in market research and the way that people gather information and talk to their customers,” he says. “My philosophy is that if businesses can do the right thing for customers, everyone benefits.”

After graduating from Ohio State, Howell stuck around on the east coast of the United States for a few years. He was an assistant professor of marketing at Pennsylvania State University for five years before joining BYU Marriott in 2018 where he teaches business analytics in the MBA program. “One of the great things about working with MBA students is that they are at the point where they’re making a career change into management,” he says. “They’re starting to supervise and have more decision-making responsibilities. Being able to teach them how to make better decisions is an opportunity I don’t take lightly.”

In addition to his work at BYU Marriott, Howell is involved at home with his wife and three kids. He coaches his son and daughter’s mountain biking team and is currently building a new home for his family in Heber, Utah. This will be the third house Howell, whose dad was a general contractor, has designed. “I grew up doing this,” he says. His wife, Jennifer, also plays a role in her husband’s house-building hobby, as she studied interior design at BYU.

At the end of the day, Howell's work in the classroom is motivated by his drive to make a difference. “I do what I do for people,” he says. “I know I can achieve real change in the world through my research and the work my students go on to do.” 

Associate professor of marketing John Howell
John Howell

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Erika Magaoay