Executive in Residence

Mike McGrath, BS, Management 1970 and wife Kristina, participate in UBUS 310 on Automobile Distribution 

Executive in Residence

Executive in Residence Rick Gunther, Senior VP Sales, SurePayroll (retired) - BS Management 1976 


NIU alumnus Rick Gunther visited campus on November 10 as an Executive in Residence to participate in Marketing Strategy and MBA Fast-track classes. Gunther has a long and distinguished career which began more than 35 years ago in high tech sales, sales management and technology startups when “high tech” was in its infancy. He held positions at Burroughs Corporation, now known as Unisys, and Hewlett Packard, before becoming the Director of Sales, then the VP of Sales at ASAP Software. It was during his term at ASAP, that Gunther was responsible for the creation of License Technology Group (LTG) as a diversified services company catering to the PC software community’s need to manage volume licensing programs for business, education and government customers. As a direct result of his forward thinking, ASAP Software grew to a $1.6B business and was sold to Dell in 2007. After managing both Dell and ASAP’s software sales force for a year, Gunther moved to SurePayroll, a privately held online payroll services firm as Sr. Vice President, Sales and Business Development. Gunther put to use his sales acumen to help another young company grow in stature within its industry, doubling revenue during his tenure. As a result of his efforts, SurePayroll was prepared for market and sold to Paychex in 2008. Gunther remained on board as Senior VP of Sales until January of this year when he retired.

Rick spoke to senior marketing students regarding ethical and legal issues in selling. He related personal stories of ethical dilemmas which he faced throughout his career and discussed the importance of developing one’s own code of personal ethics in order to succeed: “Good ethics are always good business.” He also advised the students not to take a job opportunity with a company whose policies and conduct conflict with their own standards.

Prior to giving a similar discussion to the current cohort of MBA Fast-track students later that afternoon, Gunther was joined by a portion of those students for an interactive, round table discussion. He answered questions and offered valuable career advice to the students, including his own personal mantra of success. “Success is based on three variables: attitude, effort and results.” He expanded on this by saying that in business you may not always achieve the results you are seeking, but as long as you have had a positive attitude and put forth maximum effort towards the goal, that you will receive future opportunities to achieve desired results.

Executive in Residence

Executive in Residence Jeff Kilrea - Managing Director of CIT - BS Finance 1983 


NIU alumnus Jeff Kilrea visited campus on November 4 as an Executive in Residence to participate in Finance 445/446 Security Analysis Practicum/Portfolio class. Kilrea has been at CIT for a little over 4 years, but has worked in the banking and investment industry for over 25 years. He gave finance seniors lots of practical career advice, starting with the importance of networking. His first job was shining shoes at Olympia Fields Country Club. From that experience, he connected with club members who gave him job leads. “Networking is extremely important because it allows you to find common ground with others and enables easier conversations during interviewers,” says Kilrea. Throughout his career, from FINOVA Capital to Walter E. Heller & Co. to other positions, Kilrea was able to parlay his connections and turn them into job opportunities. He stressed going to class and meeting professors on a personal level. “Getting along with others is a key asset in the workplace too. Creating a positive work environment translates into marketability,” says Kilrea. In fact, Kilrea asked two individuals on his team – with very different personalities – to work together. One person was very detailed-oriented, technical and quiet; the other was more outgoing, brash and hasty. Kilrea placed the two together with the hopes of allowing each to learn something from the other. While personal relationships are important, Kilrea stresses the importance of technology too. He encouraged the finance students to embrace social media and connect with others through this medium. Kilrea counseled students to learn from mistakes. “It builds character. Be a self-starter; be open to criticism and check your ego at the door. If you’re good at what you do, someone will notice. Your success will be determined by the work you do,” says Kilrea.

Executive in Residence

Executive in Residence Tom Gebhardt - President & COO, Panasonic, Automotive Systems - BS Marketing 1982


NIU alumnus Tom Gebhardt visited campus on October 19 as an Executive in Residence to participate in UBUS 310 class. Gebhardt has been with Panasonic for 30 years and is currently President & COO of the Automotive Systems Division. Over the years, Gebhardt has seen a lot of change in the auto industry. The current generation is not buying as many cars as prior generations. The average age of a new car buyer is 50; however, car companies are marketing to young adults because research shows that consumers typically stay with the same car brand throughout their lifetime. Cars are getting smaller and more compact. SUV sales are declining. One of Gebhardt’s roles is to determine what motivates young adults to buy their first car. Much of the research shows they are interested in a better multi-media experience inside the auto. Panasonic is working on placing tablets in the cars, while balancing the safety needs of the driver. They are also enhancing the audio experience with cloud-based Pandora-like systems. In addition, they are exploring heads up displays, similar to what a pilot sees in a cockpit, so the driver doesn’t have to look down at the dashboard. Finally, connectivity has become the single highest priority, after safety, for the car industry. The top five (5) items consumers desire in their car include: navigation, music, weather, information and social media. The U.S. government is assisting with funding projects that will discourage driving with a phone in hand.



About the Executive in Residence Program

Successful alumni give back to NIU by getting involved in the "Executive in Residence" (EIR) Program. The purpose of the program is to encourage successful alumni and friends to share their experiences in the business environment with College of Business students, re-enforcing our positioning statement, “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. These EIR sessions equip our students with practical tools and mentorship to prepare them for life after graduation.