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Successful alums share sage career advice

November 11, 2013
Barsema Hall, home of the NIU College of Business

Barsema Hall, home of the NIU College of Business

Successful alumni give back to NIU by getting involved in the “Executive in Residence” program through the College of Business.

The program encourages successful alumni and friends to share their experiences in the business environment with students in the College of Business – “Where the Classroom Meets the Business World.”

Enthusiastic and talented alumni tell real-life stories and give an insider’s perspective of life outside the NIU campus, equipping students with practical tools and mentorship to prepare them for life after graduation.

Here are some highlights from Fall 2013.

Michael J. McGrath

Michael J. McGrath

Michael J. McGrath Sr.
CEO, McGrath Auto Group
B.S. Management, 1970

NIU alumnus and 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Mike McGrath visited campus Friday, Oct. 18. As a guest of Tim Aurand, he presented in UBUS 310 on the importance of distribution (car dealerships) in the automobile industry.

In 1970, with business degree in hand, McGrath pursued a career in a large corporation. He quickly realized that his entrepreneurial spirit did not fit the culture and with help from his dad, McGrath purchased his first car dealership and found his passion.

Today, the McGrath Auto Group is among the most successful car businesses in the country. McGrath, wife Kristina and his sons operate six dealerships: McGrath Lexus of Chicago, McGrath Lexus of Westmont, McGrath Acura of Chicago, McGrath Acura of Westmont, McGrath Honda and McGrath Hyundai.

McGrath’s lecture provided unique perspectives and career advice from an executive who has led his businesses through numerous turbulent economic environments. Additionally, he provided fascinating examples on marketing, sales and the importance of acquiring and promoting talented employees.

His strongest suggestion to students is to get involved in political and civic affairs. External factors influence the business environment. It is vitally important to have a network of contacts in order to have a voice in policies which impact the bottom line of many organizations and businesses.

Troy Christensen
Former CEO/CFO, Accolade Wines
B.S. Accountancy, 1985

NIU alumnus Troy Christensen visited campus Monday, Oct. 7, to participate in sales management classes.
Christensen began his career as an accountant immediately after graduating from NIU in 1985. He soon realized that sales were where he could make the biggest impact.

He encouraged students in Brian Vollmert’s Marketing 446 class to “take a leadership position in solving a customer problem to increase your career trajectory.”

Employees should work together as a team and not blame “the other guy.” In addition, he stressed that students should know the company’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to increase profitability. It typically boils down to one of these three business strategies: product leadership, operation excellence or customer intimacy.

“Selling,” he said, “is not always about personality.”

Lyle Heidemann

Lyle Heidemann

Lyle Heidemann
CEO, True Value, Retired
B.S. Marketing, 1967

NIU alumnus Lyle Heidemann visited campus Tuesday, Oct. 22, to participate in Ursula Sullivan’s marketing strategy classes (MKTG 495).

Heidemann began his career at Sears, working there for 37 years. After retiring, he was asked to lead True Value. As its CEO, he was responsible for more than 4,000 hardware stores that were individually owned.

While in a position of influence over the store owners, he couldn’t “tell them what to do.” With experience in operations, marketing, logistics, systems, supply chain and more, he immediately went to work researching the best layout for the chain.

Heidemann encouraged owners to re-configure their stores for time-starved consumers in an effort to streamline and improve the floor plan for women, including improving the lighting, moving the lawn-and-garden items and paint to the front of the store, and adding pet supplies. He also added eCommerce, gift cards and credit cards for the younger generations.

His varied experience worked in his favor, as he had a wider perspective than his counterparts.

He encouraged students to broaden their experience and take jobs that might not immediately be the perfect fit, as it will improve their overall experience.

Tom Gebhardt
President, Panasonic North America
B.S. Marketing, 1982

Tom Gebhardt came back to campus Thursday, Sept. 26, to speak to Sullivan’s Marketing Strategy 495 class. The 1982 graduate is now the president of Panasonic North America.

Gebhardt’s overarching lesson to students focused on the changing dynamics in the market place.

Where steadiness and stability were valued when he graduated, today’s organizations now look for flexibility, change and growth – especially in the digital area. Students graduating currently are better positioned for this environment, having a good understanding of connectivity in the digital age. It’s this appreciation that fuels marketing and sales, which has become the most important component of today’s companies.

Gebhardt feels it’s all about relating to customers and clients. The successful student knows that and is flexible enough to shift and change, when needed.

M.B.A. Colloquium Executive Lecture Series

Janet Pucino

Janet Pucino

Janet Pucino
CEO and founder of Deep Canyon Media, LLC
Bachelor of Music, 1976

The M.B.A. Colloquium Executive Lecture Series has become an invaluable resource for current students and alumni, showcasing business and community leaders in discussion of timely topics and issues relevant to career development.

NIU alumna Janet Pucino spoke Tuesday, Oct. 29, at NIU-Naperville on the challenges women face as they advance in their careers. Her presentation, “Leadership + Inclusion + Talent = Success,” included the results of research and personal experiences demonstrating that even women who achieve positions of leadership in business still rarely gain inclusion to “The Club” to which their male counterparts belong.

An experienced information technology executive, Pucino managed every facet of IT, including strategic planning, enterprise architecture, application development and service delivery, risk management, quality assurance, project and program management, change management, labor sourcing and outsourcing initiatives.

She worked for some of the most-recognized global companies, including Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Discover Card, The Kemper Group and the International Networks Division of Motorola.

Meanwhile, she is a featured speaker and lecturer on both technology and leadership topics. Her business book, “Not In The Club,” which explores the unique challenges of women in leadership roles and illustrates how women can overcome workplace biases, has won five book awards.

Pucino encouraged MBA students and alumni to think about leadership in a different way, raising awareness of the distinct experiences of women, calling attention to biases and organizational cultures and the need for inclusion in our businesses and organizations.