Executive in Residence
Successful alumni give back to NIU by getting involved in our Executive in Residence (EIR) Program, where they share real-life stories with students and give an insider's perspective on life outside the NIU campus. These EIR sessions provide mentorship to our students and equip them with practical tools to prepare them for life after graduation.
Erek Benz (B.S. Marketing, 2008)
Michael DeGiorgio (B.S. Marketing, 2011)
CEO and Founder, CREXi
Alumni Erek Benz and Michael DeGiorgio came back to campus on September 13 to share their business experiences in entrepreneurship classes (Management 327 and Management 427). A few years after graduation, the classmates started an online commercial real estate listing company called CREXi (Commercial Real Estate Exchange, Inc.), which assists real estate brokers in using technology to list properties. Their website allows users to view due diligence documents, schedule in-person tours, see analytics of similar listings and make offers. It has given a huge boost to the real estate negotiation process by making discussions between all parties faster and smoother.
The alumni presented the slides they show to investors and shared some ups and downs of their startup. They went without a paycheck for three months and leaned on each other for moral and financial support. Along the way, they found mentors and investors, and with sheer drive they trusted in themselves and their vision. The company now has $600 billion in sales annually.
Tom Gebhardt - B.S. Marketing, 1982 - President and COO, Panasonic, Automotive Systems
Tom Gebhardt is the president at Panasonic Automotive Systems Company of America. 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. 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 multimedia 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.
Tim Suter - MBA, 1997 - President and CEO of The Suter Company, Inc.
Tim Suter is the founder of A Leader’s Voyage® and current president and CEO of The Suter Company, Inc., an Illinois-based food processor. Under his leadership, revenues of The Suter Company have grown by more than 300 percent, and the number of employees has doubled during the challenging economic times of the last decade. As a successful, third-generation CEO, Tim has guided the company through dynamic changes, resulting in an innovative, customer-focused, state-of-the-art food processor that utilizes Lean philosophies to deliver value in the highly competitive food industry. Tim is also the co-founder of Make A Difference DKC, a nonprofit organization that hosts a MobilePack event for Feed My Starving Children each November.
Tim earned an Executive MBA from Northern Illinois University and has a bachelor’s degree in marketing with a minor in statistics from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is married with two children and lives in DeKalb, Illinois.
Mary T. Frantz - OMISBS, Spanish Translation and Business, International Politics, 1991 - Managing Partner/Founder, Enterprise Knowledge Partners, LLC
Mary Frantz has more than 25 years of experience as a technology executive and expert in the fields of IT strategy, e-discovery, compliance, enterprise risk, information security and enterprise architecture.
The primary industries she serves include finance/banking, life sciences (medical device, pharma), government services, insurance (life, health, PBM), construction/manufacturing and retail.
Frantz has written about technology strategy, the ROI of compliance and RM, common sense architecture, e-discovery and the modernization of civil law practices, information security, incident response and a parody of corporate culture in "Whoever Dies with the Most Toys Wins!"
She shares her expertise as a keynote speaker and has paneled multiple round tables concerning security, identity theft, e-discovery, health information technology, compliance, enterprise architecture, identity management, internal investigations, ABA ethics rules for attorneys in protecting client metadata, data center virtualization practices and technology strategy.
Kevin Hovorka - Accountancy, 1988 - Partner, Crowe Horwath
Kevin Hovorka is the managing partner of the Crowe Horwath LLP advisory services group. His responsibilities include overseeing the delivery of a comprehensive suite of transaction, mergers and acquisitions, restructuring and bankruptcy insolvency, valuation and forensic services.
For more than 18 years, Kevin has assisted organizations with corporate finance and assurance services, specializing in the areas of:
- Due diligence investigations
- Analysis of restructuring plans
- Investigation and analysis of business models
- Cash flow projections
- Integration planning
- Working capital analysis
Prior to joining Crowe, Kevin managed audits for public and privately held portfolio companies. He also assisted clients with exit strategies using public debt and equity security offerings.
Sean Erwin - B.S. Accountancy and Finance, 1972 - Retired CEO, Kimberly Clark
NIU alumnus Sean Erwin visited campus on October 5 as an Executive in Residence to participate in Tim Dimond’s SEC reporting class. Erwin started his career with Motorola as an auditor and then transitioned to Kimberly Clark. He worked his way up through the company, including international leadership roles, and then led Neenah Paper, a spinoff of Kimberly Clark.
In keeping with Governance Week at NIU, he counseled students in the class to have integrity in their jobs. He discussed the importance of dealing with and reporting bad news. "Don’t bury the information or use words like ‘slightly,’ ‘almost’ or ‘somewhat’ to minimize it. Deal with the facts,” said Erwin. He encouraged students to be as specific as possible when discussing finances, internally or externally. “If there is a problem, don’t ignore it. Talk about it. Management and investors are willing to hear bad news as long as you are straight and complete with them. You gain creditability with analysts and investors when you don’t overplay the good news and provide them with a consistent factual tone, good or bad.”
John Larson - Finance, 1984 - Chief Executive Officer, Bestop, Inc.
John Larson is the chief executive officer of Bestop, Inc., the market-leading manufacturer of soft tops and fabric accessories for Jeep vehicles and the sole supplier of OEM soft tops for Jeep Wranglers since 1986.
Mr. Larson has a long history of innovation in the automotive market, both from an OEM and after-market perspective. Most recently, he served as the president and CEO of Escort Inc., the industry leader in high-performance radar detection devices in North America. Prior to that, Mr. Larson held a number of senior management positions at General Motors, including general manager of the Buick, Pontiac and GMC Truck divisions. He is currently lead independent director on the board of KAR Auction Services (NYSE:KAR).
Mr. Larson earned a bachelor's degree in finance from Northern Illinois University and a Master of Science degree in management from Purdue University. He was a keynote speaker at the National Leadership Education and Development Program and is an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Home. He was recognized for his work with the VFW Home for Children and the Million Thanks Foundation. He and his family also volunteer at St. Vincent dePaul, where he serves as a board member.
Abe Andrzejewski - English, 1994 - Chief Executive Officer, HomePages ∣ CloseBy ∣ OPTIMA
Abe got an early start in the publishing business when he launched a series of paid-purchase coupon books as an undergraduate student and then began publishing one-town telephone books for small towns in rural Illinois, where he grew up. That small business continued to grow through graduate school and eventually scaled to produce student and faculty directories for prominent MBA programs and law schools, including Stanford, Harvard and Columbia.
Convinced of the extraordinary opportunities pent up in publishing community-focused telephone directories, Abe published the first HomePages® Directory in 1997. In the 18 years since then, Abe has been closely involved in the development of an innovative and effective set of products that serve family-owned businesses well, including CloseBy® Text Marketing and OPTIMA™ Visibility & Reputation Management Services. He is passionately committed to practical organizational innovation and employee development. Abe is a regular attendee and presenter at the company’s all-voluntary Saturday Leadership Development Program.
Abe is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and Harvard Law School, an avid freshwater fisherman and a member of the Young Presidents Organization.
Wendy Simpson - Accountancy, 1972 - Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President, LTC Properties, Inc.
Wendy Simpson has been LTC’s CEO and president since 2007 and was appointed chairman of the board in 2013. She joined the company in 2000 as vice chairman and has also served as treasurer, chief financial officer and chief operating officer. Prior to joining LTC, Wendy held executive positions in public companies that owned acute care hospitals, LTACHs, psychiatric hospitals and home health services. She began her career in public accounting and has more than 25 years in health care-related businesses.
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