FYI Magazine

An Internship that Opened Doors

By volunteering his time in the classroom, John Muszynski says thank you to the professor who nudged him toward a stint at McDonald's 30 years ago.

From his corner office on the 32nd floor of the Leo Burnett Building, John Muszynski enjoys an expansive view of Chicago’s Loop. But he still hasn’t lost sight of the professor who helped shape his career choice more than three decades ago.

Muszynski is chief investment officer of SMG Exchange, a group within the prominent media agency Starcom MediaVest Group that oversees approximately $18 billion in advertising investment annually. He traces his professional trajectory to a man who has worked at Elmhurst for 40 years: Terry Madoch, associate professor of business administration and internship coordinator for the Center for Business and Economics. As an ongoing thank you, Muszynski each spring for the past 15 years has guest-lectured in Madoch’s advertising class (Business 334) sharing his advertising industry wisdom with students.

What did Madoch do to earn that gratitude? The pivotal moment occurred in 1980. As a marketing major, Muszynski spent his junior year juggling a full class load, playing for the hockey team and working nearly 40 hours a week at two part-time jobs. When Muszynski entered his senior year, Madoch suggested he apply for a McDonald’s Corporation internship. Muszynski didn’t think that was such a great idea. “I told him, ‘I don’t know if I can jam anything else into my day,’” he says.

But Madoch persisted. He convinced Muszynski to apply, emphasizing the real-world application of the internship. “I thought that John had a heck of a lot of potential,” he says. McDonald’s agreed. The hamburger giant hired Muszynski for a marketing internship at its Oak Brook headquarters, where he worked with McDonald’s advertising agency. That prompted a revelation of sorts. “It made me realize that it’s not just about creating ads,” he says.

The relationships he formed during the internship helped open doors, after Muszynski’s initial job application at Leo Burnett was greeted with a polite “no thanks.” He wasn’t deterred: “They didn’t know me. That was the way I looked at it.” He then asked his McDonald’s mentors to help line up an interview at Leo Burnett. After two rounds of interviews, Muszynski turned “no thanks” into a job offer.

“Leo Burnett changed my life,” he says. It was his career launching pad (and also where he met his wife). “The only reason I was at Leo Burnett was because of the internship, and the only reason I took that internship was Terry Madoch.”

During his initial training at Burnett, Muszynski worked in the media department and enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to stay. He quickly rose through the ranks in Burnett’s media group, which handled planning and buying for clients’ advertising. When he was appointed media director at age 31, he became one of the youngest directors in Burnett’s history. For the next nine years, he oversaw media planning for Kellogg Company, Leo Burnett’s largest account.

When Leo Burnett spun off its media department in 1997 to form Starcom (which later became Starcom MediaVest Group), Muszynski followed. Before taking his current position within Starcom MediaVest Group, he served as CEO of Starcom USA for four years. During his tenure, the company was named media agency of the year twice by Advertising Age and three times by MediaPost.

As chief investment officer at SMG Exchange, Muszynski now oversees buying across all three agencies within Starcom MediaVest Group: Starcom, MediaVest and Spark. In this role, he helps aggregate and share buying expertise among the agencies while avoiding client conflicts. “Many would say my current role allows me to create markets for the entire industry and push innovation that will set the standard within our industry for years to come,” he says. One person who’s glad Muszynski attended Elmhurst is Terry Madoch. “John would be successful no matter what,” says Madoch.“He’s got a passion for what he does, and he communicates that passion to my students, of which I’m appreciative. He feels that Elmhurst did a lot for him, and he wants to give something back.”

During his annual spring guest lecture, Muszynski gives students his take on the current advertising industry landscape––as well as some tips for navigating it.

“I talk about what makes you successful in the business world,” he says. His number-one factor: curiosity. “You have to always be pushing the question, ‘why’? Why does it work this way?” Problem-solving skills rank high too. “Be able to size up a situation and create a solution. Because at the end of the day, that’s all we do for our clients.”

When students ask about Starcom job opportunities, he shares sobering numbers: The company receives nearly 5,000 résumés annually and hires about 200. “When I interview somebody, I want to know, ‘What’s your unique offering? Why you, versus somebody else?’ Each of us has a special offering. And if you haven’t identified what makes you unique, you’re probably not going to find a job that you’re really happy with.”

Just as Madoch’s guidance set him on a rewarding career path, Muszynski is more than happy to offer guidance to Elmhurst students.

“There were many people who helped me in my younger years in my career,” says Muszynski. “Why shouldn’t I help others?”

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