SOJC Supporters: Holly Hutchins says writing skills are the key to success

Holly Hutchins '60
Holly Hutchins '60

Story by Eric Schucht

Looking back on his 43-year career in corporate communication, Holly Hutchins, B.S. ’60, pinpoints the writing skills he developed at the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) as the foundation for everything else to come.

A native of Portland, Hutchins spent most of his career at Shell Oil Company in Houston, Texas. By the time he retired in 2003, he was the company’s director of communication. He has since gone on to teach business administration and communication at Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Oregon, for the past 12 years.

Now Hutchins has decided to help the next generation of communicators build their own writing skills with a $25,000 gift to the SOJC’s Writing Central. This peer-to-peer program’s student writing coaches help build other SOJC students’ writing skills through one-on-one coaching sessions.

We sat down with Hutchins to find out more about his long and successful career in corporate communication, his recent gift to the SOJC and his advice for students.

Why did you decide to study journalism at the SOJC?

I had some experience in high school with the school newspaper and enjoyed the writing part of it. I did most of the sports for the paper and thought, "Well, this can be fun." That's what led me to the SOJC, given its reputation on the West Coast as one of the best.

I didn't even make a 2.0 GPA my first term. So into the dean's office I go. I can still remember his words to this day: "Mr. Hutchins, do you really think you belong in journalism school?” I was on probation. So I gave up most of the parties, and I finally got my act together.

How did the SOJC contribute to your success?

In my career, it was critical. When I came to the SOJC, I was not a very good writer, and my grades reflected it. So I buckled down and applied myself. I took advantage of the great writing opportunities the journalism school provides and got a B.S. in journalism —  a necessary ticket if you're going into media.

Perhaps even more important was the SOJC’s excellent reputation in the media world, particularly in the state of Oregon. Everybody looked at the SOJC for graduates to hire.

How did you get from journalism graduate to director of corporate communication?

My first two jobs out of school were with Oregon newspapers, The Dalles Optimist and The Lebanon Express. There's no question that my success in landing those two jobs was possible because of the great reputation the journalism school had for producing good journalists.

Before Shell, I had corporate communication positions with three forest products companies: Georgia-Pacific, Pope & Talbot and Potlatch. I worked on corporate publications, such as annual reports and corporate magazines. I also spent a number of years handling investor relations and financial communication for both Georgia-Pacific and Pope & Talbot.

One of the more interesting stories: I was deeply involved with the success of Potlatch beating back a hostile takeover by the Belzberg brothers out of Canada. This was in the early 1980s, when very few companies survived takeover ambitions. I was part of a defense team that helped Potlatch prevail and remain independent, essentially through clear, concise and effective communication.

I started at Shell Oil in the late ’80s. Initially I was the media relations manager and coordinated media activities for all of Shell's operations in the United States. Before retiring, I was director of corporate communication. I directed a number of internal and external communication initiatives, including a corporate advertising program, that were designed to strengthen the Shell Energy brand, both within the company and in many communities throughout the country.

Last year, you and your wife started the Holly R. Hutchins and Sharon B. Hutchins School of Journalism and Communication Writing Program Fund with a pledge gift of $25,000 for the SOJC’s Writing Central program. What inspired this gift?

When I met SOJC Dean Juan-Carlos Molleda last summer, we talked about the poor writing skills I have seen from many of the students in my business writing course. Last fall, I met with Lori Shontz, one of Writing Central’s co-founders, and several students who serve as mentors in the program. I was impressed with their enthusiasm and commitment this program that addresses many of the same poor writing skills I deal with at the community college level. These students were bright, articulate, engaging and very impressive.

I want Writing Central to succeed and hope to inspire others to contribute to the program. If I can help journalism students become better writers, then I will feel some sense of accomplishment with my contribution. I'm glad that I'm able to help.

What advice would you give to students at the SOJC?

You've got to take a serious interest in writing as early as possible. I'm talking about basic grammar and sentence structure. It may sound archaic, but that's what you have to learn to be a writer. The earlier you can get started, the better.

Eric Schucht recently graduated from the UO with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, a minor in multimedia and a certificate in film studies. This spring, he will be interning at The Inlander, an alt-weekly in Spokane, Wash., and in the summer he will hold a Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism reporting internship at The Roseburg News-Review. He has also written for The Daily Emerald, Around the O, The Cottage Grove Sentinel and The Creswell Chronicle.