Put me in Coach

USC Coach Steve Spurrier with Bill Russell

The word “coach” means different things to different people.  To the athlete, it is the person who pushes them to perform at their very best.  The coach motivates and inspires the athlete to operate at peak performance, often in the framework of a team, but on occasion, in an individual effort.  These special advisors are no different than the business coach who works with individuals to discover untapped talents, to achieve goals and objectives, once thought unobtainable without their counsel. 

People at the top of their game, the best in their profession, still need a coach.  Some might be surprised that the greatest golfer in our lifetime, Tiger Woods, still has a coach that pushes him to be the very best. No one reaches the top on their own – often you need a successful network and perhaps many different mentors and coaches for you to be the very best you can be.

Bill Walton

Recently, I was in Washington, D.C. attending a legislative conference with the U.S. Chamber and meeting with our federal delegation.  Past Lake Norman Chamber Chairman John Hettwer and I saw a poster that indicated that former NBA player Bill Walton was speaking on Technology and Innovation, and we decided to attend.  Walton met John and I at the door and the event organizer took note of the name tag I was wearing when he said, “It’s not every day we have Bill Walton and Bill Russell in the same room.”  I’ve become accustomed to the kidding I get bearing that famous name.  I often retort back, “I’m sure the former Boston Celtic ‘Bill Russell’ gets his fair share of being mixed up with the nationally renowned chamber executive.”  Well, perhaps not, but if the NBA Russell is a legend, I’m at least a legend in my own mind.

Walton had some great advice that he shared with us that afternoon. Much of it was lessons taught by his mentor and UCLA Bruin coach, the legendary John Wooden. Walton reminded each of us, “It’s the skill, timing and position not the size and strength that counts.”  He also shared, “it’s not how high you jump – but when” and perhaps one of his better gems “never mistake activity for achievement.”  

Coach Ray Parlier with incoming S.C. State Jaycee President Bill Russell

As I listened to the words of Bill Walton, I could not help but think of the mentors that have served me so well over my career.  I am fortunate to have had a business coach, a political coach, and a spiritual coach.  However, one that perhaps made the most impact on the field I have chosen is Coach Ray Parlier.  Ray was the Athletic Director of Furman University and a Past State President of the South Carolina Jaycees.  Parlier was a former football trainer that rose through the ranks to become a driving force in Furman’s national championship run in the late 1980’s.

“Coach” would have me placing little sticky notes on the refrigerator and the bedroom and bathroom mirrors with goals he expected us to obtain – and obtain them we did.  Those reminders, which I once thought unobtainable, became my focus.  Ray was my first coach who pushed me past self-imposed barriers to reach my potential.  Perhaps his greatest advice in leading a non-profit, whether a chamber of commerce or a civic organization, was simply to “love your people.”  Before you can lead them, you have to show them that you care.

Political Advisor Charlie Madsen

My life has been full of mentors – Charlie, Chip, Ray, Joni, Dad and the list goes on and on. I can think of no greater reward for anyone than having made a difference in someone else’s life… helping them chip away the stone to unveil the beautiful statue within. Bill Walton closed that afternoon with a line that Wooden impressed on the young men that he led to their countless national championships, “Make each day your masterpiece.”  The Lake Norman region is our canvas, painted each day by the countless numbers who call this community home. Painted not by a single artist but all those whose dreams are bigger than their visions, and their actions – which are louder than their words.


My Great Day at the Lake

Bill Russell, CCE

One of my mentors, Gene Martin, was noted for a charge he would give aspiring young business leaders, when he encouraged us to – “Do what we love, love what we do, and deliver more than you promise.”  Those few words have become a philosophy that I try to put into place daily and I have often used the same message when I meet with young business and community leaders.     This year marks my 19th year in the association management field.  Essentially, I have the unique opportunity to perform in a job that allows me to work with business and community leaders as we make our region stronger and our communities better than we found them.

I have always enjoyed civic service, advocating on behalf of people and businesses, and speaking to groups about how they can bring about positive change for our community and nation.  No, I take that back – I love it!   Perhaps no day better illustrates that than Friday August 27th.  It began like any other day as we convened a program of our Focus Friday and a very informative session on Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities from their executive director Barry Gullett.  Barry was joined by Jim Duke who led a Mayor’s Task Force on the water rate challenges we were experiencing earlier this year in Mecklenburg County.

Duke did an outstanding job of demonstrating what local citizens can do when they organize together in a constructive manner bringing about changes in CMUD’s operations.     The program adjourned and I went straight into a meeting of our Pubic Policy Committee where Hilary Broadway of Allen Tate Realty and I outlined the Chamber’s advocacy positions we would take to Washington, DC a few weeks later.

Ada Jenkins Check Presentation

Then it was off to a meeting of the Regional Roads Committee, an organization of 17 other regional Chambers of Commerce, as we heard presentations from CATS to Gene Conti, our N.C. Secretary of Transportation.    I hurried back up to the lake for a check presentation from the Ingersoll Rand Foundation to the Ada Jenkins Center for $60,000.  The community outreach center offers 19 programs and services including the free medical clinic, food pantry, school tutoring, and much more.

Leaving there, I rushed off for a ribbon cutting and a grand opening of a new Huntersville business – the Comfort Suites – before heading back up to the Chamber for a meeting of the Lake Norman Kiwanis Aktion Club.     Aktion is a club for young people over the age of 18 with special needs.  I am fortunate to be their club advisor and help facilitate their meetings as the young people get together once a month to socialize and conduct projects.

This particular meeting we enjoyed pizza together provided by Brooklyn South, a great Chamber member, as we wrote letters to the men and women serving overseas in our military.     Perhaps few days go by that each of us do not lament about the economy or how things are just not going our way.  However, each month I have the opportunity to witness one of God’s miracles as a young person, who has every reason in the world to complain, reminds us life is so precious.

Aktion Club of Lake Norman

There is no discussion of shortcomings or disability, just the bright smiles of these kids and their laughter when they get together.  I listened as they read the words from their cards and showed us their own particular handiwork.  Their crayons filled with love, compassion, and innocence.     As I drove home that night, thinking of those kids as they poured their hearts out in words and colors on their greeting cards, I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  I couldn’t help but believe that the hour I spent with them that evening was God’s gift back to me.

It’s the reason I do what I do and just another great day at the lake!