Zest for living

STEVE KAPLAN ’82 is an adventurer, author, Broadway producer, coach, dad, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and philanthropist. On July 1, he was featured on ABC’s reality show Secret Millionaire.


EDUCATION: BA, Bradley, political science; MBA, Rosary College/Dominican University

BRADLEY ACTIVITIES: Sigma Chi, server at River Station 

BUSINESS VENTURES: founder of SCA marketing company, 1983; sold SCA to Snyder Communications in 1997 and continued as group president; part of team that sold Snyder to Havas Advertising for $2.1 billion, remained as CEO of BountySCA Worldwide, 2004; Steve Kaplan Live, speaking tour of 20 universities, 2011

BOOK CREDITS: Bag the Elephant; Be the Elephant; Sell Your Business for the Max!

THEATER: Leap of Faith co-producer (nominated for 2012 Tony Award)

FAMILY: two children, ages 19 and 21; three sisters including BRENDI KAPLAN ’80; three stepbrothers

You may have the feeling that you know STEVE KAPLAN ’82. If you frequented Peoria’s River Station restaurant, there’s a good chance he was your favorite server. Maybe you read Bag the Elephant or another of Steve’s books on the New York Times bestseller list. And during this past summer, you might have spent a warm Sunday evening watching him as the “secret millionaire” on ABC.

The show works like this: Cameras follow a wealthy individual searching for selfless people who are making a difference with their charitable programs. After a week of helping out the groups while living on a minimum-wage allowance, the secret millionaire reveals his or her true identity and donates money to the organizations. 

In Steve’s case, the show’s producers sent him only about 40 miles — from the manicured lawns of Buffalo Grove to Chicago’s South Side. With sounds of freight trains, gunshots, and almost continuous sirens, the evenings were far from quiet. But during the day, Steve discovered people devoting their lives to making a difference. There was “Miss Diane,” operating Kids Off the Block to help at-risk youth in the Roseland area. One day, Steve helped KOB members paint a mural, ever careful not to disturb gang graffiti.

He learned about another group while preparing breakfast for senior citizens in a residence operated by an organization called H.O.M.E. “H.O.M.E. opened my eyes to a whole new need out there,” said Steve. He also volunteered with Bin Donated, the brainchild of Jud Kinnucan, who collects reusable items from Chicago hotels and businesses — about 100,000 pounds worth in the past two years. Whether it’s office supplies, shampoo, or 500 sets of bed sheets and towels, the recycled items save money for the nonprofits that receive them.

“It sounds cliche, but spending time volunteering enriches you, and you see what a difference you can make,” Steve said shortly after the show aired. “The show’s producers are extremely true to their vision. You find the places you want to help. There are no reshoots like you might expect in a reality show.” 

After revealing his identity to the three organizations, Steve stunned them with checks — $100,000 to KOB, $50,000 to H.O.M.E., and $75,000 to Bin Donated. Within 30 days, Kids Off the Block received an additional gift from Steve — a lighted basketball court. “I let them design it. That’s part of it. They picked the colors. About 150 kids use it 12 hours a day now,” he said proudly.

Steve is helping five KOB members launch a music career. Impressed with the talent and positive message of a group called “Tha Movement,” he sent them to a recording studio in Canada for a month. They were the featured entertainment for more than 420 people at Steve’s Secret Millionaire public viewing party in Chicago. 

“I try to pursue what I love to do and help people along the way,” explained the father of two who has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and run with the bulls in Pamplona. 

He notes that his first marketing classes were at Bradley while he was a political science major with a computer science minor. “Bradley was a really good fit for me. It set me on a good course.” From remarkable success with his own marketing companies in his 20s and 30s, Steve has branched out to the entertainment industry. He was a producer of Alan Menken’s Leap of Faith on Broadway, nominated for a 2012 Tony Award. 

In the spring of 2011, Steve was in Los Angeles pitching an idea for a television show with his entertainment business manager HEIDI ROTBART ’79. Producers responded that they already were working on Secret Millionaire, a popular show in the United Kingdom, but were eager to test Steve for it. His one-hour episode was filmed last year in August.

Although his appearance on Secret Millionaire is over, Steve’s involvement is not. “I’ve stayed in touch with everyone. I meet with Diane Latiker of KOB every week, and I give office space to Bin Donated. I hope to continue working with all of them for years to come,” Steve remarked. “I’m so fortunate to be a secret millionaire but even more so to have met and helped these amazing organizations. This is better than I even imagined.”

– Gayle Erwin McDowell ’77 



Making the world safer

BARB LAMBKE GUTHRIE ’84, shown here with Bill Nye the Science Guy, developed Safety Smart, a worldwide education program for UL to teach children about safety.

BARB LAMBKE GUTHRIE ’84 has safety on her mind. As vice president for public safety, advocacy, education, and outreach at Underwriters Laboratories, it’s her job. 

But she’s taken it a step further. Barb is the guiding force behind Safety Smart, a worldwide education program by UL. It uses Disney characters from The Lion King and Bill Nye the Science Guy to teach children about safety and has been incorporated into school curriculums worldwide. A website, ulsafetysmart.com, along with mobile apps, DVDs, and study guides cover a range of issues, from home, water, and fire safety to the environment and dealing with bullies. 

“Safety Smart is designed to engage and empower kids to make safety smart decisions that will last a lifetime,” Barb explained.

The program has been shared in 22 countries and translated into 20 languages. Barb traveled to China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, and New Zealand to promote the program and was featured on Korean television earlier this year. Her overseas experience includes a three-year stint at a Danish company acquired by UL. 

Barb holds an MBA from Roosevelt University. She and her husband Kirk live in Mundelein. They are gaining a new perspective on Bradley — their oldest son, ZACH GUTHRIE ’15, is a civil engineering major and JUSTIN GUTHRIE ’16 is a freshman. 

– Bob Grimson ’81