Oral Histories

Ron Culp

Interview Segments on Topic: Mentors

Ron Culp Biography

Ron Culp is the professional director of the Graduate PRAD program at DePaul University and an independent public relations consultant. He was the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of the Midwest operations of Ketchum, has a 30-year career that spans a broad range of communications activities in government and the business-to-business, consumer products, pharmaceutical and retailing industries. Most recently, he was Managing Director and Chairman of Citigate Sard Verbinnen, where he established the agency's highly successful Chicago office. Culp also served as SVP of PR, government affairs, communications, and community relations for Sears, Roebuck and Co. for 10 years.


Interviewer: Right I used I think I used both today even. Yes. All right who had the most significant influence on your career? And how did that relationship affect your professionalism? How did you develop as a mentor.

Culp: Well I have many. I am lucky to have many and I am a mentor to many and I think that comes from the fact that I, I would be hard pressed to pick one, but I can.

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

Culp: Well I go back to people in my childhood who always encouraged me to do things but and things that you know they probably were amused about but they saw that there was some creativity link or something there, so they were encouraging me to do crazy things. So the local newspaper editor, who when I was 11-12 years old said why don’t you write a guest column for the newspaper? And I wrote these crazy, you know, thoughts. And then, and she said you ought to just continue that, so that’s why I decided I wanted to be a newspaper reporter when I went to college. And then in college I had a couple of professors, Claude Billings was one of my professors, and Claude just kept saying you know, just kept pushing me where the opportunities might go with in journalism for me. And then after I went to work at the first newspaper, John Rutherford was my news editor, I disliked that man with a passion. He was the meanest person on the news desk. But boy did I not misspell words. This was before Spell Check you know. And you are coming in and you are basically saying I had to look that word up in a dictionary. Change the word. And so if you misspelled or anything, or if you had a fact that wasn’t right, but I look back at John as being a huge influence. But on the PR side it probably was a gentleman by the name of Jack Raymond. Jack was a former New York Times reporter that then went off to set up his own small boutique in New York and John was an advisor to the CEO at Lilly, and Jack was an advisor for the CEO at Lilly. So Jack always talked to me when he came to town and we’d go to dinner or lunch and at one point he comes in and says “I really have an idea for you. You’re in Indianapolis, Indiana a fairly small market, and you have essentially the top PR job that you are going to get at Lilly. So you need to get into a broader network of PR to be discovered in this profession. So let’s keep our ears open for opportunities in New York.” And so that then led to my getting a job at Pitney Bowes as director of public relations and Jack and I stayed in touch for years and years. And as a matter of fact, I talked to him I called him about two years ago and I decided to go on this little tour of thanking all of my mentors that were still alive. And either in writing or I would call them or I would go have lunch. So I was going to New York and I had lunch with him and I thanked him. AT the time he was in his late 80s. And then last year I mentioned him at the Page meeting in a speech that I gave about mentoring. And I sent him a copy of it. He called me and we had a great conversation and I’m glad we did that because I just heard from his wife about two months ago that he died and I feel better having said thank you when I did than wishing I had.

Interviewer: Okay, which of your accomplishments are you the most proud of?

Culp: That's the toughest one. I think that probably if I call it an accomplishment, it’s all of the people that tell me I have helped mentor them, and I think looking at where they are in their careers. And I wouldn’t look at some of as having been mentored to them. John Harris who now heads public relations at Sara Lee or Ann McCarthy who heads PR at Western Union, a whole number of people who are now put in leadership positions in corporate America. I didn’t think I was a mentor but obviously I hear from them that, yeah they think differently. And I think when you are doing it without that being your goal, it kind of is very enriching. I am going to start a website, a blog, on essentially helping guide people in PR careers which is an idea, interestingly enough, by young people that I’ve been working with. And one of them wrote the plan, saying here’s what you ought to do. And so they brainstormed with me on how it’s going to work and I’ve got a bunch of ideas going into it. So I think that probably helping raise the level of, of the talent that comes into the profession by identifying this is a real leader. This profession and whatever we can do to help make sure that they make it. And I believe the same thing is important. My second passion is making sure that we do a better job of increasing diversity in the profession. And so we have a model that we set up in our office to make sure that every minority who comes to work sees a career path that is achievable, and we identify someone at senior level and somebody at the entry level and places in between that they could see how they moved through the organization. And I think that that’s something that hasn’t been too apparent in this profession and we need to do more of that as well. So those are kind of the dual things that I look at that I’m further along in mentoring than I am in increasing diversity understanding the profession but I think that both are, hopefully are going to be things I look back at and say I feel very good about what I’ve done.

MENTORING (keyword):

Interviewer: Well the last thing I wanted to ask is do you have anything else that you would like to share with the future PR professionals this next generation?

Culp: Yeah I think the key thing that it would be very important is to remember people along the way who are helping you and then once you take the next step is to remember them then too., So I’ve stayed in touch with you know college professors, with Nan McGlenn until she died, the editor of the hometown newspaper and all these people along the way because it means so much to people to know. And it’s not like you are bugging them by you know contacting them about everything or asking them for help. But oh by the way I thought you’d be interested in knowing that I just graduated from college. By the way I just landed my first job as an account coordinator at an ad agency. Whatever is happening. You remember them maybe in a card at the holidays. Just, just stay in touch with the people who have helped you along the way, because there’s something about the karma that happens. You know when a lot of people are thinking good thoughts about you, that helps you succeed in your career.

Interviewer: That's good advice. Well, I want to thank you very much for taking time to share some of your experiences with us. Thank you.

Culp: Well I enjoyed it very much. Thank you. Good trip down memory lane.