Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Lake Norman – Family, Fun & the Fourth!

Lake Norman-morning pier viewThe summer is in full swing at the lake.  July is a month for family vacations, community festivals, and a chance to celebrate the freedoms that generations of Americans have paid dearly for us to enjoy.  Perhaps no month says “fun” more than July with the Big Day at the Lake, Davidson’s Concerts on the Green, and the Fourth of July celebrations that will be taking place.   My family – on my mother’s side – has always celebrated the Fourth of July with Family Reunions taking place at our church in Rock Hill.  As many as 200 family members show up for the annual celebration that has gone on for decades.  There are literally so many cousins, we have to wear name tags to identify who is who!

Recently, one of our Chamber members stopped by for a cup of coffee and to share their excitement that their business was again beginning to take off – a sure indicator to them that the economy was warming back up at the lake.     During our conversation, they shared how much the Lake Norman Chamber seemed to be a big family.  “While other Chambers I belong to certainly promote my business – this one is unique.  I feel we’re all one family,” they stated.  It’s a story I’ve heard countless times but one I can never hear enough.  We are indeed a big family – with all the highs and all the lows.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend the Eagle Scout Ceremony of

The Boss Family - U.S. Citizens

The Boss Family - U.S. Citizens

Phillipe Boss.  Phillipe is the son of Heinz and Erika Boss, owners of The Coffee Boss – themselves, an inspirational story.  Heinz joined the Chamber  when he and his wife moved to Cornelius and opened their store.  Heinz and Erika were one of the lucky few who won a chance to immigrate through a lottery from Switzerland.  Shortly after joining the Chamber, Heinz sponsored a PowerLuncheon at NorthStone Country Club and standing before his fellow Chamber members proudly proclaimed, “We are living our dream!”   I cannot even begin to share how much pride I saw on Heinz and Erika’s face as their son achieved something that less than 5% of Boy Scouts achieve – the prestigious Eagle Scout designation.  

In the same week that I attended that wonderful occasion, a very involved Chamber Ambassador stopped by my office to share some troubling news he had received from his doctor.   He pulled my staff together in my office and shared his condition.  He began like so many others I have heard, “You guys are like family to me…and I need my family right now…”   Even as I write this, tears are filling my eyes and I feel the all too familiar lump rise in my throat.  We all hugged and with steel resolve he stated he would meet this challenge with the same determination he puts into his business every day.    The good news is the early prognosis is very positive and I know he will win that race – the most important he has ever run.

Chamber Ambassadors

Chamber Ambassadors

The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce is many, many things.  For most, it’s a great way to network, build important relationships, and to improve business skills.  To others it is the voice of business at Lake Norman… and to still others, it’s a special family.  We care about our community and we care about each other.  After all, at the lake, business is a family tradition.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s All Greek to Me

Chapter PresidentMention the word “Fraternity” and visions of John Belushi’s Animal House may come to mind.  Keg parties, togas, food fights, and hazing rituals are deeply etched into the public’s mind when it comes to the Greek system on college campuses.  I would be disingenuous if I said when I pledged a fraternity in college, I was searching for leadership development.  Like most college kids of my day, I was looking for a good time.  In 1978, Animal House played across the American landscape and college campuses took to “togas” like cold beer to a frosty mug.  Indeed, my first exposure to a fraternity was a Toga Party.

As a commuting student, I lived at home.  I still remember the look on mom’s face when I appeared out of my bedroom with a white bed sheet strategically wrapped around my body.  Greenery from one of her house plants topped my head, as I sauntered down the hall, with one of dad’s neckties loosely hanging around my neck, sporting my Ray Ban sunglasses.Chairman

Ours was the first national fraternity introduced to Winthrop University.  Having been a women’s college for most of its existence, it was a real culture shock to the Board of Trustees when fraternities petitioned to join the college campus.  I joined a group of young men looking to create a fraternity on campus.  And I joined looking for that good time.  However, over the next few years, that association with my new brothers shaped my character in ways I never imagined.  I held various offices in our chapter from Treasurer to Archon (President).  I represented the chapter at college functions, ran the meetings, helped recruit new members… and yes, answered to the Dean of Students for the pranks and situations college kids do get into. I really believe the Dean’s secretary had my phone number on speed dial.  All that said, the fraternity did shape the skills I would need later in life motivating, inspiring, and leading others.

s31367342081_6770In 1996, when I was hired as the chief executive officer of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, I set about to meet our community and business leaders.  Early on, I was introduced to Gary Knox, one of the Chamber’s past chairmen, who would later be elected to office as Mayor for the Town of Cornelius.  During the first meeting with Gary, we discovered that we had both joined the same fraternity – Pi Kappa Phi.  While he graduated from a chapter at UNC – Charlotte, our experience as Pi Kapps built an instant bond between us.  Ironically, it was his chapter when he was in school that participated in the chartering and initiation of my chapter in 1980, proving what a small world it really is!

Pi Kapp Bothers - Bubba, Bill, & Mark

Pi Kapp Bothers - Bubba, Bill, & Mark

As I mentioned before, the Greek system is much more than social interaction.  Our fraternity created an outreach program that serves individuals that need a helping hand.  Members of Pi Kappa Phi have raised more than $10 million, as well as thousands of man hours to renovate facilities that serve people with disabilities. 

Fraternities and sororities take young men and women and create leaders. 

Pi Kappa Phi - Epsilon Eta Chapter 2009

Pi Kappa Phi - Epsilon Eta Chapter 2009

Tomorrow those leaders will build communities.  It’s an American system modeled on an ancient civilization.  Yesterday’s philosophy working today to build a better tomorrow.  Bound together in brotherhood   –    Leaders by Choice.

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Fraternity | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Parading Around

One of the Many Parades

One of the Many Parades

One of the professions before I decided to pursue a career in association management was that of a property manager for a Charlotte-based real estate firm.  The company managed several properties in Columbia, S.C.  Among them was the Bank of America Tower downtown.  While I enjoyed the relationships I established with our tenants, my real passion was my extra-curricular activities after hours with the Jaycees.  During the years I worked as a property manager, I was as a state officer of the South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees).  During those years I served in a volunteer capacity as a state vice president, state president, and later as a National Vice President with the United States Junior Chamber.

In 1990, while president of the South Carolina Jaycees, I was asked to participate in the Marion (SC) Christmas Parade.  Melissa and I were asked to take part in a number of parades that year and we often joked about getting the wave “down”.  The slight half cocked wave to the left and then to the right to everyone who’s lining the street.  Now, we knew the reason most local folks attended parades was to see their son or daughter in the band or for a glimpse of the last float which was typically carrying the crowd favorite – Santa Clause.  But that didn’t stop the elected officials and dignitaries from eating up their moment in the sun.

After this particular parade, we were invited by the parade organizing committee to attend a special luncheon for the parade grand marshal, elected officials, and special guests at one of the local churches in town.  Typically the town and city parades are filled with your federal and state officials as well your county and local politicians.  And one thing you can count on with politicians, they never miss a parade or a chance to glad hand a few voters.  On this occasion, the Marion folks had done themselves proud and had a strong contingent of notable politicians.   There was one in particular who symbolized the essence of southern politics.  Now deceased, this individual was without question the ranking elder statesman in our state and perhaps the country.  All of the parade dignitaries were invited to a buffet lunch which again was led by the elder statesman in the group.  We filled our plates with the abundant southern delicacies of fried chicken, deviled eggs, green beans, and potato salad.  Grabbing our sweet ice tea, we all moved down the line and then dutifully followed the Senator as he travelled down the hall and right into a closet.

Parade of States - 1992

Parade of States - 1992

We were all stacking up on each other pretty good. The Senator opened the door with confidence and we all dutifully followed right behind.  It must have been quite a scene to the Church volunteers, watching all of the elected officials turning the corner and heading into a storage closet.  We all remerged with a look of embarrassment in full view of our hosts.

The thing is, when a leader demonstrates time after time their strong leadership abilities, you begin to develop a healthy trust of their instincts.  Every time that leader makes the right decision – the decision which advances the group’s common goals – he or she will become more trusted.  Confidence and trust are earned – they are not just given.   While embarrassed at the time, we later all laughed at our situation.  It has occurred to me over the years that that single error…that wrong decision – never swayed our trust in our elder statesman.  Over the next decade he continued to lead his community, his state, and his nation.  He inspired people to follow him and in the process he developed many young people to become leaders themselves.  Leaders are always moving forward – they are always going somewhere – and real leaders will develop people who follow.

A few years later I met this leader – Senator Strom Thurmond – in his office in Washington, DC.  What amazed me, he remembered me being in that parade on that particular Saturday and then he asked if I recalled our little misadventure.  I would have never brought it up.  However, the Senator laughed at his mistake.    Senator Thurmond left a huge impression on me that afternoon.  He never lost sight of his humility and he had the courage to laugh at his mistakes.  His final act was to walk me to his office door.  Just as he had personally greeted me on my arrival, instead of having one of his many aids usher me into his spacious office.  He patted me on the back and told me how proud he was of all the young men and women who were working so hard to make our communities and nation the best it could be.

Sen. Thurmond in his office - 1993

Sen. Thurmond in his office - 1993

Before I left, he asked if he could have a staff member take a photo of us together.  Weeks later when I arrived back in my office at the U.S. Junior Chamber in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there was a package from the capital.  The package contained a small gift, the picture of the two of us, and a note stating how proud he was a South Carolina boy was serving as National President of the Jaycees.

Over the years, I ran into quite a few South Carolinians who had similar stories of Senator Thurmond.  He was a leader who knew where he was going and his people followed.  More importantly, over his many decades of service, he taught generations of young people, the essence of leadership.

June 25, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shop the Lake

Logo 1 buy localThe Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce  is using print, cable, and the Internet to promote a Buy Local campaign aimed at getting local residents to shop for their retail and service needs here in the lake region before traveling elsewhere.  The Chamber has partnered with MI Connections, a regional video services provider, along with Buy Local Directories and to create an awareness of the goods and services available in this market at a competitive price. 

The Lake Norman Chamber is a natural conduit to connect consumers and sellers in our region.   The campaign is aimed at providing our members with affordable marketing strategies, while giving the consumer the opportunity to purchase their service or retail item from a neighbor you can trust – a business who offers convenience, good service and price, and someone who is providing jobs to local residents, contributing to the local tax base and stimulating the local economy. When that happens, we all win.

Residents can go to for “hot deals” and additional savings on retail goods and services. There is also a Business to Business section which allows participating Chamber Members to enjoy further savings.  In addition, the Chamber has a cable ad campaign reaching 15,500 households, restaurants, and businesses with MI Connection which began this past January   In a partnership with the cable provider, for an investment of $1,100, Chamber members receive exposure on 39 cable networks which includes the production cost of the commercial.Logo 2 MI Connection logo

Most recently, the Chamber partnered with Buy Local Directories to offer a cooperative print ad magazine for locally owned businesses.  Buy Local Directories was formed in February and currently publishes the Buy Local Mooresville magazine in support of the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber. The “Buy Local” Lake Norman ad magazine will be published monthly and mailed to 15,000 North Mecklenburg single family homeowners and businesses. Special reduced ad rates are offered to Chamber members.

One of the benefits of this campaign is residents have the opportunity to learn more about local businesses or maybe even find a “hidden gem” located right in our region that you have never noticed before.   “Have you ever driven by a local store and wondered what it had to offer — but then never quite found the time to check it out? When you think of dining out do you forget to consider your hometown choices first?   The fact is we have some of the best retail shopping, restaurants, and business services in the Charlotte region right here in our lake community.  When you make that next purchase – “Buy Local” and support your neighbor!

June 19, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , | Leave a comment