Chamber Secrets

February 6, 2004
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“This isn’t your father’s — or mother’s — chamber anymore.”

So said Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce President JeanneEnglehart, the group’s first-ever female leader, upon opening the 116th annual meeting of the chamber.

And with a slick video presentation, spiffy new meeting space in $212 million DeVos Place, neon-red boas draped around Englehart and 2003 board chairperson CindyHavard, and a show-stealing entrance on a great big motorcycle by 2004 board chairman BobRoth, who’s to argue? (Roth cracked, “I’d like to apologize to my father, who’s in the audience today. I’m not endorsing riding without a helmet.”)

While Englehart, Havard and Roth took care of business news, and even drew smattered applause when Roth said he wanted to get the chamber’s finances in order to “avoid a trend of annual dues increases,” the star of the show was a homespun, bespectacled entrepreneur who had a wonderful message for the business crowd.

GaryHoover wasn’t the best public speaker the chamber ever hosted. He didn’t require audience members to get up and hug one another. He isn’t even the sitting governor of Michigan.

But he’s a man on a mission, which is to help business people be the best they can be, at whatever they choose to do.

So you want to be an entrepreneur? Here’s Hoover’s recipe, and there’s nothing secret about it.

First, develop a sense of curiosity. Hoover was subscribing to finance magazines by the time he entered the seventh grade. Why? Because his hometown of Anderson, Ind., had a big GM plant and he wanted to learn more about it.

Second, get a sense of history. In the 1950s, Ford developed the Thunderbird and Chevrolet answered with the Corvette. During that decade, the T-Bird outsold the Vette in a ratio between 3-1 and 7-1 every year. Today, the Vette is a coveted high-performance vehicle, just like it was then, and the T-Bird is no more. Why? Because Ford lost its high-performance focus and tried to make the T-Bird something it wasn’t. The Vette still is what it was.

Third, hone a sense of geography. The world is changing, and Hoover estimates that within the next 30 to 40 years, all remaining American companies will be doing business with or in China. Get used to it. Plus, this country’s Latin American population is exploding and the Asian population isn’t far behind. That will influence everything from technology to music.

Next, develop a vision that’s clear, consistent, serving and unique.

And finally, bring passion to whatever you do. “You’ve got to love what you do,” Hoover said.

Does the 52-year-old Texan know of whence he speaks? Well, he did found Hoover’s Online, one of the most trusted Internet business information sites out there.

He also researched for seven years before settling on the “bookstore superstore” concept and founding his own huge bookstore patterned after the success of Toys “R” Us. He was somewhat successful in his own right, selling the bookstore superstore after just four years later to an outfit called Barnes & Noble. For $41.5 million.

  • Bank One had recently begun the process of revamping and reconfiguring the interiors of all 1,800 branches in its 14-state footprint, an initiative that was to start rolling out in West Michigan in the second and third quarters of this year.

The plan included look-alike business casual wear for all employees and extended hours at some branches.

A model of the company’s new retail configuration was unveiled last month with the opening of a new branch at Knapp Street and East Beltline Avenue.

Bank One spokeswoman MaryKayBean said to her knowledge there are no plans to alter or halt the initiative in light of the proposed merger with J.P. Morgan Chase.

In Michigan there is no overlap between Morgan Chase and Bank One branches, she said. The only state where the two banks’ branches overlap is in Texas.

“So in Texas I would suspect that they’ll take another look at that, but in Michigan I would say that if it made sense to better serve customers yesterday, it still makes sense today.”

Morgan Chase has the largest private bank in the country, Bean said, and that will add a lot more options for high net worth clients.

“There is also some equity work that Bank One is unable to do that Morgan Chase is able to do, so that’s going to bring some more options for commercial customers, as well.”

Though it has been estimated as many as 10,000 jobs could be lost in the consolidation, Bean said the merger likely won’t bring about a lot of change in West Michigan.

“The change is going to be more in the back office areas and corporate areas where there will be duplication.

“But the names and the faces of the bankers our customers in West Michigan are dealing with today will be the same ones they’ll be dealing with throughout this interim period and after the merger. That’s not going to change.

“It’s going to be business as usual,” she added.

  • Change NAFTA?

Count Michigan Gov. JenniferGranholm in on that one.

In a roundtable discussion with media while visiting Muskegon recently, the governor said she favors re-opening the decade-old North American Free Trade Agreement that’s getting a good share of the blame for the deep losses in U.S. manufacturing jobs — like the Electrolux decision to close its plant in Greenville, eliminating 2,700 jobs, and move production to Mexico.

That announcement last month has been followed up by word the auto supplier Federal Mogul may also close up shop in Greenville and head south of the border.

“NAFTA has given us some examples of why the current situation is no good. NAFTA caused Electrolux to leave Greenville, so we can take a look at the lessons from NAFTA and amend it, don’t end it,” Granholm said.    

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