Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) Biography » Tom Burrell Biography - Created Jobs As A Child, Struggled For Success In College, Developed Self-confidence In Business

Tom Burrell - Struggled For Success In College

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College was the first step, and after his graduation from high school in 1957, Burrell entered Chicago's Roosevelt University. College was not easy for him. He had little guidance when he entered the university, and his first year he took a very heavy course load and joined both the staff of the college newspaper and an advertising fraternity. By his second semester he was so stressed from work and activities that he began to have health problems. He related in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB) that when one of his advisors told him bluntly that he was "just not intelligent enough to graduate from college, " he became discouraged and left school to work at a paint factory.

However, Burrell hated factory work and decided to give the university another try. More experienced now, and having sampled the sort of job he might get without a degree, he began to do better in school, getting As and Bs. He graduated from Roosevelt University in 1962.

During his senior year, Burrell had gone to work in the mailroom of Wade Advertising, a Chicago agency. Within a year, he had been promoted to writing advertising copy on such well-known accounts as Alka Seltzer and Robin Hood Flour. He continued to move up in the field, getting jobs in other prestigious agencies, and even living in London for a year working for the agency of Foote Cone and Belding. Even as he worked at some of the best agencies in advertising, Burrell knew that he was preparing himself to start his own business. Like his father, he did not want to spend his life working for someone else. As he performed his job, he constantly observed and learned how every aspect of an advertising agency worked.

Finally, in 1971, he was ready. He left his job as copy supervisor in the Chicago office of the New York firm of Needham Harper & Steers to open his own agency with a partner, Emmett McBain. Burrell McBain, as it was called then, decided to focus on a largely ignored audience, African-American consumers. One of their earliest successes was a black urban Marlboro man for a Phillip Morris tobacco advertising campaign.

At a Glance...

Born Thomas Jason Burrell on March 18, 1939, in Chicago, Illinois; married Barbara Aldridge, 1968 (divorced 1979); married Joli Owens, 1989 (divorced 2005); children (first marriage): Alexandra, Jason. Education: Roosevelt University, BA, English, 1962.

Career: Wade Advertising, Chicago, copywriter, 1961-64; Leo Burnett Company, Chicago, copywriter, 1964-67; Foote Cone and Belding, London, copy supervisor, 1967-68; Needham Harper & Steers, New York, copy supervisor, 1968-71; Burrell Communications Group, Chicago and Atlanta, founder and chief executive officer, 1971-2004, chairman emeritus, 2004–.

Selected memberships: American Advertising Federation Foundation, Standing Committee on Diversity and Taskforce on Diversity and Multi-cultural Advertising; Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, board of governors, Chicago Urban League, board of directors and Business Advisory Council; Howard University, School of Communications, Advisory Council.

Selected awards: Albert Lasker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Advertising, 1986; University of Missouri School of Journalism Honors Medal for Distinguished Service, 1990; Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, Lifetime Achievement Award, 1998; Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Living Legend Award, 2003; American Advertising Federation, Advertising Hall of Fame, 2005.

Addresses: Office—Burrell Communications Group, 233 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60602.

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