Anita Elberse biography, quotes and publications

Anita Elberse - Toolshero

Anita Elberse is a professor, researcher, author and speaker. She is the Lincoln Filene Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and referred to as ‘the rockstar of Harvard’. She is one of the youngest female professors in Harvard Business School’s history to have been promoted to full professor with tenure, at the age of 38.

Anita Elberse has conducted dozens of case studies on personalities in the world of entertainment, like Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, and LeBron James, as well as on entertainment companies, like Warner Bros., Marvel Entertainment, and the NFL. These case studies are also covered in her bestselling book ‘Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment’.

Biography of Anita Elberse

Anita Elberse was born in 1973 in The Netherlands, in the municipality IJselstein, located in the province of Utrecht. As a young girl Elberse wanted to become a professional soccer player, and she was quite successfully on her way, making it to the Dutch national team under 17 years old. However, she decided to walk a different path to pursue her academic career instead, which also lead to much success.

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In 1991, Anita first obtained her propaedeutic diploma in Business Administration at the University of Groningen. She then transferred to Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam, where she graduated cum laude and obtained her Masters in 1996. She also holds an MA in Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California.

Academic career

Anita Elberse continued her academic career at the London Business School, where she obtained her PhD in 2002. She then became a visiting fellow at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, before she was accepted to Harvard Business School in 2003. Eight years later, in 2012, she received a lifelong appointment at Harvard, being promoted to full professor with tenure, at the age of only 38 years old.

This made Elberse one of the youngest female professors in HBS’s history to achieve such an outstanding position. In an interview in the Holland Herald magzine, Anita shares that she wasn’t focused on trying to make it. “I was just going to follow my own path and see if I could make the most of my time at Harvard. That turned out to be the best strategy.”

At HBS professor Elberse conducts research into strategies in the entertainment, media, and sports industry. Her main interest is in what drives the success of products in these creative industries, and how firms can effectively manage products and talent in such sectors. Her publications can be found in several journals, including Harvard Business Review, Marketing Science, and the Journal of Marketing.

Her popularity on campus has to do with the fact that she has done extensive case studies on world famous celebrities like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Maria Sharapova. Several celebrities have also attended her classes, both as students as well as speakers. Examples are professional basketball player Chris Bosh, rapper LL Cool J, singer Ciara, fashion model Karlie Kloss, and professional soccer player Gerard Piqué.

Elberse’s MBA course ‘Businesses of Entertainment, Media, and Sports’ ranks among the most sought-after and longest-running elective courses in the curriculum of Harvard Business School. She furthermore chairs an executive program under the same name, developed a course on ‘High Performance Management: Leading a Formula One Team’, and chairs a mentoring program that is designed for professional athletes, named ‘Crossover Into Business’.

Elberse was named one of the ‘40 best business school professors under the age of 40’ by Poets & Quants. P&Q is an American graduate business education website. They asked business school officials, students and alumni for their favorite professors, who then got sorted and nominated for the said top 40. Anita has furthermore won the HBS Faculty Teaching Award and the Case Centre’s “Outstanding Case Teacher” award.

Author and speaker

In 2013 Anita Elberse published her first book ‘Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment’, which became a bestseller and was named by Amazon as one of its Best Books of the year. This book includes several of her case studies. Combined with other research in media and sports, she makes the case that in the entertainment industry, building a business around blockbuster products is the surest path to long-term success.

Attending speaker events worldwide, Elberse recently headlined Momentum’s ‘Women Who Make Moves in Sports Summit’ with her keynote speech in 2023. This summit intended to teach women in elite athletic careers on best business practices for building their personal brands. Anita is also a speaker at the Global Leadership Summit, for which she spoke in Chicago in that same year.

Anita Elberse has not given a Ted Talk yet, but based on Google’s keyword search activity there is a demand for it, so perhaps we can expect one in the future.

Personal Life

Anita Elberse lives in the US for over 20 years now, together with her husband. She had to give up her Dutch nationality to gain her American citizenship. Together with her spouse, she built a house at a 15-minute bike ride from Harvard and feels at home in the US and at Harvard, she told Vice in a 2021 interview.

As for her love for soccer as a young girl, some things in life do tend to come full circle. At Harvard Anita plays in the soccer team at the academic version of the Champions League, and through her MBA course she was able to meet quite some soccer giants, like Edwin van der Sar, Kaká, Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué and Oliver Kahn.

One of her highlights is staying in touch on a regular basis with Sir Alex Ferguson, former coach of Manchester United. She worked closely with him for one of her case studies. Their joint publication ‘Ferguson’s Formula’ was one of the most populair articles in Harvard Business Review.

In her Holland Herald interview, Anita shared that there are hardly any days where she does not work at all. It’s not surprising then that her work and personal life seem to blend. Going on holidays is the only time when she totally switches off from work.

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Anita Elberse Quotes

  1. “As demand shifts from offline retailers with limited shelf space to online channels with much larger assortments, the sales distribution is not getting fatter in the tail.”
  2. “Because making movies is such an expensive endeavor, other media such as books and comics have long been a more feasible way to experiment with truly new ideas.”
  3. “Because they are inherently social, people find value in reading the same books and watching the same movies that others do.”
  4. “If anything, the impact of digital technology is creating bigger brands and bigger superstars.”
  5. “If you are the record label who owns Lady Gaga, and you have a new artist coming up, you can say, ‘Let’s have the artist play just before Gaga.’ Now you’ve exposed the huge Gaga audience to the new artist. It’s similar to showing a trailer before a movie. The hit creates a hit.”
  6. “In investing, we intuitively think we should make a number of small bets. A blockbuster strategy is the opposite. It means making fewer huge investments. But it turns out to be safer.”
  7. “It’s really not fun to have seen a movie that you want to talk about, and you can’t find anyone else who’s seen it.”
  8. “Mauricio Macri. He successfully ran for mayor of Buenos Aires, and when I asked him a few months into his term whether it was more challenging to run a soccer club or a city, he responded: “A soccer club. Without a doubt”.”
  9. “Media companies’ hit-focused marketing did not emerge in a vacuum. It reflects how consumers make choices. The truth is that consumers prefer blockbusters.”
  10. “Most large media firms make outsized investments to acquire and market a small number of titles with strong hit potential, and bank on their sales to make up for middling performance in the rest of their catalogs.”
  11. “Most of my colleagues have research awards on the shelf. I have party invites.”
  12. “No one disputes that online businesses offer much more variety than their analog counterparts.”
  13. “One problem with relying on existing concepts is that it could stifle innovation, weakening the film sector over time.”
  14. “The average movie-goer in this country sees six films in a year. That’s one every two months. What the studios are trying to do is make sure it’s their movie.”
  15. “The entertainment business remains a business of blockbusters, and increasingly so.”
  16. “What you get when you put all your resources behind a product, is you get everyone to join in.”
  17. “When a publisher spends an inordinate amount on an acquisition, it will do everything in its power to make that project a market success.”

Anita Elberse Books and Publications

  • 2022. Number One in Formula One: Leadership Lessons from Toto Wolff and Mercedes, the Team behind One of the Greatest Winning Streaks in All of Sports. Harvard Business Review (November–December 2022): 70–78.
  • 2014. Investing in Superstars: Lessons from the World of Football [¿Cómo Invertir en Superestrellas? Lecciones del Mundo del Fútbol]. Foreign Affairs Latinoamérica 14, no. 3 (July–September 2014): 19–27.
  • 2013. How to Build a Fame Monster. Slate (October 31, 2013).
  • 2013. How the Competition for Superstar Endorsers is Changing the Sports Business. SportsBusiness Journal (October 28, 2013), 14.
  • 2013. The Blockbuster’s Endurance. Billboard (October 19, 2013).
  • 2013. Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
  • 2013. The Hidden Truth About Hits. Variety (October 11, 2013).
  • 2013. Why Hollywood Is Caught in the Blockbuster Trap — and Won’t Break Free Anytime Soon. Vulture (October 9, 2013).
  • 2013. Ferguson’s Formula. Harvard Business Review 91, no. 10 (October 2013): 116–125.
  • 2012. The Economic Value of Celebrity Endorsements. Journal of Advertising Research 52, no. 2 (June 2012): 149–165.
  • 2010. Bye Bye Bundles: The Unbundling of Music in Digital Channels. Journal of Marketing 74, no. 3 (May 2010): 107–123.
  • 2009. Risks and Rewards of Celebrity Endorsements. (December 16, 2009).
  • 2009. Blockbuster or Bust. Wall Street Journal (January 3, 2009).
  • 2008. Should You Invest in the Long Tail? HBS Centennial Issue Harvard Business Review 86, nos. 7/8 (July–August 2008): 88–96. (HBS Centennial Issue.)
  • 2007. The Effectiveness of Pre-Release Advertising for Motion Pictures: An Empirical Investigation Using a Simulated Market. Information Economics and Policy 19, nos. 3-4 (October 2007): 319–343. (Special Issue on Economics of the Media.)
  • 2007. The Power of Stars: Do Star Actors Drive the Success of Movies? Journal of Marketing 71, no. 4 (October 2007): 102–120. (Featured in HBS Working Knowledge.)
  • 2007. Superstars and Underdogs: An Examination of the Long Tail Phenomenon in Video Sales. MSI Reports: Working Paper Series 4 (2007): 49–72. (Featured in HBS Working Knowledge.)
  • 2006. The Motion Picture Industry: Critical Issues in Practice, Current Research, and New Research Directions. Marketing Science 25, no. 6 (November–December 2006): 638–661.
  • 2005. How Markets Help Marketers. Harvard Business Review 83, no. 9 (September 2005): 32–34.
  • 2003. Demand and Supply Dynamics for Sequentially Released Products in International Markets: The Case of Motion Pictures. Marketing Science 22, no. 3 (Summer 2003): 329–354.
  • 1999. A Case Study of A Netizen’s Guide to Elections. Communications of the ACM 42, no. 12 (December 1999): 48–54.
  • 1999. An American Democracy Network: Factors Shaping the Future of On-line Political Campaigns. Parliamentary Affairs 52, no. 3 (July 1999): 535–552.
  • 1998. Consumer Acceptance of Interactive News in the Netherlands. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 3, no. 4 (1998): 62–83.

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Sheryl Lynn Baas
Article by:

Sheryl Lynn Baas

Sheryl Lynn Baas is our Communications Manager at Toolshero and you might recognize her from our learning videos. Sheryl’s academic background is in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology and she is the founder of the Sheryl Lynn Foundation, a non-profit for children and education in the Philippines. She’s a jack-of-all-trades and furthermore shares her gifts as a spiritual coach, presenter and DJ. Fun fact: she is former Miss Netherlands 2006.


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