Black Wednesday

November 20, 2011
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The Kent County GOP annual Lincoln Day dinner (hey, it’s whenever they say it is) fundraiser last week had the star power of former president George Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been on a national book tour promoting her most recent tome, “No Higher Honor.”

It is indeed a book to read on an iPad or Kindle, or as Comedy Central’s John Stewart opined during his interview with Rice: “I thought there was a book inside this book,” he said as he feathered the more than 800 pages for his audience.

During a one-on-one interview with the Business Journal at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, where Rice had just signed condolence books for former President Gerald R. and first lady Betty Ford, she commented that although she never knew Ford, she believes “he served his country during a most difficult period in our times. I think of him as a president of greatness,” she said, adding quickly, “But Mrs. Ford, too. You know my mother had breast cancer. Betty Ford demystified the disease; it was a tremendous gift …”

Consenting to the fact that too few women are represented on corporate boards or serve as corporate directors, Rice almost immediately broadened that characteristic to an issue of diversity among American corporations. If she had one piece of advice for young millennials, she said it would first be to determine what you love to do “and work very, very hard at it.”

Rice spoke at length about the importance of mentoring, especially as the U.S. deals with its “No. 1 national security issue”: education excellence. She also advised young people, “Find your mentor; your mentor doesn’t have to look like you.” Rice has often talked of the several mentors she linked with at various stages of her career, and in her new book she speaks most specifically about U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in that role.

The Lincoln Day dinner was paid for by a donation from Dick and Betsy DeVos, who were not able to change travel plans to attend, although former U.S. Ambassador to Italy (under President George Herbert Walker Bush) Peter Secchia did manage a return trip to Grand Rapids in time to escort Rice.

The Business Journal asked a 25-year-old what questions he might bring to Rice, to which he replied in John Stewart fashion: “Can she help the NBA negotiate?” Sports-minded Rice laughed and said she wished she could and lamented the situation, hoping teams would play soon. And, we asked: “If the U.S. (can keep accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay,) why can’t the U.S. keep Lindsay Lohan in jail?”

OK, we didn’t really ask that one.

Zoo adieu

Kent County Commission Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish bid adieu to an important and productive member of county management last week by proclaiming last Thursday Bert Vescolani Day. “During his tenure, attendance has grown and revenue has doubled,” said Parrish of the departing director of the John Ball Zoo. Under Vescolani’s leadership, Parrish said the zoo received its largest grant in the facility’s history.

Vescolani is headed to St Louis where he will manage the St. Louis Science Center. “I was very honored to serve the citizens of Kent County and you,” he told commissioners last week. “Don’t forget about the zoo; its future is bright.”

The county won’t be the only organization that will miss Vescolani. Experience Grand Rapids will, too. Experience GR President Doug Small said he hoped Vescolani would be his board’s next chairman. “We were going to take it to the next level with him,” said Small.

Vescolani starts his new job Dec. 5 and finds out what his new budget will be two days later.

Trend setting

The Michigan Business and Professional Association’s annual membership survey overwhelmingly indicates that changes in working with employees topped the list of actions they have taken within the past year that have positively impacted their businesses.

“Our annual ‘best practices’ survey is a way for us to get a handle on the most recent trends and to spread good ideas among our membership,” said MBPA CEO Jennifer Kluge. “This year’s survey has proved, once again, that business owners across the state view their workers not just as cost centers but also as valuable assets, a significant finding in light of our recent economic challenges.”

HR and technology topped the list of factors employers deemed important. Some of the insights into employee relations included removing barriers to work-life balance such as: not tracking hours or sick days; adding motivational activities such as recognition, incentives and surprise “treats”; and cross-training employees to avoid hiring additional staff.

On the tech side, employers reported: expanding the use of mobile applications and interactive sessions to better connect workers and projects; increased use of social media applications for marketing; and leveraging the latest electronic tools to centralize data, store documents, process work flow and provide maintenance, thereby saving costs.

Small Saturday

With the holiday shopping frenzy set to start on Black Friday, (or is it Black Wednesday at 3 p.m. now?), Saturday has been designated as Small Business Saturday across the country.

The motive behind the event is to convince shoppers to buy at least one gift from a local, independent business to fuel the local economy. It doesn’t matter whether the gift is clothing or a new kitchen faucet, as long as it comes from a small business. “When we all shop small, it’s huge” is the day’s motto.

Now business owners who have been ordering merchandise, stocking the shelves, doing the books, sweeping the floors and making the coffee might not have had enough time to prepare for the day. If that’s the case, they can go to smallbusinesssaturday.com and get useful tips on how to promote a business, create an irresistible offer and hustle up some customers.

Hopefully, at least some owners will find a line of shoppers camped outside their stores when they open Saturday morning. Happy selling!

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