Remembering and Learning From Mike Bonifas

Michael A. Bonifas, 1993-2017

Michael A. Bonifas   1993-2017

Over the Labor Day weekend, more than 100 friends and family gathered at Powers Lake, Wisconsin to celebrate what would have been the 24th birthday of Mike Bonifas, a promising PR rock star who died suddenly last month from a tragic fall.

Mike grew up in Batavia, Illinois, but loved spending every possible free moment at his family’s summer home near ours in Southeastern Wisconsin. That’s where I met Mike some 22 years ago when he was a toddler. But it wasn’t until he went to the University of Kansas that Mike and I began discussing public relations careers. A good writer and strategic thinker with sincerely engaging personality, Mike seemed like a PR sure bet.

Upon graduation, Mike soon landed an internship at FleishmanHillard’s Chicago office. According to FleishmanHillard CEO John Saunders, “Mike showed great promise right from the start and was promoted to Assistant Account Executive within six months. Within a year, he was promoted again to Account Executive.” That’s meteoric career progression in any organization. And Maxine Winer, head of FleishmanHillard Chicago, said Mike was on track to be promoted again since he was “consistently working above his level.”

Getting senior executives at a large global agency to know a junior staffer is no easy task, unless you’re really good. So I asked Maxine Winer what made Mike such an outstanding employee. Her response provides yet another legacy by which Mike will be remembered–especially helpful insights for aspiring PR professionals wanting to succeed in this profession.

  • “Literally, within weeks of him joining us, I started hearing the buzz about how great he was, mature beyond his years and smart as a whip. He had strong character, a wonderful work ethic, a friendly disposition and the ability to put anyone at ease.
  • “Mike immersed himself in his clients business, becoming an expert on whatever industry he needed to learn. This gave him confidence, but also helped him gain the confidence of his clients. For someone so young in his career, he was impressive and articulate, and able to provide solid counsel to senior clients.
  • “Mike never shied away from a new assignment, even if it was something he had never done before. He just jumped in and figured out how to do it. It was that kind of initiative that made him so incredibly valuable to his team and his clients and the office overall.
  • “Mike also immersed himself in the culture of our office. He was on the softball team, co-chaired the Professional Development Committee and participated in every outing.”

SVP/Partner Jack Yeo, who heads the FH Corporate Practice group where Mike worked, says when Mike was assigned to a project with him, he always knew it would “be right and on time.”

“Mike was a caring, thoughtful and kind man who was always interested in others,” Jack explained in the agency’s weekly newsletter dedicated to Mike. “He was full of character and integrity. He was respectful to everyone he encountered, carried a great attitude, took challenges head on and was grounded in a quiet confidence that we all aspire to have present in our own lives. We all can (and should) emulate these qualities that Mike embodied as they can serve as a guidepost for each of us to be better people ourselves –  in and out of the office.”

Mike set a great example of what new PR pros should do when they begin their careers—work hard, support others and get involved in agency life.  He was truly a role model for all. Rest in peace, Mike.

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