Personal Touch Matters When You Mean Business

Posted on Jul 1, 2009 :: Editor
Margaret LeBrun
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Not long after his return from Cairo and then Paris, sandwiched between meetings on matters in Pakistan and Iran, the most powerful individual in the world today carved time in his schedule to come to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Why? Because he knows the power of the personal connection.

President Barack Obama is on a mission to change the American system of health insurance. I won’t use this space as a soapbox for taking sides on health care. But as I reviewed the articles in this issue I found commonality in style among successful leaders who have experienced uphill battles. It is this: They believe that people matter.

Everything moves so fast these days, with technology and social media, with e-commerce and online banking. In business we rely on numbers to guide us: in our balance sheets and in our marketing strategies. We can forget the power of the personal touch.

I attempted to obtain a press pass to see Obama at the town hall meeting he held at Southwest High School in Green Bay June 11. Via e-mail from a White House press operative, I received clearance to be at the airport when Air Force One landed and a cell phone number for “Jess,” the point person for the press clearance. Did I call? No. I relied on the technology of the electronic communication and sure enough, found myself whisked through security checkpoints at Austin Straubel the morning of the president’s visit.

What happened next would prove my point about the human touch. But first, let me share examples of how personal interaction has made a difference in a much bigger way for a couple of regional businesses.

In this month’s cover story, Festival Foods CEO Mark Skogen talks about what he learned from his grandparents and his parents, who set the tone that sets Festival apart from its competitors. The family-owned company has made inroads into Northeast Wisconsin, he says, by maintaining its edge in customer service, training their “associates” to value their “guests.” Skogen chooses to put people first.

In this month’s “Face Time” feature, Bob Atwell says “the depersonalization of commerce” is what drove him and Mike Daniels to start Nicolet National Bank in Green Bay in 2000. “Banking is personal,” he says. He believes the lost art of the personal touch is what led the financial industry off the proverbial cliff.

Here I must interject that each of their stories has not a lick of anything to do with who is currently in the White House. But it is obvious that Obama’s visit to Green Bay was signature of his style for the personal touch. Whether he will be successful in his quest for action on health care remains to be seen, but his approach is clearly people-oriented. He is meeting personally with health insurance and medical industry leaders, with doctors, with Congressmen and Senators on both sides of the aisle … and with citizens in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Back to my story of Obama’s visit. Soon after I was through the gate, I walked with Jess and Rep. Steve Kagen to the media platform. I asked how I would get to the town hall meeting, where a pass to get in the door was waiting for me.

“Oh, you’re not leaving here,” Jess said, explaining the tight security. “Not a chance.” I turned to Steve and made one more plea. “Not a chance,” he echoed with a grin for emphasis.

Thus, my reliance on technology (the e-mail clearance) and failure to pick up the phone in advance, left me on the platform with TV cameramen there for the “B” roll. I scored a great photo of the president walking down the stairs of Air Force One.

And, thanks to some old-fashioned technology, I did get to witness the town hall meeting … on my car radio.

Margaret LeBrun

About Margaret LeBrun

Co-Publisher, Executive Editor View all posts by Margaret LeBrun →