Alumni prove successful

By Jean Dobrzynski

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series about successful NIU alumni.

She can’t putt on the green, she’s an NIU English literature graduate and she’s president of DDB Needham in Chicago, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world.

Most would say Susan Gillette, a 1972 graduate, had the odds stacked against her since she studied Shakespeare in college, she doesn’t play golf and she is a woman. But Gillette beat the odds and said they were not detrimental but helped her along.

“Being a woman came as an asset to me,” she said. “I felt a greater need to perform because I was noticed.”

The hardest obstacle she has faced so far has been raising her two daughters, ages seven and nine, while climbing the corporate ladder.

“It’s easier for men to make sacrifices and go to work every day because it’s been tradition. They’ve watched their fathers do it while they were growing up,” she said. “But women today are torn, and I lose a lot of sleep over it.”

Gillette launched her career as a secretary for a telecommunications company. She then became interested in advertising and started as a copy writer at DDB Needham and slowly worked her way up as a copy writer, vice president and to president, the postion she holds today.

Working as the lowest on the totem pole seems to pay off in the long run. NIU alumni Gary Watson started his career as a sports reporter for a daily newspaper and today is the president for the newspaper division of the Gannett Co., based in Washington, D.C.

Watson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from NIU in journalism in 1967 and later a master’s degree in journalism and political science from the University of Florida in Gainesville.

He was the city editor of The Rockford Register Star in Rockford for three years. He moved around as managing editors for two other newspapers in the midwest and went to Washington, D.C. in 1985.

Watson credits these jobs for where he is today.

“To be successful you have to get the experience you need. It doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “More importantly, you have to love what you do, and I do love what I do.”

Watson was president of the community newspaper division for Gannett and in 1990 was appointed president of all divisions.

He said he credits much of his success to his time at NIU.

“The journalism department was like a family to me,” he said. “I will never forget my days there.”

He said he is happy with his position now and sees no more moving around in his future.

“I can’t see a job getting better than this one,” he said. “Sometimes I miss the day-to-day hype in the newsroom, but it’s just one of the sacrifices I have had to make.”

Watson is the father of two sons, ages 21 and 17. Although he said he hopes they are successful, they are not planning careers in their father’s footsteps.