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IMC Lecturer Randy Hlavac brings real-world business experience into class

January 22, 2015 | By Clare Ling (BSJ18)

Although 2015 marks IMC Lecturer and advisor Randy Hlavac’s 23rd year at Medill, Hlavac has not always been on the business track. Following undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Nebraska, Hlavac taught music for around five years before he decided it was time for a change.

“I was up in front of big bands and I started losing my hearing, so I thought, I have to get into something else,” Hlavac said. That something else, it turned out, was business.

Moving around at a series of companies, Hlavac gained the first-hand business experience that he would later bring to the IMC program, serving first as the Assistant VP of Analytics at Mutual of Omaha before moving to TRW's Direct Marketing Services and later MetroMail/Experian, where he created the Data Mining and Analytics group. In 1990, Hlavac founded the company Marketing Synergy, which he’s still managing as president.

It was two years later in 1992 when Hlavac began to teach marketing at Medill.

Today, Hlavac brings the above business experience as well as the contacts he’s made over the years with him into his Digital, Social and Mobile Marketing class. He starts off by asking students which jobs they want upon graduation, then uses those answers to pick the clients for the social programs that students build during the quarter.

“I want them to understand that in today’s world, it’s not the knowledge that you have, it’s the network you have,” Hlavac said. “We spend a lot of time on personal networking, and the students learn that they can actually reach out to anybody if they do it the right way.”

Hlavac’s classes are also video heavy, and he said that he tries to be “in-tune” with the way students learn today. His classes move quickly from topic to topic—spending no more than 15 minutes on subjects.

One topic that Hlavac spends more time emphasizing, however, is privacy, and he brings in an assortment of speakers to explain the often hidden consequences of posting on social media.

Hlavac is quick to acknowledge, however, that his subject is forever evolving, and whatever students learn about it during his class will probably be irrelevant and outmoded by the time they get their diplomas. Therefore, Hlavac encourages input from his students, be that in the form of questions or ideas that guide new learning in the evolving field.

In fact, Hlavac’s special interest in social media began with an undergraduate student, who is now a major venture capitalist in Los Angeles. After having given a lecture in viral marketing, the student raised his hand to tell Hlavac that he could have done a better job on the lecture, and Hlavac then invited him to tell the next class how it should work.

These challenging questions that students bring to class are just some of the reasons Hlavac loves teaching.

“My rewards are just watching students grow and becoming a part of their life, and watching them move in their careers,” Hlavac said. “That’s really the fun of it. That’s what I look for.”