Interview Segments on Topic: Selecting a PR Career
Kurt Stocker’s career has spanned all aspects of public relations, having held positions in the corporate, agency and academic worlds. An associate professor at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism’s Integrated Marketing Communications Program, Stocker has been recognized for his expertise in crisis management, employee communications, corporate governance, Integrated Marketing Communications, reputation management and professional development.
Stocker is a member of the New York Stock Exchange Regulation Board of Directors, Chair of the NYSE Individual Investor Advisory Board, member of the Disclosure Advisory Board and is a member of the Hall of Fame and past president of the Arthur W. Page Society.
Interviewer: It’s September 14th. We’re in Chicago and sitting with Kurt Stocker. Thank you for spending some time with us for the second time. We had technological problems with the first interview. Why don’t we start off talking about your early career? You graduated from Marietta College with a business degree. Tell us about the career path that eventually landed you where you are right now.
Stocker: The good news is I got into public relations late. Had I gotten in early I would have failed miserably. I came out of Marietta College with a degree in Petroleum Engineering and Business. I quickly grabbed a business degree because I did not want go to Saudi Arabia. I took a job with General Telephone for a short period of time as a statistician and ended up with Allstate Insurance Company in personnel; then personnel, now human relations. I fought unions in labor relations for Allstate and Sears for many years, ran employee benefits, did all of the top things you do in personnel. Then the company was hit in the face with redlining, which was a big issue at the time where banks and insurance companies were accused of drawing red lines around urban areas and not insuring or loaning money in low income areas. In fact Gail Cincotta—who eventually got some fame in bringing some real good legislation to the whole issue of Community Reinvestment Act—she and about thirty other residents of the south side of Chicago ended up in the chairman’s office at Allstate and the PR department didn’t have a clue.
They had a lot of very clever skilled ex-journalists who didn’t know what to do with it and being a gunslinger coming out of labor relations; I was co-opted to handle this issue. I spent a year in the basements of churches all over the United States talking to communities and community organizers, who obviously got somewhat popularized lately, trying to deal with the issue and we did. We ended up doing a very good conference with the entire community organizing body and Allstate Insurance Company and it sort of lead the issue out of the dark and so I got into it sort of by a back door. Had I got into it early, as I say, I would have failed because I failed in probably every English course I ever took. I can’t even spell the word grammar. Fortunately, I had a lot of people around me who could.
Interviewer: Just to clarify, you talked about the stock exchange and the board that you were on, could you just clarify what that is. You gave us an acronym.
Stocker: What I am involved in now, late in life, is for about the last ten years I’ve run the Individual Investor’s Advisory Board at the New York Stock Exchange. Hanging around there, by the way, my first job coming out of high school was a runner on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Fifty years later I’m sitting in the boardroom for what is called New York Stock Exchange Regulation. It’s a separate company and it regulates the New York Stock Exchange, and I’m on that board. Then there’s a board called FINRA, which used to be NASD (National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc.), which is now the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which regulates all the brokerage firms in the country and now the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), but the fact that they’d let me go do that is great fun. It’s very rewarding and probably has a lot to do with the experiences someone in PR had; because when things go wrong, we’ve been there and we have some sense of how to prevent that from happening again or how to deal with it if it happens.
Interviewer: It’s an interesting circle you’ve gone through.
Stocker: I have had an amazing life so far, and when I figure out what I want to do when I grow up it’s going to be pretty neat.