Presidential Point of View--With John Heakin

September 28, 2007

As President of your organization what does an average day look like?

I wake at 5:30, make some coffee, look at the paper, check some headlines on CNN, CNBC, and The Weather Channel. At 7:00, I log on and look at email that came in overnight. By 7:15, I know where we stand on every job in every city and start sending remarks to my managers. I get to work at 9, reply to customers and vendors, and phone mailers. Depending on the day of the week, week of the month, and our payroll and mall rental payment cycles, I'm checking our cash flow. Everyday, there are adjustments to be made in billing and clients who are late paying. I approve vendor invoices. Throughout the day I sneak a peak at our job log to see who has been added, how many cities, and the size of the project. I have to remind managers to get invoices in. I am constantly on the lookout for new customers, and more and better employees. At times, I am involved in charitable activities, MRA committees, and Southern Illinois University alumni activities. Since I work most Saturdays, and check into our progress online on Sundays, I have no problem doing outside things in the office. When I get home between 6-7 pm, I check my email first thing, and then again at 10 as I get ready to turn in for the night.

What was the best business decision you ever made?

I know this is really trite and soapy, but marrying my wife was really one of the best things in my career. Maureen was an End User client of mine back in 1977 when we began dating. She was a young Field Director who was trying to learn the ropes. So I would work with her and I'm sure she benefited from that in many ways. On the other hand, she was great in explaining the whys and wherefores of the client side, so I was well served by that. Socially, it was enormous. Frankly, a lot of Research Suppliers treat field service people rudely, although I have to say that the Presidents of those companies were generally very congenial and complimentary to me throughout my career. After I married an End User, that all changed. Standing beside Maureen guaranteed polite and respectful treatment, and invitations to many events I would not have been invited to otherwise. So people who would not have bothered, got to know me, and that helped the Heakin family as it was an advantage our competitors did not enjoy.

As a business leader how do you measure success?

Satisfaction in a job well done. But the national recognition we have received for a lifetime of dedication to excellence through MRA committee work (now 35 years) and financial rewards have been more than I ever imagined.

Are there certain qualities that you look for in people you are hiring?

Enthusiasm. Professionalism. Integrity. Experience. Commitment. Loyalty. I want people with a sense of style so that all my stakeholders will see we are a professional organization. We have very high standards for maintenance of our facilities, dress codes and employee behavior, to communicate that belief.

Who do you admire the most in the research community?

I grew up in a generation where Research Suppliers were much smaller and more local than what we have today with global players dominating the scene. Being on a first name basis with Bob Lavidge of Elrick & Lavidge, Foy Conway of Conway-Milliken, Verne Churchill of Market Facts, Joe Rabin of Rabin, Jack Honomichl and so many others was just so special I cannot really communicate it. But no one tops my all-time MR hero, Frank Walker of Walker Information. Frank transformed a smallish interviewing service in a middle market into a national research company. But his unselfish leadership gave marketing research the Your Opinion Counts campaign he created, and I believe he should be credited as the Father of Respondent Cooperation and all the public relations efforts MR has today as he also created the Industry Image study that he conducted bi-annually at his own expense in the 70's and 80's. The results of these studies were presented at every research conference of every organization and highlighted declining respondent cooperation rates. Frank is the reason every MR association works on this and most likely why we have CMOR.

But, having said that, nothing tops the thrill I had in presenting Dr. George Gallup Sr. in my role as Chair of the 1981 MRA National Convention in Chicago. I first met Dr. Gallup in 1975 when I was really quite young and new to the business. He was a luncheon speaker at the 1975 MRA Convention in Chicago. Of course I knew he was considered the Father of Marketing Research, and I was sitting right in front of him as he took the podium which was on the dais. He had a very big chest and very broad shoulders and as he put his really big hands around the podium he bellowed in a deep baritone, "Throughout my career, I have always considered myself an interviewer." The crowd jumped to its feet roaring in approval. If ever a man knew how to win over an audience, this was it. With chills up and down my spine, I knew I was in the right place. So fast forward to 1981. Now quite elderly, and less vigorous than he had been in 1975, Dr. Gallup was receiving a career recognition award from MRA at our black-tie ball. As Chair, I entertained all the speakers in the Program Hospitality Suite. Maureen was just 31, and a beautiful and delightful young woman blessed with great enthusiasm. Dr. Gallup immediately took to her and never left her side the entire evening. When I announced it was time to go to the Ball, he offered Maureen his arm and I led the two of them into the Ballroom. He was happy, she was happy, I was happy. Sitting that night on the same podium as the greatest man in MR history was a lesson in humility that I have never forgotten. I got the President's Award for Service to the Industry that night in front of Dr. Gallup. It does not get any better than that.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I'm creative, patient, and humble. When I was younger, I think I had a bit of a reputation for being charismatic as Heakin Research had captured the imagination of field service people across the country as we grew, and led the MRA. But wine mellows with age, and so now that I'm 63, I'm just happy to be thought of as an established professional.

Please list 3 words that describe yourself

Competitive, committed, honest.

What inspired you to get into the market research industry?

I was President of the student chapter of American Marketing Association at Southern Illinois University in 1969-70, where I majored in Marketing. As student members, we got the Marketing News and Bob Lavidge was national President that year. So on the front of every issue was a "Letter from the President." In reading everything Bob wrote to AMA members for a year, I felt as if I knew him, and since I was still a student in a small town, he was the only marketing professional I knew. So it was an easy transition to think I wanted to be like him.

How do you motivate your employees?

I tell them that we don't just want to be the best there ever was, we want to make history. We build some of the largest and nicest mall based offices in the industry. I tell them as a boutique company, we compete on quality and service with a smile and can-do attitude. Everything must validate, and no corners are to be cut. We will do it the right way or not at all, and if we miss a deadline, that is a better choice than lowering our standards. People have pride and self respect. They want to work for someone with high standards. My record of industry leadership is well known and people in my area respect that. If it's just about money, they are not the person I'm looking for.

What do you do for fun when you aren't working?

There is nothing better than a sunny fall Sunday in Chicago where I can read the paper leisurely, go to the Country Club for Brunch with Maureen, and then settle into my easy chair to watch the Chicago Bears smash the Dallas Cowboys. Except for downhill. My favorite is Colorado in March for the warm sunny days. Maureen skiing likes Snowmass and Aspen, I like Steamboat and Durango.


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