- people on the move
Inside Track: Hunt’s path less traveled
President of public relations firm Lambert & Co. nearly made a career out of acting.
As president of the largest public relations and investor relations firm in Michigan, Don Hunt took an unorthodox path to the top.
This year, he was named the president of Lambert & Co. (formerly known as Lambert, Edwards & Associates), in which he oversees almost 70 staff across multiple offices in Michigan — Grand Rapids, Lansing, Detroit — and an out-of-state office in New York City.
Lambert & Co. works with hundreds of clients across the world in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, retail and health care to provide strategic planning, branding and marketing services, among other things.
Hunt’s road to Lambert & Co. started in his hometown of Chicago Heights, Illinois. He spent much of his childhood in Illinois before he and his family moved to Muskegon when he was about 14 years old. He went to high school in Muskegon and got accepted into the University of Michigan, but he was financially unable to attend.
It was on the advice of one of his teachers he decided to pursue acting.
“I’d never been in a play, I’d never done any acting, but one of my teachers in high school, a teacher who didn’t particularly like me, quite honestly, said, ‘I know you are not sure what you are going to do with your financial situation being what it is, but you should really look into this,’” Hunt said. “So, I auditioned, and I got an acting scholarship to Flint. I had some great teachers at the University of Michigan-Flint, and they had an amazing theater program. So, I (acted) in plays, I was a stage manager, I built sets, I was on the lighting crew where I hung lights. I did everything, as I should.”
In conjunction with fulfilling his acting requirements to retain his acting scholarship, he completed some of his core classes and some journalism classes at UM-Flint before transferring to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, forgoing his acting scholarship.
In 1990, Hunt graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and creative writing. Following graduation, he took on three part-time jobs. He was a regional reporter at the Kalamazoo Gazette, he worked at night at Bravo!, a restaurant in Kalamazoo, and he was a freelance writer for Whirlpool’s corporate communications department. He worked part time for five years before being hired for his first full-time job at the age of 26.
He started working at Seyferth & Associates (now known as SeyferthPR), a public relations firm in Grand Rapids. He worked in the firm’s investor relations department, which is where he met Brian Edwards and Jeff Lambert, who played a critical role in where he is today.
Hunt spent two years working at Seyferth & Associates before he left and moved on to DP Fox Ventures, a management company that is centered on transportation, real estate, fashion, sports and entertainment.
Hunt worked there as the director of communications from 1995-2000. During his tenure, DP Fox was managing the Grand Rapids Griffins and hockey teams in other cities across the country, as well as in Canada. It also had investments in other industries.
“One day, Dan DeVos walked into my office and said, ‘What do you know about arena football?’ I said ‘nothing.’ He said, ‘Well, you are going to learn.’ Then we had an arena football team in Grand Rapids,” Hunt said. “We had the Kansas City Blades hockey team in Kansas City. So, there was sports entertainment and real estate. I think they still have a lot of real estate interests in the Bahamas that they developed and worked on and then just a lot of investments in different industries. So, every day was different. One of the best things I got to do was work with the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation, and it is just an amazing group of people who wanted to put money toward sled hockey, which was a new idea at the time so children with different disabilities could still participate in hockey. It was a privilege to be a part of that because it opened a lot of doors for different programs.”
After working at DP Fox for five years, Hunt joined what was then Lambert, Edwards & Associates in 2000, which was started by his former Seyferth colleagues, Edwards and Lambert.
The firm was started in 1998, and when Hunt started, he said there were about seven employees and he was the senior account executive. A few years after joining the firm, Hunt became a partner.
Throughout his nearly 19-year career at Lambert & Co., he was instrumental in growing the firm’s client base across many industries.
When Hunt joined the firm, he said it was 60% investor relations and 40% public relations because he, Edwards and Lambert wanted to continue to pursue what they started doing at Seyferth, which was investor relations. Hunt said their aim at Lambert & Co. was to work with clients to make sure they are fairly valued in the market if they have publicly traded stocks.
“So, if you are trading on the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ, these companies have investor relations, which are really there to keep shareholders informed about company news and try to keep the stock, not overvalued or undervalued, but fairly valued,” he said. “So, on any given day, you’d like for your stock price to reflect all the information about the company.”
Some of the companies Lambert & Co. worked with then — and still does now — were Wolverine Worldwide and Spartan Motors, which Lambert worked for before co-founding Lambert, Edwards & Associates with Edwards. The firm also works with other publicly traded companies, including those in the technology and real estate industries.
Hunt said there were a lot of publicly traded companies when he first started, but acknowledged now the landscape has changed and there are more private companies. He said now it is harder and more expensive for publicly traded companies because of regulatory challenges, among other things.
As a result, Hunt said the firm started to gravitate toward private companies that are owned by private equity or venture capital firms. As opposed to trading stocks, private equity firms hold a portfolio of private companies in which they invest and operate. There can be two companies or 100 companies that are within an equity firm’s portfolio. Lambert & Co. then works with the parent company and helps market, drive communication and manage other aspects of the companies it owns.
As the number of clients grew, Hunt said the company knew it had to broaden its range of services.
“We recognized that there were going to have to be new ways to talk about clients and their works beyond a simple press release on white paper,” he said. “It is not enough to say that we do public relations, or we are an investor relations firm or we do media releases and we deal with analysts.
“Today, we have to do a lot more, and that is why we generally think the most accurate way to describe (us) is integrative marketing (firm) because we have a very, very strong social media component, digital media component, video, media relations, national media relations. Investor relations has always been in our DNA, but now we’ve got a very strong video team. We’ve got a strong digital and social media strategy team, (areas) that if you’d told me five years ago, I would have said ‘No way.’”
Hunt helped orchestrate multiple acquisitions, turning Lambert & Co. into the largest public and investor relations firm in the state. The firm acquired Sterling Corporation in Lansing, John Bailey & Associates in Detroit and Owen Blicksilver Public Relations Inc. in New York City.
“Since the firm started, it basically has had double-digit revenue growth every year,” he said. “We’ve grown both organically and by buying other firms at different times, and we hope to continue that trend.”