April 29, 2011
Helen Ostrowski, APR, is the retired CEO and chairman of Porter Novelli. There, she counseled clients about employee engagement practices, which grew out of her experiences working at major multinational companies. She is a board member of the Arthur W. Page Society and the International Youth Foundation and teaches at New York University’s master’s program in public relations and corporate communication.
Name: Helen Ostrowski, APR
As kids, my sister, friends and I put on plays for neighbors — and I was always the director. I thought I had a calling in theatrical direction until the star of one summer’s “Hiawatha” stormed off the set because I was too bossy!
I’m finding great reward in teaching, board service and selfishly devoting time to personal interests like creative writing, kayaking and spending quality time with family and friends.
What changed (i.e., how you became interested in public relations):
As many women did in our field in the 1960s and 1970s, I started off as a secretary — and my first job was in the PR department of a large multinational company.
First public relations job:
Handling media calls (what a shock, right?) and the company had a large chemical business, so we were always dealing with one crisis or another.
What you know now that you wish you’d known then:
I thought I would reach a point in life where I’d know it all, but the older you get, you come to appreciate how little you still don’t know. It’s tremendously liberating.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received:
Sounds corny, but “The Golden Rule”
Greatest professional accomplishment:
Helping others succeed. When I retired, I received many notes from people I worked with who thanked me for my guidance in their careers.
If you weren’t in public relations, you would be:
A geologist — the shaping of the earth and our physical environment over eons is fascinating. It also fits well with my enduring interest in history — but with an outdoor component!
The essence of leadership is to inspire and help people live up to their potential and passion, so I (humbly) hope that is how I am remembered.
Make a “business case” for public relations:
Every enterprise is a network of people, and the power of relationships to positively affect the organization’s success rests hugely with our profession as it is dedicated to understanding and nurturing human connections.