A genuine leader

Don Meyer, honored with a prestigious Kemper Award, is generous with his knowledge and experience.

Don Meyer, assistant teaching professor of marketing at the MU College of Business.

Oct. 1, 2019

Editor's note: This is the first in a series we are running this month on our 2019 Kemper Award winners. We will feature a different winner each week.

Every single undergraduate class that Don Meyer teaches at the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business runs at full capacity.

Every semester.

Meyer is a marketing guru. While working at Anheuser-Busch in a variety of senior marketing management positions and finally as director of international marketing, Meyer was part of teams over a 25-year career that managed marketing budgets worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He and his colleagues oversaw mammoth-sized advertising campaigns for iconic brands and events such as the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the World Cup.

“Don brings a major asset to the classroom that contributes enormously to his teaching excellence — his amazing wealth of practical business experience,” said Ajay Vinzé, dean of the College of Business.

But that’s not the only reason why Meyer’s classes fill up year after year. After all, his classes are popular with both marketing students and non-business students, such as those majoring in strategic communications in the School of Journalism.

The attraction is something students spot on the first day of class: Meyer is genuine.

Better still, he’s remarkably generous with his knowledge and experience. Above all else, he cares about his students — and they know it.

Students in Meyer's marketing class applaud when Mizzou leaders surprised Meyer earlier this year with a 2019 Kemper Award for outstanding teaching.

“Professor Meyer was the most considerate professor I encountered during my time at Mizzou because he takes a sincere interest in the personal goals and aspirations of his students,” said Andrew Green, sales manager of Front Row Motorsports — a NASCAR dream job Meyer helped him land after graduating from Mizzou with a business degree in 2018.

“Meyer is a warrior for his students, their interests and their futures,” Green added. “He is approachable not only because of his availability and humility, but also because of his authenticity.”

This spring, Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright, administrators and staff surprised Meyer with the 2019 William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence, which includes a $10,000 award. Meyer joined MU’s full-time teaching faculty in spring 2014 after several semesters of teaching as an adjunct professor of marketing. He carries one of the heaviest teaching loads in the marketing department, handling more than 500 students a year.

Kemper Fellowships are awarded to five outstanding teachers at the university each year. This year marks the 29th anniversary of the Kemper Awards, which were established in 1991 with a $500,000 gift. William T. Kemper, a 1926 MU graduate, was a well-known civic leader in Kansas City until his death in 1989.

True to his nature, Meyer is reluctant to take credit for the honor.

“When I think about how many people teach here and how good they all are, it’s kind of hard to believe,” he said.

However, Meyer will admit to a relentless work ethic — it’s in his blood.

The grandson of German immigrants, Meyer grew up in Saint Charles, Missouri. His parents, George and Alda Meyer, were salt-of-the-earth people who raised their three children to work hard and do the right thing. His father — who had an eighth-grade education — was raised on a farm during the Great Depression and rose every morning at 4:30 to work at a grocery store warehouse in St. Louis where he earned a modest wage to support his family.

And there was never any doubt that Meyer and his two sisters would attend college.

“My dad believed that college was the ticket to success,” he said. “He told me late in his life that his greatest accomplishment was that all three of his kids graduated college

Dean Ajay Vinzé, Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright and Meyer share a laugh after Meyer receives his Kemper Award.

As a boy, Meyer attended a small Lutheran grade school where he did well academically and socially. By the time he was a teenager, Saint Charles was booming, and the public high school couldn’t accommodate the growing student body. So, there were classrooms in temporary trailers and split shifts — morning and afternoon classes.

Meyer was assigned to the morning shift his freshman year. It was a disaster.

“I didn’t adjust well at all,” he said. “I had come from getting very good grades to not doing very well at all in high school.”

To make matters worse, a teacher called him out in algebra class where Meyer was especially struggling.

“Well, maybe you’re just dumb,” he recalled the teacher saying.

Meyer was shattered.

Thinking he wasn’t cut out for the classroom, Meyer began taking more vocational classes and working a series of part-time jobs. He put one foot in front of the other and did what he was raised to do: work hard and do the right thing.

That’s how he caught the attention of a business education teacher, Sheryl Cheves, who suggested Meyer join DECA, which at the time stood for Distributive Education Clubs of America. Today, the not-for-profit career and technical student organization has more than 215,000 members worldwide and prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.

Meyer joined DECA and before long, he was elected a national officer and traveling the country.

“All of the sudden, I found my niche.” said Meyer, who later became one of two Missourians inducted into the DECA Hall of Fame.

Don Meyer is pictured working at a computer in the 1970s.

Don Meyer took a job in the late 1970s with Ozark Air Lines, where he worked his way up to manager of advertising.

Eventually, Meyer earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Mizzou and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. In 1978, he took a job with Ozark Air Lines and worked his way up to manager of advertising before leaving six years later to join Anheuser-Busch. Meyer stayed with Anheuser-Busch for 25 years; ending his professional career in 2011 after a two-year stint as Chief Marketing Officer, Vice President-Marketing and Communication for the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association.

Everything he learned during those years, he shares with his students at Mizzou. He tells stories.

“Storytelling is one of the best teaching methods there is,” Meyer said. “People learn through stories because they are memorable and put things in context.”

Meyer also understands the importance of learning outside of the classroom. He’s made many connections in the local community and beyond to provide students with industry knowledge. Meyer has taken students to Target to meet the store manager and gain a better understanding of merchandise displays and supply chains. Classes also have taken field trips to Meyer’s favorite restaurant to allow students to meet the owner and learn about the responsibilities of running a self-owned business.

Meyer’s dedication to the professional development of his students can be seen through the “Making Me Marketable” program, which he has led for four years. By inviting former students and industry professionals to speak as panelists, Meyer provides his undergraduates opportunities to network with professionals and learn tips and tricks on interviewing, resumes, and landing jobs or internships.

Finally, he works tirelessly to keep his classes relevant by staying abreast of the latest marketing issues.

“Professor Meyer created a culture of learning in his classroom that was unlike any other course I took at Mizzou,” said Kelsey Boardsen, who now works in the experiential marketing and sponsorships marketing department at Southwest Airlines after graduating from Mizzou in 2015. “It was exciting to share in his passion and feel his enthusiasm for the industry.”

Darby Slattery, who graduated with a business degree from MU in 2017 and now works as an account manager at Procter & Gamble Company, never understood why Meyer passed around an attendance sheet because no one ever wanted to miss his class.

“Don has the ability to make each member of his class feel valued,” she said.

Don Meyer at a glance:

Meyer earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Missouri and a master’s in business administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis In 2016, he was recognized by the Trulaske College of Business with the Shelter Insurance Company Teaching Excellence Award. Meyer has been a member of the Marketing Advisory Board for nearly two decades. Additionally, Meyer serves as the faculty mentor to the Mizzou chapter of Delta Sigma Pi, a business professional development student organization.

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