What direction has your career taken since your Gamma Zeta days?
I have worked in the advertising agency business since graduation from the University of Illinois in 1977. I was first hired by Leo Burnett as a Client Service account trainee starting in the Media Department. I never left Leo and Media operations even though my career did require several changes of business cards over the last 35 years. I stayed in Media rather than becoming an Account Executive. About 15 years ago, I led the “spin off” of the Leo Burnett Media Department to a global Media Agency called Starcom. Two years later, I was asked to also oversee and integrate a rival agency brand named Mediavest. Today, SMG is the largest Media agency in US and the world. After being acquired by the French based holding company, Publicis Groupe, I took on additional responsibilities in managing all of its Media and Digital agency businesses which we call Vivaki (a combination of SMG, ZenithOptimedia, Razorfish and Digitas) who invests over 80 billion euros annually for many blue chip clients across 85 offices around the world. I will be retiring this July.
Tell us about your family.
My wife, Beth, and I have been married 34 years. We have two grown children. Our son, Jordan, is a graduate of Miami of Ohio and works in digital ad sales for Yahoo! based in Chicago. Our daughter, Corinn, is an Illinois graduate and Phi Mu who has been teaching in Suburban Phoenix for the last 6 years. Beth and I still make our primary residence in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
You lead our Alumni Membership Committee. What is the initial focus of this committee?
My Committee leads Membership programs which includes the development of a new Pledge Training program, an aggressive anti-hazing policy enforcement as well as more productive alternatives, and provides assistance to undergrad Rush efforts.
I am also looking into more innovative and contemporary techniques to incentify behavior of the undergrad membership in line with the ATO Creed and key principles of our brotherhood.
Do you believe it is important for the Gamma Zeta alumni to be involved with chapter undergraduates?
Absolutely. I must be honest here that I have not been close to the current membership or the house for more than 10 years. While I was able to stay in contact with my pledge class of 1977 with the help of committed brothers like Dane Lurhsen, I now see the important need for current members to know, appreciate, and value the great legacy of brothers who have come before them. They say everyone needs to know where they came from in order to know better where they are going.
In a very practical sense, there will always be a need for financial support from Alumni to keep the physical plant maintained and updated.
How many alumni are involved in this effort?
I believe there are approximately 20 men involved, mostly from pledge classes starting in late 70’s. With my Membership group, we have about six. All of them are accomplished businessmen in their own right: lawyers, entrepreneurs, financiers, sales, real estate, and even a restaurateur /city alderman. Beyond the Membership Committee, there are alumni task force groups dealing with communications, fund raising/capital, physical plant maintenance, mentoring, and governance.
The newly formed GZ Mentor program has over 80 alums participating, nearly one for each current member in the house.
What was it like participating in an initiation, like the one in January with Wynn Smiley, ATO National CEO?
It brought back a flood of terrific memories from my own initiation. More importantly, it reminded me of the thoughtful and time-tested principles of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. It reminded me how lucky I am to be a part of the ATO experience and being part of something of value and bigger than myself. It also reminded me how fortunate we are to have talented, unselfish men like Wynn lead and promote our values for today’s generation of new initiates and active members.
Where do we need more help?
There is always room for more alumni volunteers across all these task forces/committees. What we need is for all of us to stick with this thing we started. The worst thing we could do is to not deliver/stop our involvement and lose confidence/trust of current active membership.
What’s it like to reconnect with some old friends in an effort like this, as well as work with some of the younger leaders in our alumni group who you might not have known before?
In many ways, I feel rejuvenated and that I am reliving what was probably among the best 4 years of my life. Connecting with other GZ alums reminds me of the special times we shared (good and bad) and the lifelong bond that I share with all of them.
Your life is about to take on a big change, now that you are retiring from Vivaki. Share a bit about that.
I am finishing 35 years in this business that I love. It’s time to hand over leadership to others who are ready and more than capable. The job often forced me to put my wife and family second. It’s time that they become my priority regardless of how I fill my days going forward.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I need to call out a special thanks to one of my brothers, Tom Minner, and his Dad. If it wasn’t for Tom’s thoughtfulness to have his Dad (Bob) use his influence as Executive Treasurer of Leo Burnett and get my resume noticed, I would not have enjoyed such a wonderful career.
And if not for the wonderful experience as an ATO at Illinois, I would not have been as prepared to interact, lead, and manage the thousands of people around the world that I am proud to call my colleagues.
Last and not least, I hope every pledge class is fortunate enough to have a “Dane Luhrsen” among them.