On This Memorial Day: A Quick/Long Message
Mick Fleming on Friday, May 24, 2013 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)
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
Mick Fleming on Friday, December 21, 2012 at 12:00:00 am Comments (3)
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.
Onward With Gratitude
Mick Fleming on Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 10:30:00 am Comments (0)
So, there I was, hunched over my keyboard on the day following our fall Board meeting. I was making lists of new assignments we had accumulated during the two-day gathering. "Sooo much to do sooo busy yadda yadda." I was spared from the pitiful abyss when someone in the hall casually mentioned their Thanksgiving plans. Thanksgiving?!?!
I can't say that I dropped my moaning then and there, but I was at least aware that I should. After all, why should I fret over an aspirational to-do list? Don't I want one? Worries and pains in the butt? Of course, but in comparison to my old friends and members in Sandy's path, or neighbors whose kids are eating Turkey under a tent in the desert, what am I moaning about?
Only one thing for me to do: Click a favorite YouTube of an old Highwaymen concert. A young(er) Kristofferson growls: "Why Me Lord? What have I ever done, to deserve even one, of the pleasures I've known?"
Hope you notice your pleasures and blessings this Thanksgiving, including the privilege to make a difference in the lives of people and communities. If you can't be with the people who care about you, reach out to them this weekend.
Onward with gratitude.
Lest we forget
Mick Fleming on Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)
When talking to my active and retired military friends in this region, I’ve asked what the troops would ask of us as they go about their deadly serious business. The answer? “Think of us. Remember that we’re out here.”
Lest we forget, U.S. Army Captain Jesse Ozbat was the latest (as of this writing) combat fatality in Afghanistan. He was a native of Prince Georges County, Md., across the Potomac River from ACCE’s office. He died during an attack in the provincial capital of Tarin Kowt. He was 28, married, with a BS in mathematics. This was his second tour.
Once before in my holiday message, I asked you to remember a specific fallen soldier, as both an individual and a symbol. This weekend, in between parades, lawn furniture scrubbing and beer pong, I hope you’ll join me in taking just a minute to mark Captain Ozbat’s passing.
Mostly, I hope that you have a wonderful holiday weekend with the people who are closest to you. You deserve a break, so enjoy every bit of the long weekend! Onward.
Reflections on Brazil
Mick Fleming on Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)
The sights, tastes and sounds of Brazil will take a lifetime to process and digest. The visit to the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain. The small night club in a São Paulo neighborhood. The ever-present caipirinha cocktails overflowing with limes. The massive equipment on the docks serving container ships cued up across the entire horizon off Ipanema Beach in Rio. It was a lot to take in over our six days on the ground.
Two dozen chamber folks and guests accompanied me on the Brazil awareness tour. This was the fourth such trip for members in the last nine months, the others having visited Israel, Croatia, and China (with Citslinc International). Of all the trips ACCE has sponsored for members over the years, this one featured the most business meetings -- seven in all.
During the informative meetings with venture capitalists, local chamber leaders, business owners, consultants and government developers in one of the hottest economic markets in the world, a handful of themes emerged.
First, the country is blessed with enormous resources. They have huge oil and mineral reserves and are the second largest food exporter in the world. Our perception was that the largest opportunities have yet to be tapped or even discovered.
Second, the country isn't in debt. They are in an enviable position as a developing nation to not have a current or accumulated deficit. Think of the opportunities and freedom to expand!
Third, the gap between rich and poor is huge and the rapidly growing middle class is still relatively small. Historic lack of equity is a burden for the country and has contributed to extensive criminal activity -- both gang-related and white collar, including government corruption and banking "irregularities." Some of the favelas (huge organized slum settlements) are under complete control of drug lords. In an attempt to relieve the worst poverty of the group of citizens called the "E" class, the government simply provides a minimum base salary to everybody. No housing allowances or food stamps -- just cash.
Fourth, they view the opportunities to host World Cup 2014 and the 2016 Olympics as game changers for Brazil's reputation and future investment potential, but also as an immediate boom to infrastructure (and related jobs). There's only one small problem -- they aren't anywhere near ready for either global event. Necessary facilities, venues and transportation infrastructure are barely even at the drawings stage. Everyone we met, however, remains supremely confident. Baffling to visitors from a nation that can take four years just to check for endangered species on a development site!
Fifth, business support networks and civic economic development groups (chamber-like entities) are even harder to sort out in Brazil than they are in the U.S. There are chambers, business associations and industry groups of all kinds in every jurisdiction, with overlays of national chamber-like groups and Am-chams.
Sixth, the health care system is a two-tiered mess. About 75 percent of the people are relegated to the public (government supplied) provider platform, which is so overwhelmed that a seriously broken leg may take weeks to be seen or set. Inadequate public hospital hallways are jammed with prone sick and injured patients waiting endlessly for care. Meanwhile, there is a private healthcare system that anyone with a decent job pays out of pocket to access. Our briefing on this reality was a reminder that when reform advocates in the U.S. say that "most major industrialized and developing nations in the world provide government health care," they are both right and wrong.
A final note shared by all travelers on this trip, which has an impact on both doing business and touring in Brazil: The citizens of this nation live life to the fullest. Compared to any developing nation and most Industrial countries, the people of Brazil are happy. It shows on the streets, the beaches, the work sites, the rural bus stops and, surprisingly, even in the favelas. Global contentment index research confirms that they're a happy bunch, but it is evident without the numbers. I am aware that it is always unwise to judge the spirit and well-being of a nation through the eyes of a well-off tourist, or a prosperous host. But when your government is not oppressive, food is plentiful (though becoming expensive), the weather is ideal, the society is open and accepting (racially/culturally), the future holds economic hope and the basics are available (there are more cell phones than people in Brazil), the living of life is possible.
Getting Closer to Members
Mick Fleming on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:00:00 am Comments (2)
As some of you may know, ACCE’s lease is set to expire soon. The team has been very happy in Alexandria; it is a beautiful place and has been ACCE’s home for almost a century. But we’re a long way from a lot of our members. We’ve always thought, wouldn’t it be great to be closer to more of you all, geographically speaking.
Therefore, after much deliberation, ACCE has decided to relocate the headquarters office to beautiful Lebanon, Kansas – the geographic dead center of the contiguous 48 states.
Lebanon (pop. 218) is smack dab in between Salina, Kansas and Grand Island, Nebraska and less than 200 miles from Wichita and Omaha. Denver International Airport, one of the top 5 busiest in the country, is a mere 354 miles down Highway 36. Lebanon is, quite literally, the center of it all.
We considered cities with major air hubs like Atlanta, Detroit, and Los Angeles. But in any of those places we’d still be closer to one corner of the country. In Lebanon, ACCE staff will be equally close to Boston and San Francisco. Our international members will have great access too, Winnipeg and Monterrey are virtually equidistant. Everyone wins!
Since announcing the decision earlier this week, excitement around the office has been palpable. As you can imagine, staff are really excited about the move and the new vacation options it will open. Our sun lovers will be able to hit Pacific coast beaches just as quickly as those on the Atlantic. Office anglers can wet a line in either Lake Superior or the Gulf of Mexico, they are comparably close.
We hope you all will find time to stop by our new home base when we move this fall. You’ll pass us any time you go from coast to coast, so there is no excuse for not dropping in. When you arrive we’ll greet with a warm, “April Fools."
Have a great April Fools weekend everyone!
Profiles In Courage
Mick Fleming on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 12:00:00 am Comments (1)
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Degrees and Da Grease
Mick Fleming on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 12:00:00 am Comments (1)
A number of questioning media stories have appeared lately focused on higher education. Does a degree still matter? Is college worth it? Some high school kid highlighted in these stories might have an older brother or sister with a freshly minted degree and no job. The kid and the story ask why he should apply to college and his parents may be asking why they should borrow the money to send him.
I can't begin to answer all of these questions, especially those related to the relative value of degrees from specific schools. The data on the main questions, however, remains absolutely clear and compelling: People who get a post secondary degree of some kind (graduate, bachelors, associate or certificate) do better in the short term and over a lifetime than people who don't. Interestingly, it is not "some college" that makes the most difference; it is finishing. To paraphrase labor economist Tony Carnevale of Georgetown, a degree is the entrance requirement, the library card, for all of the on-the-job learning you will eventually obtain in the workplace.
Yes, there are differences in the lifetime value of certain kinds of degrees (science v. social service, etc.). Yes, there are reasonable questions about how high is too high on college costs. And yes, dramatic changes in the job market will impact the prospects for each of us at various times in our lives. But the research is overwhelming and consistent. A college degree of some kind is a major determininant of the wealth we will enjoy and produce in our lifetime.
Recent studies have concentrated on that wealth generation impact of higher education. It's not just that degreed people are prepared to take jobs in a regional economy. It now appears that just having such people around helps to make jobs. More on the economic development impacts of higher education in a future installment.
Mick Fleming on Friday, December 30, 2011 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)
From my frequent conversations with your friends and peers since Labor Day, it has seemed that most of you have been hard at work for months to ensure 2012 success. Whether through the ‘creative writing’ of modern budgeting, or through thoughtful (ruthless!) chamber program evaluation, I think all of you are well into the New Year already.
We’ve got a lot of work to do in 2012. The economy may or may not continue to recover. The election may or may not produce dramatic policy changes. Greece and the Euro may hinder your work, or not. The weather? New energy discoveries? Rival organizations? Consumer attitudes? Helpful(?) mayors and editors? Seismic disturbances? Supreme Court decisions? Whatever comes at you or your members, you’ll deal with it. Chambers always have and always will.
I am enormously grateful that you will be there for ACCE, your members and the regions of North America in the important year to come. And, I hope you’ll call on us for help when you need ideas, connections and opportunities. Onward in 2012!
What's Your Line?
Mick Fleming on Monday, October 24, 2011 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)
Reunion with Cornell University championship football team was a blast this past weekend. The stories of our prowess grow more amazing each decade. Fantastic connections to be made with old friends. An energy engineer in Alaska, Ivy League academics, a Madison Ave. ad agency CEO, politicos in DC, business leaders from Chicago, two judges, a machinist, a truck company owner, a truck driver, an oncologist, two surgeons, a dentist, a coach or two, a juvenile crime specialist and the radio announcer of the Colorado Rockies. Oh, and one fairly well-known Hollywood star who sports a Super Bowl ring.
When I attempted to answer the "what's your line?" questions of my old teammates, there were, as usual, tilted heads and quizzical looks. They pretend to understand what the president of an association of chamber people might actually do. All of those smart, wired, experienced people find it easier to understand what a mortgage-backed securities analyst (yes, we have two of those in the group) might do than what an association executive does. Finally, I found an analogy they could relate to. Since so many are lawyers, I just started answering the cocktail party questions -- "ACCE is like the American Bar Association for chamber of commerce people." "Ohhhhh, that sounds . . . interesting. Have you tried the shrimp?"