Early in his career, the “chemistry” wasn’t right for Mark Kozak. He was seeking greater challenges and opportunities than his master’s degree in chemistry and a career in the industrial cleaning field could provide.
“I needed to do more,” Kozak said. “My education up to that point focused in the sciences, and I had always felt insecure in my knowledge of accounting and formalized business practices. I decided to take a class or two so that I could understand that perspective better.”
Out of college for several years, the thought of taking freshman accounting with a classroom full of 18- and 19-year-olds did not appeal to him. However, a friend guided him to the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at Benedictine University. Still, he only intended to take one or two classes before moving on.
“I had no desire to work for another graduate degree or to make the long-term commitment to the program,” Kozak said. “I figured I would get what I wanted out of the program and then leave.
“I remember clearly telling (Benedictine business professor) John Draut of this plan in my first class,” he added. “I didn’t realize what it would lead to.”
Rather than leave after one or two classes, Kozak completed the MBA program at Benedictine University. But his Benedictine experience did not end with a piece of parchment.
“What I really wanted to do was run my own business,” he said. “With the people I had met and work done at Benedictine, I felt confident that I could do this.
“I had an enormous amount of experience in developing products, their marketing claims, balancing regulatory requirements, and bringing sustainable/green concepts to the chemical marketplace. I knew that this was a needed and desirable skill set for companies.
“With my Benedictine experience and perspective, I really made changes in my life,” he said.
Today, Kozak is running his own consulting business, applying the things he learned in the areas of operations, marketing, accounting, finance and entrepreneurism. Instead of just seeing what happened in the lab, he could now see how everything in business operation was connected, making the skills he already had even more powerful.
“I was fortunate to have teachers like John Draut, Tom Yu and Jim Zoda for more than half of the classes I took,” Kozak said. “Benedictine’s professors and their real-world, non-academic perspective proved to be exactly what I needed.
“I especially owe a lot to John Draut. Not only his lessons in class, but also his guidance and advice in my career as well as his sense of humor helped to make this period of my life nothing short of life-changing.”
Draut has been preparing students like Kozak for the challenges they will face in the business world for more than 30 years, including the last 15 at Benedictine University. His wit, real-world experience and honesty help establish a collegial atmosphere in the classroom.
“I am honestly not sure what made Mark enroll full-time in our MBA program, but he did and the rest is history,” Draut said. “I approached him like I do all the thousands of students I have had at Benedictine – I treat them with honesty, respect, and I dole out opinions on topics when my opinion is requested.
“The beautiful part of teaching is sometimes your hard work and class preparation connects with a segment of the class that is hungry for knowledge and wisdom. I also offer to all my classes the ability to come in and discuss just about anything they need to.
“That is how Mark and I developed a unique student-professor relationship,” Draut added. “He asked my opinions on a specific career path he was considering and I gave him direct and honest input based on my knowledge and business experience.”
Kozak and Draut continue to communicate as the former student embarks upon this new phase of his professional career, and Kozak knows that his former professor will always be there with whatever helpful advice he can offer and guidance that might be needed.
“I’m happier than I have ever been with my career and I am very optimistic about my future,” he said. “The hard work, the support of family and friends, including those made at Benedictine, have made the experiences of the last two-and-a-half years worth it. I cannot imagine where I would be if not for the contributions of Benedictine’s M.B.A. program.
“While I am an alumnus of three different universities, Benedictine is the one that I am most proud of my association.”