In 1981 U.S. News & World Report asked prominent decision-makers to name the most influential persons in 14 different fields. Next to Paul Volker, Senator Paul Laxalt, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and Arthur Sulzberger, they listed Leonard Matthews.
Matthews began his career as a marketing analyst at Leo Burnett Inc., rising through the ranks of research, media and account service to become president and CEO of Leo Burnett North America, and later, president of Leo Burnett Worldwide. During his 28-year career at Burnett, he worked with companies such as Allstate Insurance, Green Giant Foods, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg¿s, Pillsbury and United Airlines. When Matthews joined Burnett in 1948, it was billing $12 million. When he left in 1975, it was billing $600 million.
In 1975 Matthews took a sabbatical from the ad business and was appointed assistant Secretary of Commerce by President Gerald Ford, an experience he describes as a "crash course in international trade, which compressed four years experience into one."
In 1977 he returned to advertising as president of Young & Rubicam in New York. There he managed a group of 10 subsidiary companies providing a variety of marketing services to hundreds of U.S. companies. As president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), he built and maintained relationships within the advertising industry, not only in the United States, but in all free-market countries. From 1979 to 1989, he more than doubled the size of its membership, expanded its services to members, took an activist role in government relations and increased cooperation among the AAAAs, the American Advertising Federation and the Association of National Advertisers.
Matthews has also found time to serve a number of business and civic organizations. He served as a director of the AAAAs, the Advertising Council, the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Consumer Research Institute. He also served on the boards of a Chicago-area boys club, the Chicago Educational Television Association and the Wheatridge Foundation.