This holiday season, "Take It Easy"
I used to say that the biggest fictions in "Chamberworld" were a staffer’s job description and a CEO’s calendar, but here’s an even bigger myth: a chamber professional’s holiday.
I know you’re probably taking some days off at this time of year, BUT you event planners and communicators will keep on worrying about deadlines. Chamber public affairs pros will scan state news websites and bosses will worry about everything, including 100 problems facing your members, the economy and the mayor.
BUT, in the immortal words of Glenn Frey and his neighbor Jackson Browne: “Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy.” Your set of wheels is the drive to deliver, know, anticipate, assist, sell, please, build, articulate and show up. They hum and occasionally thump under you, even when you’re standing on a corner in Winslow, or next to an electrified tree resting in a bowl of water on your living room floor.
Just for a couple of days, "Take It Easy." I don’t want you crazy in 2017! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah! Onward to an exciting New Year!
Close Finish for Orlando’s WCF Bid
Orlando, Inc. (Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce) put together a powerful bid to host the 2019 World Chambers Congress, but in the end, voters from around the world gave a slight edge to Rio de Janeiro. Executive Director Jim Thomas, who crafted and presented the bid on behalf of the Orlando, Inc., the Central Florida Partnership and Visit Orlando expressed both pride in the team’s work and disappointment. Mick Fleming, who serves as vice chairman of World Chambers Federation was also saddened by the news, in part because the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives planned to combine its annual convention with the World Chamber Congress, producing the largest chamber gathering in the history of the world. In the end, issues like U.S. visa access provided a slim measure of victory for Brazil.
The World Chambers Federation Congress in 2017 will be in Sydney, Australia in September. ACCE will provide registration “scholarships” (rebates) for the first ten North American chambers that enroll in the Sydney Congress. Two different airlines have agreed to reduce fares 40 percent.
How can I not love this job!?
In late November, I had the pleasure of visiting three very different communities: Greenville, S.C.; Carmel, Ind.; and Madrid, Spain.
The first features a stunningly beautiful downtown in a region that has attracted major international manufacturers. The second embodies the best of suburban/exurban living, with prosperous neighborhoods, vibrant retail, abundant high quality health care and vibrant small employers. And Madrid is a major world capital struggling successfully to recover from a deep, long recession.
In these places, I met with chamber board members determined to drive their organizations and regions to new heights, largely through bolstering private business success. The Greenville Chamber is a mature, well-resourced operation, led by a new CEO—a proven professional with the skills and wisdom to kick things up several notches. OneZone—in Hamilton County, Ind.—is a recently merged entity serving multiple communities, with daring volunteer and staff leaders. Everyone involved is determined to plan the future they want, rather than stumbling forward on hopes alone. And the Madrid and Spanish chambers are navigating the transition from a government funded, public-law chamber into a privately funded, service focused advocacy organization.
If we can help these organizations—and we do; if we can learn lessons from them to share with others—and we can; if we can be inspired by their energy—and we are, ACCE and the chamber movement will be vibrant for years to come.
Remembering Those Who Said: "I'll go."
This particular holiday always gets me.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Memorial Day involved memories of nearly forgotten wars of prior generations. In 1866, those who envisioned the first “Decoration Day” in Waterloo, N.Y., (not far from my college campus) thought they would never experience war like the one they had just survived. But the War Between the States wasn’t even over before the wars of westward expansion flared on the prairies, soon followed by fights with Mexico, Spain, Germany and so forth. Today, our longest war (not counting the Cold one) is still not concluded in Afghanistan and the list of hot spots keeps growing.
In fact, last fall, President Obama and his generals admitted that we are simply “at war,” perhaps in perpetuity. “We’re not going to see an end to this in our lifetime,” retired Air Force general Charles F. Wald told the Washington Post soon after a similar public statement from the White House.
So how does this new reality, a continuous state of war against non-traditional stateless enemies, impact a holiday set aside to commemorate soldiers who died in service to their country? In truth, it makes Memorial Day more pertinent; it is a real-time concern. Yes, we remember with awe the bomber crews of my father’s squadron who died 70 years ago. We must also take stock, however, of those who were lost last week, and we are aware that others will fall victim to IEDs, rockets, embassy raids and equipment failure next week. Sadly, in 2015, Memorial Day does not require acute memory power.
So, please celebrate this weekend by watching the little leaguers march (meander aimlessly) in the annual parade, or by shopping for sales at the tire store. The people who are in harms’ way tell me they want us to enjoy every American pastime and picnic. But I hope we will also pause for just a second or two to “decorate” the memories of those who said: “I’ll go.”
Labor Day 2014 Greeting
“Summer? What summer?” That is the refrain I hear too often this time of year. Others of you will feel summer’s heat for another month or more. It is therefore unwise to remind people of the unofficial end to the season. Instead, I will wish you a very enjoyable football, back-to-school, leaf peeping, sweater golf, MLB “second” season. REALLY – have a good Fall!
Labor Day also marks the beginning of a new ACCE year – new officers, new strategic plan, new name, new brand and new marching orders from the board.
Hope you’ve heard about Chris Mead’s book, The Magicians of Main Street. This history of the chamber movement is getting rave reviews, especially from the hundreds of people at the convention who had copies personally signed (some had time to read half of the 350 pages while waiting for Chris to greet their friends ahead of them in line!). Visit http://magiciansofmainstreet.com for previews. Then help Chris out (it’s his, not ACCE’s, publication) by ordering a few hundred. Or maybe just 5 (for you, your chair, news editor, local library and office copy).
It was in the summer of 1976. I was a young teacher in a prep school in New York and was four days into a 30-day school tour of the United States--14 high school kids in two Ford passenger vans. Another teacher and I had organized the 8,000-mile road trip as a Bicentennial experience for our relatively well to do students. One traveler’s father was a famous New York banker who arranged to get us onstage during the 4th of July show at the Grand Ole Opry. I didn’t like Merle Haggard or Minnie Pearl and most of the kids considered it cruel torture (“we could have been at Opryland!”), but none of us will ever forget that afternoon sitting in church pews in clear view of the huge audience, slightly behind the performers. Well, one kid may forget it because he fell asleep during an especially long Roy Clark ballad. I’m pretty sure it was about a horse and a woman, or maybe a pickup. A hundred other adventures ensued over the following weeks: rain the first 12 days in a row, red ant attack in Iran, Texas, sleeping on the red rock formations under the stars in Moab, sending the kids off to explore the French Quarter on their own, Hollywood, Sedona, 50 yard line in Nebraska stadium, White River Junction, an everything store that sold guns, baby furniture, alcohol, prescription drugs and authentic tacos in the attached café. A month and many adventures later, we got home safely from this crazy trip. As my fellow chaperone put it: “It was great! Nobody was hurt, sick or pregnant.” P.S. 5 years later, the banker mentioned above helped get me my first job in chamber work.
“Let the Pros Do It."
My best 4th of July holidays were as an adult, not as a kid. When our kids were young, my attorney brother bought a 20-acre gentleman's farm. Driving 400 miles home for Independence Day included a mass sleepover for 20 or so folks in his great country house on Snake Run Road in East Otto, N.Y. (no kidding). Each year, after a day spent splashing in the muddy pond, and hiding in the corn field, a do-it-yourself fireworks show was the holiday climax, followed by a big campfire. It was right out of a Norman Rockwell painting . . . most of the time.
One year, the brother-in-law assigned to purchase contraband explosives (in New York state) was ripped off at the pop-up fireworks stand in Virginia. Those were some OLD roman candles! At least half were duds, which were disposed of in the boxes they had come in. Later in the evening, as the last song faded by the dying fire, my always-efficient sister cleaned up the yard, throwing papers and other trash into the barely glowing embers, which was the way we dealt with farm garbage in prehistoric times.
A few minutes later, our tranquil evening resembled a scene from Apocalypse Now. Violent explosions erupted in and above the fire, sending tracers and flames between the screaming, crawling family members. I spotted my two kids in perfect boot camp position on bellies and elbows. Nana had flung her walker and shuffled away from the duds coming to life with remarkable agility for 92. My eldest nephew shouted without a trace of irony: “Mom, I’ve been hit!”
Of course I can tell the story now with such relish because we all escaped without permanent scarring. Psychological damage to young’uns appears to have been temporary, though I still wonder about one niece. And the lesson (I always need a lesson) for chamber folks from this story from the Fleming family annals? Let the pros do it.
The work you do requires skill and wisdom. You can’t trust just any volunteer to spend the money carefully, handle the project properly, put on a good show and wrap things up without a hitch. You’re the pro. At least supervise to avoid explosive situations for those around your campfire.
Mick's Thanksgiving Message
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” A.A. Milne
Reading to a grandchild provides wonderful insights. Like Winnie the Pooh’s fluff-stuffed friend, I’m surprised that my inadequate heart can hold the gratitude I feel for members, directors, allies, dedicated staff, long-suffering family and dear friends. Thank you. No, really! Thank you.
Am also grateful to George, a friend serving in Afghanistan, or maybe Iraq or Kuwait (never sure from week to week), for the personal reminder of those who won’t be with families on Thursday.
My little heart also has room for a few dreams. I pray that one of these Thanksgivings, I will express my gratitude to courageous leaders who somehow restored civil discourse and compromise to American politics. All of us may need to pitch in a bit on that one. Oh bother!
On This Memorial Day: A Quick/Long Message
Is it proper to wish someone a ‘Happy’ Memorial Day? I’m always a little confused about that, but I do hope everyone has a wonderful long weekend. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we relocate. Actually, next week we move to new HQ across town. If phone service interruptions occur during the move (not anticipated), please dial temporary ACCE backup line: 202-596-1081.
IF YOU HAVE AN EXTRA MINUTE VERSION:
When it comes to a day devoted to visiting both cemeteries and barbeques, my feelings get muddled. Am I supposed to be popping a cold one on the back deck with friends, watching Pork Chop Hill on AMC, boosting the local retail economy, or posting genuinely sincere patriotic feelings on Facebook? Do I visit Arlington?
And what about this week’s tragedies affecting our members in Shawnee, Moore and suburban OKC? The stoic and optimistic survivor stories make my heart soar like a hawk (old movie reference), even as my eyes leak a bit when stories of those who lost a baby or a dad appear on screen. It is a comfort to know that the best problem solvers on the planet are on the job in OKC region. (Watch for imminent message re. Oklahoma business recovery from ACCE Chairman Roy Williams!).
In spite of my perennially confusing Memorial Day feelings, I’ll stay positive. My Oklahoma friends will figure things out. No doubt. We will each find our personal ways to remember those who have fought and died protecting us, but we won’t let that remembrance dampen the joys of life in America 2013. No doubt. And, we can each remember that there is a time for working hard and time to shut it down for a long weekend. No doubt.
ACCE Alleviates Pain From ABC Demise
It was impossible to address the declaration of bankruptcy by one of ACCE’s travel sponsors, ABC Destinations, without encountering problems and friction for members and hundreds of travelers. When ACCE senior staff received the news from the company’s president in early October of the impending financial meltdown at ABC, they took deliberate steps to alert members and craft workable options for the 18 chambers that had reservations pending for more than 600 travelers.
The stakes were high, with $2+ million in payments made by travelers and chambers in jeopardy. One chamber alone had nearly 100 paid reservations at roughly $2,500 per ticket. It wasn’t just the money; many travelers had made plans with friends and families to extend their travels, based on the “core” itineraries of the ABC trips. Some of the departure dates for ABC’s fall schedule were less than three weeks after the company’s demise. The avenues to pursue were limited, given that the entire ABC staff had been terminated. Phones and computers were “locked” on advice of legal counsel.
ACCE’s Senior Vice President Chris Mead went to work immediately, serving as a one-man information clearinghouse for affected organizations. He arranged conference calls, sought answers from legal counsel and consulted with travel experts. He tirelessly sought ways to ease the pain for chambers that were first exposed to ABC through ACCE marketing channels. He tried to find alternatives to massive cancellations, traveler outrage and financial liability for chambers. The most important lifeline he grasped during this period was extended by former ABC employee Carl Monticelli. Despite losing his job, Carl wanted to help the chambers that he had introduced to ABC. He was answering chambers’ questions on his cell phone from home, without any expectation of compensation for his efforts.
Through Carl’s behind-the-scenes efforts, Chris was introduced to the Sakkara Group, an Egyptian-based travel conglomerate that had recently entered the North American market through acquisition. As chambers attempted to communicate worst-case scenarios and faint rays of hope to hundreds of hundreds of travelers, Chris Mead and Carl Monticelli brought the principals from Sakkara and Central Holidays (US subsidiary) to the ACCE offices. They hashed out a go-forward solution that ensured viable options for all 18 chambers and almost every traveler.
Central Holidays/Sakkara agreed to run every trip as close to identical to the originally booked tours – on the same timelines – as those originally booked through ABC Destinations. There would be almost no additional costs for either the chambers or the travelers. They didn’t have to do any of this. They were not connected to ABC and certainly had no responsibility or financial obligation. Central Holidays wants to establish itself as a group travel company that is committed to the chamber community. Through their exceptionally generous support and skill they demonstrated during the post-ABC crisis, they’ve done just that.
Were the solutions perfect for all parties? Given the timing and scale of the challenges, no plan could have been. Even given problems with re-booking hundreds of flights, lining up new guides and securing accommodations in Italy, Israel and other countries, the dreaded no-trip/no-refund outcome was avoided for almost every traveler. The chambers involved worked hard and successfully to make necessary adjustments in order to keep their travelers on the promised trips.
ACCE thanks Central Holidays/Sakkara for its wonderful work and hefty investment on behalf of our members. Virtually all of the revised arrangements were made under intense calendar and communications pressure. Many of the arrangements were carried out and adapted as the firm’s headquarters building in New Jersey was swamped by Sandy. Carl Monticelli’s personal commitment was unprecedented. ACCE is proud to welcome Central Holidays/Sakkara as a Corporate Sponsor and preferred provider of the Association.
This experience provided a powerful reminder to Fleming’s first rule of business: We can’t always control what happens, but we can control how we deal with what happens.