Jim Weiss '87
As a kid and a student, Jim Weiss says he followed in the footsteps of some special role models. Now, as a leader in the global public relations and marketing communications industry, he is one. Weiss is founder and CEO of W2O Group, an international marketing and communications network comprising three companies, 12 offices, and nearly 500 people. Among those he counts as important influences along his path to success is his grandfather, who grew up “a poor immigrant kid” in New York City and was an All-America basketball player at Penn State. “My grandfather was a guy who lived a nice long life, with a lot of different careers in different towns. Nothing was handed to him—he earned it. He was a community leader. He was that kind of guy from that era—good, ultimately strong, and a man of high integrity,” Weiss says.
He also speaks of three women who have been inspirations: his mother, “a teacher and a strong woman in business who had a very open style”; Newhouse public relations professor Maria Russell, an “icon,” he says, who helped spark his passion for the field; and Beverly Simons, who directed him into health care communications and “taught me how to apply what I learned at Newhouse in the real client world,” he says.
At Newhouse, Weiss earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations, with minors in art history and political science. “Newhouse encourages a certain level of entrepreneurialism and self-starting perseverance that was critical to me,” he says. That strong start propelled Weiss’s career in strategic communications, particularly in the areas of health care and biotechnology.
He launched W2O Group in 2001 as a one-person consultancy. The firm now generates nearly $100 million in annual revenue and serves some of the world’s leading companies and brands, including Merck, Intel, PepsiCo, and United Technologies. “I’ve modeled W2O Group along the same aspirations as Newhouse—to be the best!” says Weiss, who among other honors was named one of the 500 Most Important People in the Global PR Industry by PR Week in 2015 and is on the Board of Trustees of the Cancer Research Institute. “And I believe very much that Syracuse had a lot to do with that and always will.”
As the founder of the W2O Center for Social Commerce at Newhouse—which educates students in social media, digital technology, and analytics and provides them with an edge as they enter the workforce—Weiss gives back in a big way. Established in 2012, the center offers new course content in social commerce, interactions with experts, guest lectures, a robust internship program at W2O Group offices, and a novel internship program where Newhouse students split time with both the W2O Group and one of its major clients, Medtronic. “I think this is something you rarely get to do in life—to go back to the place you were formed and help inform it, to make it a better place,” he says.
He sees a bridge between what he did as a Syracuse student and the life he lives now. “There’s a kind of continuity. All the things I did as, say, a fraternity rush chairman, I’m doing here in my business: creating communities and networks, generating jobs, and providing value,” says Weiss, who was honored in 2015 as one of Newhouse’s 50Forward most accomplished graduates of the last 50 years. “I remember walking on the Quad and stopping every couple of people to say hello to somebody, which I still like to do. In a people business, still, it is all about the people.” —Amy Speach