Don Marek, executive director of the Marketing Research Institute International (MRII), is retiring. Don has served in this position for the last eight years, following nearly thirty years as a corporate researcher at AT&T. He is an Honorary Lifetime Member of MRA, served as President in 1998-1999 (the first corporate researcher in that role, as far as we know), and has always been a willing conference mentor, eager to engage newcomers.

We recently sat down with Don to discuss his upcoming retirement and to take a look back at an expansive career in marketing research.

Howard: Don, how do you feel about your upcoming retirement?
I am quite excited about retiring from being MRII’s executive director. Most of my close friends are already retired and are pestering me to join them in their post-retirement activities. I intend to join them in such things as cycling at various events around the country and exhibiting my antique Mustang at car shows. After retiring, I will volunteer with local St. Louis-area organizations and national groups such as MRA, AMA and MRII. My also-retired wife, Cathy, and I intend to continue to travel the U.S. and worldwide. (I may even drop in on the opening receptions at the major research conferences, so I can keep up with my many friends in the industry.) I am also happy to be retiring when MRII is doing well. MRII’s enrollments and financial results have been excellent in recent years. In addition, MRII’s new “Principles of Marketing Research” course which launched on March 12 this year should be a huge success and represents a 50 percent expansion in the line of courses offered by MRII.

Howard: What have you enjoyed most about the market research profession?
Don: Networking. Generally, people in the MR industry are quite intent on providing their clients the very best information at an economical cost. As a result, they are always looking for better ways to do things, making them very innovative and receptive to new things. Usually, no company or person can do everything that comes their way, so they must share information and work with their market research peers. As a result, most market research conferences are excellent networking events where people and companies really get to know each other.

Howard: What can you tell us about your most memorable day in MR?
My most memorable day occurred during SBC’s merger with Pacific Bell, at an executive presentation. My team was summoned to California to explain a particularly vexing problem to the head of Pacific operations. That particular executive had a reputation for being brutal during research presentations. Fortunately, our research satisfactorily addressed all his concerns. At the end of the meeting, he jumped up to shake hands, introduce himself and thank each member of my team. My team and I were quite satisfied with a research project well done. The topper was that as we left the room, my California team lead said, “This is amazing, I reported to that guy for over a year and he never said a kind word to me or even remembered who I was; now he is my best friend.”

Howard: What advice would you give someone just beginning in the market research industry?
: Do a good job so you can be confident and take pride in your work. Market research is expensive, so generally, your client will want to hear about what you have done. Therefore, even early in your career you will be exposed to company decision makers. Always do the best job possible and make sure your final presentation/report is simple and understandable. Lastly and most importantly, be confident in your work/report because each person up the line who gets it will be less informed and confident than you.

Howard: What have been the most important changes in the MR landscape during your 41-year career?
: The Internet. The first 32-years of my career were spent in the market research departments of two Fortune 100 companies. From my corporate researcher standpoint, technology caused the biggest changes. In the beginning of my career, the change from calculators to main-frame computers was huge. The next change to PCs in the early 1980s was even bigger. Within the data collection portion of our industry, the change from door-to-door research to the telephone CATI method was very big. The shift from telephone data collection to Web/online research was even bigger. Today, I see the beginnings of a major shift from online to mobile research. The shifts to online and mobile research are only possible because of the unbelievable presence of the Internet. To me, the biggest change in research and society has been driven by the world’s migration to the Web.

Howard: What have you found most rewarding about your role as executive director of MRII?
I would have to say the most rewarding aspect have been the interactions with so many great people. MRII offers three excellent online marketing research courses: “The Principles of Market Research,” “The Principles of Pharmaceutical Market Research” and “The Principles of Mobile Market Research.” A major part of my job is exhibiting at 14 or more marketing research conferences worldwide. As a result, I meet “Principles” graduates in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Our graduates, as a rule, are pleased with their course experience and eager to help MRII “spread the word.” It is such a pleasure to deal with satisfied clients and students. Exhibiting at association conferences has enabled me to become friends with those supporting market research groups’ volunteers and staff personnel. The University of Georgia’s School of Continuing Education staff which supports the “Principles” courses is a pleasure to deal with. Last but not least, the MRII Board is large group of market research professionals who have become my friends.

Howard: Any advice for your successor at MRII?
Enjoy yourself and the market research and educational professionals you meet. Always look for ways to expand the ”Principles” course line so that it continues to be relevant and leading edge.

MRA: Congratulations on your retirement from MRII and thank you for your tireless dedication and efforts on behalf of MRA and the research profession. You have made a huge difference and have been a good friend!

Be sure to visit Don at the MRII booth in June at the Insights & Strategies Conference in Chicago!