Professor Gerald Powers has some very incriminating stories. He's not naming any names, but after teaching PR at Boston University's College of Communication for 35 years, he has enough dirt on his students to cause some serious embarrassment.
'I sometimes feel like the priest in the confessional in this office,' says Powers. 'I've had students come in here and just open up about their problems.'
With former students heading up PR operations at major corporations and agencies around the world, Powers is also perhaps one of the most well connected men in PR. He estimates that he's taught 3,000 students over the course of his career and has helped spawn such PR greats as Ray Kotcher, president of Ketchum in New York, Roger Bridgeman, founder of Bridgeman Communications in Boston and Andy Lavin, founder of A. Lavin Communications in New York.
Deal maker, marriage broker
Over the years, Powers has worked very hard to build a network of former students, something he relies on as director of PR internships at BU.
'My greatest strength is in the Boston-Washington corridor,' says Powers as he reclines in his chair and puts his feet up on the corner of his desk. 'But I do have contacts in Chicago, Los Angeles and so forth. These people climb up the ladder, then I call them up and say, 'Can you take an intern? I remember 20 years ago I placed you as an intern.' They can't say no.'
Powers says his connections have also allowed him to play 'marriage broker' by putting former students in touch with one another, as he recently did for an online promotions company that was seeking an IR specialist as it prepared to go public.
'Many a deal has been put together at cocktail parties at my home,' says Powers, with a grin.
While Powers' dedication to his students is obvious, it is not something he hands over lightly. A caricature of Powers hangs in his office and seems to best sum up this professor from a student's point of view. It shows him dressed in military fatigues, holding a whistle and wearing angel wings.
'Gerry has an extremely gruff exterior, but inside all of that is one of the most caring, devoted professors I've ever had in college,' says Kotcher. 'He's probably one of the toughest taskmasters you'd want to meet in a writing class, but he turned out high-quality PR students who understood the important fundamentals of the business, and writing in particular. He, more than anybody, helped us get our first opportunities in PR.'
'When you're a student of Gerry's, what you tend to see is the act of him bringing the bullwhip into the classroom, taking his glasses off, yelling at you and trying to intimidate you,' says Roger Bridgeman. 'Some students love it, some hate it. And if you come in and say you can't get your paper done because your plane going to the Bahamas is leaving a day early, he will just throw you out of his office. But if you walk in with a real problem, he's extraordinary. That's why his students become lifelong friends.'
His students have attended his birthday parties, and when his mother passed away, several students drove into the early morning hours to go to the funeral. Several students also rushed to his bedside four years ago, when he was struck by an automobile while walking near his home, receiving a broken arm, scalp lacerations and broken ribs.
'I have no friends in the classroom and none in the grade book, but I have a lot of friends outside,' says Powers. ' I'm fiercely loyal to my students but they are to me, too, which is very gratifying.'
Powers grew up in the Boston suburb of Roxbury, and with the exception of a stint in the Army and numerous vacations, has remained in Boston his entire life.'I tell people, I'm either very dull or very stable,' says Powers. 'I've had the same job for 35 years and the same mailing address for 37.'
After graduating from Harvard College with an AB in English in 1954, Powers got his MS in journalism from BU. 'I thought I wanted to be a crusading journalist, but the pay was lousy and the hours were horrendous,' says Powers.
Then, Powers was drafted into the US Army after the war and sent to Germany.
While sitting in a German beer hall in Heidelberg, he met the editor of the V Corp Guardian, a weekly troop newspaper, and wormed his way into a high-level public information job in Frankfurt. For the next two years, he served as feature editor of the publication, and was involved in command-wide German-American relations programs.
After four-and-a-half years in different PR jobs back home, he decided it was time to move on and went to work for a major medical center in Boston, a job that only lasted six weeks.
Three years turns into 35
'My boss was a screamer and a lunatic,' says Powers. 'The lesson I teach my students is, 'If they check your references, you damn well better check theirs.''
He returned to BU, where he became an associate professor at the College of Communication. 'My original intention was to stay here two or three years. Well, here I've been for 35,' says Powers.
Now that he's retiring this fall, Powers, who is turning 67 on July 23, hopes to travel to places such as Spain, Chile, and the game preserves in Africa, South Africa and Kenya.
He promises, however, that this will not be the last that his students see of him. He will continue his involvement in the internship program and direct PR planners through the fall. He also plans on teaching a course at BU next summer.
'Unlike General MacArthur, I'm not fading away,' says Powers.
Associate Professor, Boston University
1954 AB in English from Harvard College
1955 MS in Journalism from Boston University
1955-56 English teacher, William Howard Taft Junior High School
1956-58 Feature editor of V Corps Guardian for the US Army in Frankfurt, Germany, involved in German-American relations program
1958-1959 Assistant public relations director for advertising agency Chambers, Wiswell, Shattuck, Clifford & McMillan
1959-1964 Director of public relations for Babson College of Business Administration
1964-present Associate professor, School of Mass Communications and PR, College of Communications, Boston University