Steven A. Rudnitsky chose Temple University, in part, because his family lived in Philadelphia and it was the school where his father earned a bachelor’s degree through the GI Bill after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His father’s education served him well, preparing him for a 35-year career with the U.S. Treasury as a tax auditor. “By the time I graduated, I knew I didn’t want to be an accountant, so I decided to take a different course,” Mr. Rudnitsky says. “By pursuing a corporate career, I was able to apply my management and accounting training while exploring other interests, notably marketing.”
After graduating, Mr. Rudnitsky joined McNeil Consumer Products, a Johnson & Johnson company. Three years into his career, the company was plunged into a crisis when seven people in the Chicago area died after ingesting Extra Strength Tylenol, a pain reliever that was one of the company’s leading products. An investigation later revealed someone added poison to Tylenol capsules on store shelves. Then-CEO James Burke immediately halted all production of Tylenol and issued a nationwide recall at a cost of $100 million. In the process, Tylenol’s market share fell from 35 to 8 percent. But Mr. Burke’s decisive actions helped restore the company’s reputation and helped the pain reliever’s market share to rebound in less than a year. His actions also left an indelible impression on Mr. Rudnitsky. “This up-close experience helped me appreciate the importance of leadership in the corporate world,” he says. “Johnson & Johnson survived the tragedy because Jim Burke earlier had recommitted the company to a credo developed by CEO Robert Wood Johnson in the 1940s. The credo stated that J&J’s first responsibility was to its customers and then to employees, management, communities, and stockholders—in that order.” After more than three years at Johnson & Johnson, Mr. Rudnitsky joined PepsiCo and worked his way up to become vice president of on-premises development for Pepsi Cola International. “PepsiCo’s corporate culture is extremely aggressive and competitive,” he said. “This culture was driven, in no small part, by a longstanding rivalry with Coca-Cola, which reached a zenith of sorts during my 12 years at Pepsi.” Under the leadership of then-CEO Roger Enrico, PepsiCo began conducting taste tests with blindfolded consumers, called the “Pepsi Challenge.” When tests suggested that more consumers preferred Pepsi to Coke, sales started to climb, and the Pepsi Challenge was expanded nationwide. Driven to near-distraction by the Pepsi Challenge, Coca-Cola did the unthinkable and changed its sacred formula, introducing the “New Coke” in 1985. As history would prove, Coca-Cola misjudged its loyal customers and the marketplace. A backlash forced the company—in short order—to restore its original formula, which it renamed “Coke Classic.” After more than 12 years at PepsiCo, Mr. Rudnitsky went on to work for iconic companies in packaged-goods and lodging, including The Pillsbury Company, Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cendant Corporation, Wyndham Worldwide, Dolce Hotels & Resorts, Miraval Group, and Hyatt Hotels Corporation. During that time, he bought and sold two companies, participated in two initial public offerings and moved into the world of private equity. He credits the chief executives of each company he served with teaching him valuable lessons on the job: crisis management from Jim Burke of Johnson and Johnson; staying ahead of the competition from Roger Enrico of PepsiCo; optimizing organizational value and product innovation from Jim Kilts of Nabisco; and delivering on core value propositions from Steve Holmes of Wyndham Worldwide. “Perhaps the most important lesson I learned during my career is that leaders make a difference,” he says. “The higher you move up in an organization, the greater is your responsibility to help those around you achieve objectives and remove obstacles to their success. If your quest is to work your way up the organizational ladder, you ultimately will become the one person upon whom everyone else depends for vision and inspiration.” Mr. Rudnitsky credits Temple University and the Fox School of Business with laying a solid foundation for his career. “The sum of the parts of my education built my skillset to the point that I could have a thought-provoking and intelligent conversation with any business person,” he says.
Temple University Degree
Bachelor of Business Administration ’80, Fox School of Business
Title & Company
Former president and CEO, Miraval Group, Dolce Hotels & Resorts and Wyndham Hotel Group
Temple University Awards & Affiliatons
- Dean’s Advisory Board, Fox School of Business
- Former Executive-in-Residence, School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management
- Commencement speaker, Fox School of Business, 2007
What I wanted to be when I was 20 years old
By the time I graduated, I knew I didn’t want to be an accountant, so, I decided to take a different course. By pursuing a corporate career, I was able to apply my management and accounting training while exploring other interests, notably marketing.
Best piece of advice anyone ever gave me
My father, who graduated from Temple through the GI Bill, kept his expectations for me simple: I needed to graduate college. From there, I could do whatever I wanted. It just had to be legal and moral. With that kind of freedom, I was able to come into my own.