Greg Matusky, CEO and founder of Gregory FCA Public Relations, spoke to VISTA Today about growing up in Lansdale, the youngest son of the high school assistant principal. He recalled his victories on the track team in the 300-meter hurdles and his summer job on the maintenance crew of an apartment complex, where he learned to change locks and fix sewer clogs.
Matusky also discussed what inspired him to start his company, why he believes AI innovations like ChatGPT will revolutionize writing, and why bad times are crucial for business growth.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Until second grade, I grew up in Western Pennsylvania. Then my father became the assistant principal at North Penn High School, and we moved to Lansdale when I was in second grade.
Your dad was an assistant principal – what did your mom do?
She worked a bit in an elementary school but was mainly a stay-at-home mom.
Were you the oldest in the pecking order? The youngest?
I’m the youngest of four.
Were you spoiled?
No, none of us were spoiled. Back then, high school principals make very little. Every week, my mom would buy four peaches, and once you ate your peach, you were done for the week.
What do you remember about growing up in Lansdale?
Well, it was the ’70s, but I was the principal’s son, so I had a different experience than most people. I got to see my father working – he was a very hard worker. He loved his job and loved being around young people.
The one thing I couldn’t believe was that he worked so hard and never had much money. So, as a young person, I was determined that I would always have some jingle in my pocket and figure out how money works. Even as a young person, I worked sweeping streets at a condominium complex in Lansdale and always had some money on me.
What other part-time jobs did you have growing up?
The best and the worst job was at an apartment complex called Chatham Village. For four years, I was on the summer maintenance crew there. I worked with great people. I loved learning how to do repairs like changing locks.
But I’d get a call once a week, and there was a sewer backup. We would have to stick a 200-foot snake in the sewer and pull it out – in 90-degree temperatures and high humidity.
What lessons did you learn from those jobs that stay with you today?
My father was always a hard worker, and even as a young person, I took those jobs very seriously. I worked hard, and if I was partnered with someone who didn’t work hard, it would bother me. Even then, I was the head of the crew. The management trusted me. Our job was to turn over two apartments a day. We would agonize about making these apartments look great so the leasing agents could rent them easily.
What sports did you play?
Starting in seventh grade, I ran track in junior high, high school and all four years at the University of Pennsylvania. The 400-meter intermediate hurdles was my event.
Do you remember your fastest time?
53.8 seconds! The high-water mark of my career was that I was fifth in the Ivy League one year.
That’s a great time. Is there a race you remember that defined you as a runner?
It was my senior year in high school at the Penn Relays, and my archnemesis from Pennridge was there. He went on to play professional football for the Kansas City Chiefs. He was running the anchor, and so was I. I got the stick probably 30 yards in back of him, and 200 meters in, I had a big decision to make. There was a big gap, and I said, “Screw it, I’m going to try.”
Either my rival was much more of a sprinter than I was, and he got tired, or my mother, who always prayed during my races, says it was the Holy Spirit. Either way, I won the race.
You said you threw caution to the wind – what did you do differently in that race?
When you’re 30 meters down, it’s almost unsurmountable, so you have a decision to make around 200 meters in. No one would ever criticize me for not closing the gap. But I said, “No, I’m going to try to do this.”
What kind of music were you listening to when you were growing up?
I graduated from high school in 1979 and married my high school sweetheart a few years later. We’re still married! I was big on, believe it or not, some elements of punk, like The Ramones, The Clash, and Elvis Costello. In high school, I always disliked the overwrought, overplayed artists of the ’70s, like Genesis, Journey and Yes. But the first time I heard The Sex Pistols, I thought it was an epiphany. I couldn’t believe that guys who couldn’t play music could be so important.
You were a pretty good student. You could have gone anywhere to college. Why Penn?
Penn recruited me for track. I considered a few other schools, including Villanova, Penn State, Saint Joe’s, and LaSalle. I chose Penn because it meant a lot to me that Irving “Moon” Mondschein, the legendary track and field coach, was the head coach there. I had run the Penn Relays at Penn’s home track at Franklin Field in high school, and I couldn’t believe I’d have the opportunity to compete in front of the ancient bricks of Franklin Field.
Was Penn a good fit for you, in hindsight?
Yes! Aside from my wife saying “yes” and marrying me, going to Penn was the greatest break I ever got. Not because it accelerated me in social circles, but rather because Penn just fit me. I needed to be challenged, and academically, Penn challenged me. I needed to see the world. I needed more diversity in my life. I was a white sprinter, and most of my teammates were Black. We lived together and practiced together, and made fun of each other together.
Looking back over your career, who were the people who saw promise in you, opened up doors, and gave you opportunities?
Certainly, Coach Irving Mondschein at Penn. He went out on a limb for me. That was a big thing.
After Penn, I took a course at Temple University to learn magazine article writing. There was a professor there named John Hayes. He immediately saw that I could write. In fact, I quit my job – working for an oil company – and became a business writer and worked with him for a while. He saw talent in me.
What do you think he saw in you?
That I could write. That’s my core competency.
Do you mean that you could tell a story?
I could hear a rhythm playing in my head, and I was quick to learn formats for different magazines. I became a pretty successful business writer. I was a contributing editor at Success magazine, and my work appeared in Forbes, Inc, and Newsweek.
When I was 27, I wrote a business book. I didn’t really know how to write yet, but I interviewed a hundred people in business and strung their quotes together. The publisher loved it because there was so much “research.”
Who else saw promise in you, Greg?
Well, my father, Paul, did. He saw me as a very creative mind, even as a young person, and he was always spurring my creativity. He would play a game with me and my brothers and sisters around the table where you’d add a line to a drawing. I remember him hushing the other kids to see what I would come up with. He always enjoyed being with me and sharing my passions and hobbies as he got older. He always had great faith in me.
As much as he had in your siblings?
It was a different era. My father always had great hope for my brother to be an athlete, but my brother got injured. That crushed my father.
I was never good at baseball or football, but the first time I ran a race, I won, and I only lost a race once I went to high school. In junior high, I won every race I ran. I set the record the first time I did the 300-meter hurdles in our inter-squad meet. My dad was the high school principal, and I wasn’t a troublemaker. I got good grades, went to an Ivy League school, and was captain of the track team. For him, that was a great accomplishment in front of his peers.
What led you to start your own company? You were pretty young when you did that.
I haven’t had a job since 1986. My wife was supportive of me. I had a healthy disrespect for authority – I always thought I could do things better. That’s been a curse and an advantage.
Do you remember specifically what you thought you could do better?
When I worked for the oil company, I saw how corporate and structured it was. I just thought I could do better. My wife was an aerobics instructor, so we started a wellness newsletter at night. I would interview her, write it and then marketed it to fitness instructors at YMCAs.
You could sell as well as write. Where does your sales acumen come from?
A survival instinct. I always had the publisher’s mentality – I knew what a good editorial product was, and I learned how to sell it. It was explained to me once when I was writing for magazines that writers will eat beans out of a can if they get to do what they want and tell their own stories. Salespeople will sell their mother if they get one more commission in before the close. The publisher sits between the two.
Here we are at the start of 2023. What opportunities are you focused on at Gregory FCA?
Look what’s happening in the market and the world economy – that’s pretty troublesome. But I’m very excited about generative AI. I’ve been studying it intensely for the past two and a half years. It’s an opportunity to apply my understanding of language and writing in a machine-oriented environment.
I’m working hard to transform my firm so people can do what I’ve done without the hard years of commitment to rewire my brain to be able to write. There’s an opportunity to show people how to think, separate from writing. I analogize it to, “You don’t need to fix the carburetor anymore – you just need to get to the vacation in your car.” That’s what generative AI offers us, and it will profoundly impact workflows and work products.
There have been three major revolutions in technology that I’ve watched. The first was when I first saw desktop publishing and all you could do with it. Second, when I first saw the internet. And third, when I first saw ChatGPT write an essay. I realized – and I forget who said this – “What good is a newborn baby?” That’s where I feel like we’re at.
I bring a unique perspective to it because I’m not a techno-wizard; I’m a writer. There are certain things about how you develop the neuro-pathways that allow you to write and tell stories. Machine learning can emulate that and help people communicate better and achieve the ultimate goal of all communications, which is understanding – instead of worrying about what word to use.
I don’t think young people today are going to spend the years and years I did learning how to write. It’s a gift that I can help them learn how to think, and they can create great editorial content.
ChatGPT-4 just came out. It’s been embedded in the Bing search engine for a month, and I’ve been playing with it. It is mind-blowing what Bing does. And I’m just talking about language – I’m not talking about visual art or coding. If you know how to direct a machine, you can tell it to look at an MBA-quality thought process. There’s something called “empathetic design” in product design. I didn’t know what it was. I asked a machine, “Go look at the empathetic design. Now, take this product and break it down into every stage of empathetic design and tell me what the key benefits are, and then give me a marketing campaign around it.” And it did.
Three last questions for you, Greg. What is something big that you’ve changed your mind about over the last five years?
That’s easy and something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. When I was a young man, when the Gulf War broke out, I was saying, “Truth, justice, and the American way. We’ve got to make a stand.” Then I realized the government lied to us. So now I’ve become radically against all forms of violence. I don’t care if it’s an insurrection or a riot – I’m against people harming others and destroying property.
My father was a World War II vet, a Nazi POW. He told me great stories from the war, and I was very patriotic as a young man. But I’ve thoroughly changed my mind about all of that.
Now I see the Ukraine fight and worry, “Are we being lied to?” I worry about the violence that’s taking place there against both sides. I know the Ukrainian side, but I don’t know the Russian side at all.
What keeps you hopeful and optimistic in this crazy world, Greg?
Working with young people. It’s energizing. They have a lot of talent. They keep me young and challenge me.
And the doomsday-ers have a remarkable track record of being wrong. I’m a gardener – I’ve seen climate change; I just don’t believe it will be as catastrophic as everyone believes. There’s a term for that – I looked it up recently – where we think we’re so important, everything swirls around us, and we’re at the edge of the abyss. People have been doing this for eons.
If you put that together with young people, they don’t fully understand their importance and their role. They’ve been overtaken by negativity. They’re going to have phenomenal lives. America will need these people in the workforce like you wouldn’t believe. I’m so excited to teach them generative AI. I tell them, “By the time you’re 40, you’ll know more than I knew when I was 60. And I love sharing it with you.”
Finally, Greg, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A consultant in Philly, Carter Schelling, once told me, “When times are good, all you do is repeat the same stuff. You grow when times are bad because you’ve got to find new ways.”
I’ve been through so many cycles. When times are good, I’m writing new business and congratulating myself for figuring it out. But when times are bad, you’ve got to find new ways. That’s part of my push for generative AI – because times are tough, and now’s the time to gain new skills and competencies and lurch forward.