Few have earned more accolades for contributions to their profession than Jim Lukaszewski. A 40-plus-year public relations professional and a pioneering icon in the field of crisis-communication management, Lukaszewski has been bestowed with top national and Minnesota public relations honors.
He is the go-to person large corporations and organizations seek for counseling and coaching when their enterprises encounter serious, often reputation-damaging, problems ranging from plant closings and executives' business or ethical failures to corporate takeovers and employee-relations breakdowns. Lukaszewski-whose trademark is America's Crisis Guru ®-offers sage advice to dozens of Fortune 500 firms and thousands of executives in Canada, South America and the United States, including some who have appeared on high-profile TV programs like 60 Minutes, 20-20 and Dateline NBC.
"I'm interested in dealing with the short-term, often-explosive, problem that I can have a real impact on," says Lukaszewski, author of 12 published books and hundreds of articles. None of his achievements would have been possible, he says, without Metropolitan State. The 1974 alumnus-one of the first 100 students to receive diplomas from the then-Minnesota-Metropolitan State College-credits the university with presenting him a self-affirming degree that "completely transformed my life and future."
"Other than marrying Barbara, my wife of 52 years, graduating from Metro U was the major turning point in my life," says Lukaszewski, 73. "It reset the career course that I'm on. Metro U had an enormous daily influence on my life and that continues to this day."
One highlight of that 44-year association: The 2012 creation of the Lukaszewski Family Professional Fund through the Metropolitan State Foundation, which helps students pay for a variety of professional development costs, often involving transportation to seminars and workshops, admission fees and books. Twenty-five students (as of early February 2016) received scholarships of usually under $1,000 to garner workforce insights that benefit them immediately and after graduation.
"Many students don't get much access to their profession until they graduate," says Lukaszewski. "Many would like to attend conferences and other career events, but they don't have the money to do so. This fund helps with that."
Lukaszewski was driving in downtown Saint Paul in 1972 when he first heard David Sweet, Metropolitan State's founding president, discuss a "new nontraditional college for adults." Then 31, an intrigued Lukaszewski already had amassed enough credit for two college degrees. But only Metropolitan State offered credit for most of those classes.
While serving as a press-office intern for former Gov. Wendell Anderson, he was introduced to his career specialty-crisis management. In 1978, he and Barbara launched a Fridley company specializing in executive coaching and crisis management before spending 25 years on the East Coast and working with marquee clients. They returned to Minnesota in 2011, and he is now president of the Lukaszewski Group Division of Risdall Marketing, a New Brighton company he initially partnered with in 1980.
Constant recognition of his personal and professional accomplishments is one major reason Lukaszewski maintains ties with Metropolitan State. He was the university's second student commencement speaker; first graduate elected president of the Alumni Association Board; first graduate to serve on the Metropolitan State Foundation Board of Trustees; Alumnus of the Year in 2009; and he and his family were selected Metropolitan State Foundation Donors of the Year in 2012. Lukaszewski is currently working with the university on a web-site project gathering alumni success stories.
Lukaszewski hopes his family's professional fund inspires other Metropolitan State graduates to consider what he calls "microphilanthropy." Many graduates may not realize, he says, that smaller scholarships offer students immediate and lasting career benefits.
He and Barbara got first-hand evidence of the impact of their family's fund. They attended a recent university luncheon and were seated at a table with their scholarship recipients, who shared heartwarming tales of gratitude.
"It was amazing to hear the students say how much the grants meant to them," says Lukaszewski, acknowledging he and Barbara shed a "lot of joyful tears" listening to their stories. "Our goal was to have a personal and constructive impact on students, so it was very gratifying to hear that that's what was happening."