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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 84, Number 6 (Sept. 1983)

Hacskaylo, Christine
Meet Jonathan Pellegrin '67,   pp. 12-13

Page 12

Pellegrin '67
He's WAA's new president.
I n 1975 with little advance notice
      Jonathan Pellegrin found himself
      representing the US Department
      of Commerce on an agribusiness
      mission to five recently emerged
African nations. He barely had time to
wade through the required vaccinations
against cholera and yellow fever before
stepping down from the plane in
Tananarive, capital of the Malagasy Re-
public. He drove off to explore the sur-
rounding country, stopping by the side of
the road to talk with local farmers, finding
their machinery sitting idle for lack of sim-
ple repairs. He drove back to Tananarive
with a sense of what the man in the field
needed, and the mission produced a re-
cord number of US business contracts that
year. Not surprisingly the USDC asked
him back the next. In 1978 they sent him to
the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Zaire. He
speaks with urgency about the need for
third-world education and training to fol-
low up sales of American technology.
   He is WAA's new president; at thirty-
eight, the youngest in its 122-year history.
Friends describe him as an inquisitive man
who asks pointed questions yet retains a
quiet "in-house" sense of humor. One col-
legue calls him a "diplomat who does his
homework." Another says, "Jon is a good
listener. He will wait to hear everyone out
at a meeting, then cut right to the heart of
the discussion." He is a former national di-
rector and president of the Wisconsin
chapter of the National Agri-Marketing
Association and a member of the Young
Presidents Organization. He has, along
with other talented young executives,
lunched with President Reagan at the
White House. He has just returned from
three weeks of study in Japan and is about
to leave for Russia where he and his wife,
DeeDee (Diane Fox '69), will host WAA's
tour to the Soviet Union.
   As he talks on the afternoon of our in-
terview, he leans far back in his chair, ges-
turing freely. He is a tall man, in
shirtsleeves, tanned and handsome. When
clients from around the nation visit, he
brings them home to dinner.
   We meet in the offices of the Johnson
Hill Press, a national trade publishing
company based in Fort Atkinson. Pelle-
grin is owner and chairman. He was
born in Illinois and spent his early boy-
hood on a farm. He talks about an older
brother, David, who was a "great student
and model athlete" but describes himself
as a cut-up. He was a kid who worked "lit-
tle business ventures" from an early age-
Kool-Aid stands and paper routes in the
fifth grade-but was never very interested
in academics. "My brother went off to
Amherst and Harvard; I got ticketed on
my motorbike." Then in high school a
teacher assigned an independent study
project and he formally discovered com-
mercial advertising. From the start, he
said, sales and marketing fascinated him:
"I liked figuring out how the system
worked. I liked taking an idea and creating
something tangible out of it. I liked the
thought of doing something clever-
making money-while providing jobs and
services for people." He pursued the sub-
ject through high school graduation in
Dodge City, Kansas and on to college at
Miami University in Ohio.
   His father jokingly promised "an air-
plane, a railroad, a shipping line," if he
made it through the first nine weeks. Pelle-
grin promptly earned a passel of A's and
the highest grades in his dorm. "I was so
worried about flunking out that I worked
my fanny off," he said. It was the "high-
fight of my academic career."
   After a year and a half in Ohio, he
transferred to the UW where he majored
in business, specializing in marketing and
advertising, picking up journalism courses
on the side. He was here three and a half
years. "It was literally my first exposure to
a broad cross section of talented people
with different interests, persuasions, and
backgrounds. Miami had been 5000 stu-
dents, buttoned-down shirts, khaki pants
and penny loafers. The UW opened my
eyes to new values, new ideas, new oppor-
   While here Pellegrin took a course as-
signment (Business Publications 201) and
decided to market it. He brought out the
first issue of The Wisconsin Man in the fall
of 1965. The magazine answered such
questions as "What to wear-and where?"
and heralded the "swing to spring fash-
ion," reviewed books and campus theater,
analyzed anti-draft sit-ins, discussed preju-
dice, rugby and jazz, the "beats," life in-
surance and football. He produced a tele-
vision documentary on the University's
fraternity system and worked around town
for the local broadcast media handling
sales development promotion. Between
classes he pitched ad time to campus mer-
chants. "It got so my professors would
joke, 'Business must be slow; Jon is in
class today.' "In 1965 he was cited as UW's
outstanding advertising marketing student
and spent a week at a New York City
advertising institute with forty-nine other
top students from around the US.
   After graduation Pellegrin joined
Abraham & Straus in New York. He, his
wife, and a new baby lived in Brooklyn

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