John Zuknick, MBA '14, B.S. '12 is currently serving as the Vice President for Business and Industry Solutions at the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation. Over his career he has owned multiple businesses, worked in the printing and publishing industry, taught courses in entrepreneurship and in marketing. For a time, he even led the Merrick School of Business’ Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI). His keen ability to network is exemplified by his knack for connecting people and businesses with new opportunities.
Like many of our students, Zuknick worked full-time while attending UBalt. He transferred from Anne Arundel Community College and earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and then he chose UBalt to earn his MBA. He is still engaged with many of the University’s programs and shares his knowledge with our students. Zuknick recently sat down with the Merrick Exchange to share some thoughts about his career, why mentorship is so important to him, and to share some valuable advice for our students.
Merrick Exchange: Tell us about your career trajectory since completing the MBA degree at The University of Baltimore.
John Zuknick: My education is one of the most powerful determinants for my career successes. I owned a few businesses in the printing and publishing industry, which continually struggled as digital media replaced the traditional printed materials. So, I had to reinvent myself and the MBA education at UBalt served as part of the foundation for this pathway.
Upon completing my MBA in June of 2014, I sold my last business. I began doing some small business consulting and worked as an adjunct professor for UBalt. I also had a contractual role as the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation manager. While taking over the leadership of the CEI, I continued to teach a few classes and started moving into the economic development arena. After working at UBalt for a few years I transferred to University of Maryland’s largest regional higher education center, as the Director of Economic Development and Workforce. Last year, a friend and fellow UBalt alumni recommended me for the position as Vice President of Business and Industry Solutions at Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation. I’ll say that networking and staying in touch with the UBalt family has paid off.
Merrick Exchange: Why did you pursue a career in business development?
John Zuknick: Business development is in my blood. Early in my career I worked in operations, which was like putting a square peg in a round hole. I’m an extravert who just naturally gravitated to the sales, marketing, and business development side of an organization. Even early in my career, I could see the bigger picture and I see myself as visionary person. Business developers serve as a conduit to an organization’s success and help the organization reaching its full potential. You have your hands in a lot of different areas, and this has always been appealing to me.
Merrick Exchange: What is the best aspect of your job?
John Zuknick: First, my team and I solve human capital problems in the business community. Second, we take people from minimum wage or no wages to the middle class. Let me provide you with one example: Right now, there is a significant need for Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) drivers, starting salary range is from $50k - $65k, and in a year or two a driver can obtain different levels of CDL moving their salary range from $84K to over $100K. We offer our citizens this training, and in six weeks their life has changed.
Merrick Exchange: What are some business challenges that you have faced over the years and what have you learned about yourself in trying to resolve those challenges?
John Zuknick: Earlier and midway through my career I was short on patience and had a low tolerance for slackers or those who serve on a team as a free rider. With experience, and a few management courses, I learned how to motivate those who sometimes lack a work ethic. As far as gaining patience, I believe that comes with experience and seeing outcomes where patience would have been a virtue. A mentor once said to me, “I rarely regret a decision that I thought about.” This statement did not register with me until later in my career. I realized that I needed to focus on being more empathic.
Merrick Exchange: How has the pandemic affected the way you work and what is expected by your employers?
John Zuknick: The pandemic was like the Olympics for introverts and for extroverts it was just torture. The pandemic for me slowed the process of business development. As a business developer we have a lot of side conversations before or after an event/meeting/conference. We can recognize facial expressions and body language. It was harder to do this on a video conference call. Additionally, I found it difficult to turn off the laptop.
Working from home allows for an increased work life balance and depending on the team members, I have found that they are more productive at home. My team takes a blended approach to where they work from home anywhere from four days a week, to one day a week. They know that working from home is a privilege and if they are not meeting expectations they will be in the office.
Merrick Exchange: How has mentoring played a role in your career?
John Zuknick: Mentoring served as an important contributor to my career success. Every mentor I have ever worked with became a personal friend, who I still talk with today. Those who served as a mentor I could always count on as a trusted advisor, and supported me in developing new skills, navigating political environments, challenging ideas, and encouraging me in career development. They always created a pathway to success. Furthermore, I have served as and still mentor former students, co-workers or fellow staff members. Always pay it forward!
Merrick Exchange: In what ways do you like to give back to the community (UBalt or other organizations)?
John Zuknick: I live in Annapolis, MD and am a member of Rotary International. Our rotary club does several fundraisers to help the local community. Our largest fundraiser is parking for Naval Academy Football games and all the proceeds go back into the community. The club has provided over $4 Million back into the community. As a volunteer I run the tailgate for the club members after the game starts and the cars are parked. We have quite the gourmet spread for the volunteers and have fun doing it!
I always consider serving as an adjunct faculty member at UBalt as a way of giving back. Yes, adjuncts do receive compensation; however, I could work one weekend a month for Uber and make the same amount for less hours. Adjuncts are not in it for the money. Also, serving as an adjunct supplies insight to upcoming talent. I have set up students and UBalt Alumni with interviews, jobs and/or internships. In fact, I am getting ready to hire one of my former students.
I volunteer with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation offering workshops or mentoring students. Lately though, finding the time has been a problem.
Merrick Exchange: What has been the most important thing you’ve learned to succeed in business or in life?
John Zuknick: Empathy is a business skill. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Showing empathy increases retention, drives innovation, supports employees' wellbeing, and affects an organization’s bottom line. This skill can help you relate better to coworkers and clients. Knowing how to be empathic helps you improve communication with others and create great relationships.
Merrick Exchange: What characteristics do you see in successful leaders and why do you believe that?
John Zuknick: I am a firm believer that successful leaders are the ones who take an organic approach, who focus on motivating people to get the job done, and are people centered. Any good organization realizes that employees are their best asset. Throughout my career I have worked for some really good leaders and some really bad ones.
I’ve always observed that good leaders have four characteristics that stand out. First, they are good communicators throughout the organization and talk to everyone in the organization from the cleaning people to their direct reports. Second, great collaborators. Those leaders are great at bringing everyone together inside and outside of the organization and motivating everyone. Third, they practice autonomy. No one likes to be micromanaged and if you must micromanage your people, you have hired the wrong people. And last, good leaders hold their people accountable.
Merrick Exchange: What advice would you give to students who would like to pursue careers in business development?
John Zuknick: Go for it! In business development you work closely and develop relationships with the leadership of the organization; although the work is more measurable, there are more perks and financial reward; and, business development serves as a springboard to a wide range of career options.
Merrick Exchange: What is the one job-hunting secret you wish all students knew?
John Zuknick: Network, network, network. I read somewhere that 85 percent of all jobs are filled via your network. A majority of the positions that I have had were through my network, someone recommended me for the position, or I worked with a recruiter. In fact, if someone I know sends me a resume and they meet the minimum qualifications it usually gets to the top of the pile.
Merrick Exchange: Why did you choose to earn your degree at UBalt?
John Zuknick: UBalt is a working person’s school. During the years I was earning my bachelor's degree, I worked full-time, attended UBalt full-time in some semesters and when I was busy, I worked and attended classes, part-time. While earning my undergraduate degree, I developed strong ties with the faculty. It’s easy to do when the average class size is less than 30 people and the faculty always made time for you. I would have to say, I chose UBalt for the MBA because of the faculty.
Merrick Exchange: How has attending The University of Baltimore helped you in your career?
John Zuknick: The alumni network has been a great resource for me. Keeping in contact with classmates has helped me with finding new opportunities, solving problems in different positions, and I conducted business with several UBalt alumni.
The MBA education has supplied opportunities that would not have been afforded to me.
A quick story: In a management meeting the compliance department (the numbers people) were sharing statistics on outreach. I looked at the formula and said, “You’re calculating it incorrectly.” Looking at their calculations, I remembered the correct formula from the MBA education. To quote one of the UBalt faculty members, “Always check the numbers!”
Merrick Exchange: What personal goal have you set for yourself for 2023 (or the next 12 months)?
John Zuknick: A personal goal for this year, not working during vacations. I struggle to not want to look at my email while on vacation.