“It’s a lazy way to make sense of the world”
Times Writers Group: Unusual tactics can work Public service important to business owners
Time Writers Group
Ordinarily, one does not call a truck driver a “softie.” Joyce Brenny is no ordinary truck driver. In fact, she owns the company, Brenny Transportation.
Brenny was among a group of area business people honored May 3 by the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce. Also honored were Jim Christensen of Array Services Group, and Mike Meyer and Pat Huesers of PAM’s Auto.
Throughout the program, I began to wonder what it takes to build a successful business. Are there common elements? I don’t mean the obvious traits like initiative, drive and persistence – although these matter.
What grabbed my attention was how unlike the business stereotype these individuals were. They talked about standards of excellence in the work place, and they focused mainly on core values, including customer service and community service.
As Brenny explained, “Our purpose is to serve others, and profits are our reward.” She considers trucking as a “vehicle” to provide community service.
Brenny’s management style is unorthodox. She began her career as a truck driver. She is a strong advocate for women in the trucking industry and for professionalism among truck drivers. She credits the success of her growing company to an emphasis on developing leaders through team building, or as she put it, “soft skills.” To those who sniff with disdain at soft skills, Brenny has a ready answer: “Soft skills make a profit.”
Her leadership is gaining notice. She serves as chairwoman of the Minnesota Trucking Association, and she was recognized this year by the Women in Trucking Association with the 2012 Influential Woman in Trucking award.
Like Brenny, Meyer and Huesers brought an unorthodox approach to the junkyard business model. The usual junkyard operates on a no-warranty, no-service basis. Meyer and Huesers say customer service is the key to their successful salvage business. Another key is their love for what they do.
Friends since high school, the two formed an informal partnership in 1991, when they repaired and sold a Honda Civic. From their modest profit, they have grown a business that has 60 employees. The unusual business name reflects a quirky personality. PAM is an acronym for Pat and Mike. They chose it, Meyer explained, because it sounded better than MAP, and because it was female friendly.
Christensen learned the importance of community involvement early in his career, when he served on a committee involved with the original construction of the St. Cloud Civic Center. From that experience, he said he learned “how things got done.” He also learned to give back.
Christensen recognizes that a thriving business community needs a thriving community. As his business has grown, so has his philanthropy. His business operates a corporate citizenship program that supports a variety of community programs with volunteer time and donations.
In closing remarks, Chamber President Teresa Bohnen relayed a comment she once heard from a visiting executive. She had asked the visitor to name the greatest strength of the St. Cloud-area business community. The greatest strength, he said, is the innovation and vision of our business executives.
As I listened to the stories of the business honorees, I started thinking about — as Christensen put it — how things get done. The qualities that helped these award winners build their successful businesses are the same qualities that build strong communities: a commitment to excellence, community service, and even a little quirkiness. Soft skills, innovation and vision also are vital.
Stereotyping others did not make my list. It’s easy to stereotype people based on shared characteristics. It’s a lazy way to make sense of the world.
In this election year, political parties will use stereotypes to define their opponents and divide voters. We see it now in the way wealthy people, union members and women are stereotyped. Maybe that explains why it is so hard to get things done politically.
Call me a softie, but I favor the examples set by these business leaders. They are a better reflection of our community — and more able to get things done.
This is the opinion of Glenda Burgeson, a writer and editor at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University. Her column is published the second Friday of the month.