WMU News

Prominent execs receive Distinguished Alumni Awards

Sept. 23, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- Two prominent Detroit executives are the 1997 recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award presented by the Western Michigan University Alumni Association.

Peter A. Schweitzer and Richard E. Whitmer join 99 other men and women who have received the award, the WMU Alumni Association's most prestigious honor, since the program's inception in 1963.

They will be recognized at an Oct. 18 awards dinner held in conjunction with Homecoming. Alumni and friends wishing to attend the dinner may make reservations by calling the association at (616) 387-8777. The dinner costs $30 for alumni association members and $35 for nonmembers.

Schweitzer is president of the J. Walter Thompson Co. and J. Walter Thompson/The Americas, one of the top five advertising agencies in the world. Whitmer is president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan, one of the largest nonprofit corporations in the United States.

After receiving his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Michigan, Schweitzer began his career in 1961 with Battle Creek's General Foods Corp., where he was involved in both manufacturing and marketing management. While with General Foods, he continued his education at WMU, receiving a master of business administration degree in 1967.

Schweitzer left General Foods in 1969 for a position with Grey Advertising in New York. By the time he joined J. Walter Thompson's New York office in 1975, he also had served as executive vice president and director of marketing and strategic corporate planning at the Burger King Corp. in Miami.

During his tenure at JWT, Schweitzer has served as vice chairman of agency operations worldwide; executive vice president and general manager of JWT Detroit, the agency's largest office; and senior vice president, worldwide management director of the Eastman Kodak account. He was named JWT's president in 1993.

Schweitzer serves in the most senior corporate management group to help set the direction of the company and make key strategic decisions. He also directs the operations of all JWT offices in the Americas, including the United States, Canada and Latin America, where many of the agency's 228 offices are located.

Additionally, he is the global business director for the Ford Motor Co. In this capacity, he is responsible for maintaining the effectiveness of the agency's worldwide relationship with one of its oldest clients.

Schweitzer has served on the board of Detroit's Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts and as a trustee for the city's Center for Creative Studies. He is president of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies and has served as director of numerous professional groups.

Whitmer graduated magna cum laude from WMU in 1963 with a bachelor of science degree in political science. In addition, he is a 1965 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School.

He joined Blue Cross/Blue Shield in 1977 as senior vice president and general counsel and was named to his current position 10 years later. Previously, he had been a partner in a Lansing law firm and had held various posts in Michigan state government, including legislative counsel to the governor and director of the Michigan Department of Commerce.

Under Whitmer's leadership, Blue Cross/Blue Shield has moved into the forefront as one of Michigan's favored service providers and premier employers. He has significantly increased the state's largest insurer's presence beyond Southeast Michigan by opening regional service centers throughout the state. These centers provide existing customers with a local contact point for inquiries and claims and also expand the company's market share in areas outside of Detroit.

In addition, Whitmer has been the single leading advocate within the Blue Cross/Blue Shield national association for maintaining the Blues' historic position in the nonprofit community.

During his tenure, the company has been widely recognized in a variety of circles. For example, the U.S. Justice Department has cited the organization as one of the best companies in the country for recruitment, selection and advancement of women and minorities.

Whitmer's volunteer work has included serving on the boards of the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce, Detroit Renaissance, the United Way of Southeastern Michigan and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. He also served as chairman of New Detroit from 1991-1993 and as general chairman for the statewide United Negro College Fund campaigns for two years.

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