‘Empathetic Design’ For Omniscient Marketing

Women Wanted On Corporate Boards

Look to the Bottom Line When Selling a Business

New Woman at the Helm Of NJ Science Commission

Grand Slam Service

Corrections or additions?

These articles by were prepared for the June 9, 2004 issue of U.S.

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Survival Guide

Top Of Page
‘Empathetic Design’ For Omniscient Marketing

When designing your product, think Big Brother. Don’t just sit

potential customers in focus groups or make them fill out

questionnaires. Instead watch them and watch them good. And take a lot

of notes.

A designer who closely and purposefully scrutinizes his customer’s

every move is sure to move a lot of product, says Scott S. Williams, a

former dramatist turned brand builder, now working for Starwood Hotels

& Resorts Worldwide. Williams is touting a concept he calls "empathic

design," which is behind a lot of improvements at Starwood’s

rebounding chains, including Sheraton, Westin, and W hotels.

Williams, Starwood’s chief creative officer, speaks about "Empathic

Design" at NJ CAMA’s day-long marketing expo on Thursday, June 10 at

9:15 a.m. at Sarnoff. The event, which begins at 8:15 a.m., is held in

conjunction with the Jersey Shore Public Relations and Advertising

Association. Cost: $95. Call 609-799-4900 for more information.

"Empathic design is, at its most basic, basing design on getting very

close to people," says Williams. "It’s getting inside their heads. The

resulting products are then tied to that behavior. For instance, if

you watch a customer’s behavior, you’re not listening to what they say

about the products, you’re actually observing how they react to them."

Williams, 45, spent a decade in the television marketing and

advertising industry prior to joining Starwood. He directed

advertising and marketing efforts at ESPN’s Classic Sports Network and

held various production positions at the CBS cable network Eye on

People, which was sold to Discovery Networks. Prior to TV he served as

producer and director at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company.

Williams, who has a master’s in fine arts from the American

Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and a bachelor’s in theater from

the University of Washington (Class of 1981), is married with three

children and lives in Greenwich, Connecticut.

His TV and theater background, he says, made for a seamless merger

into "experience marketing."

"I come from a television and theater background where the single most

important fact about the evening is that you want to create an

experience," he says. "That’s what we’re trying to do better than our

competitors in the hotel industry," he says. The basics of empathic

design:

Observe, observe, observe. Williams told an industry magazine last

year that he spent quite a bit of time walking around Starwood hotels

with his camcorder taping customers to learn their habits. For

retailers he strongly advises shadowing customers – staying close to

them and noting how many times they touch a product and how they touch

it.

Immerse yourself in the culture of your target audience. When

designing a car for an 18-to-30 year-old, don’t just think about their

driving habits. "Find out what music they listen to," says Williams.

Focus on emotions. "At the end of the day people don’t know why they

buy a product. It’s more psychological than anything else. It’s a

vibration; it’s an impression a product makes on them. It has so

little to do with reason," he says. Get psychologists, sociologists,

anthropologists – lots of different specialists from different

disciplines – on board to gain a better insight into your target

audience.

Make design king. "The single, biggest selling point is design now.

Manufacturers have figured that out. Designers are sitting on boards

now," says Williams. "When my wife got into her Lexus it wasn’t the

customer service," he recounts. "It wasn’t the handling, although it

helped. It was the positioning of the cup holders."

Optimally, function should be combined with form. Combining these two

with the aim of appealing to the customer’s psyche is at the heart of

empathic design.

Function is a commodity now, says Williams. "Room service was an

innovation once and the mini bar was a huge innovation," he says. "Now

that’s the cost of entry. So what makes you different? You have to

deliver a great experience for the most part. Experiences are

emotions."

Attend to the little things that have a big psychological impact.

Westin introduced curved shower rods, which not only look nice, but

also give the customer extra space to move around while bathing,

without brushing against the curtain. The hotel chain also now covers

all of its beds with white sheets. The reason? Rampant fears of other

people’s germs. "Germophobes unite around shower curtains and dirty

bedspreads. Conventional wisdom said you hide your stains in the

floral patterns of these bedspreads. We reinvented that. Whether it’s

true or not, the impression is that the room is cleaner," says

Williams.

Williams also helped get in-house programming aired on the default

channels on the TVs in the hotel rooms. This gives Starwood a huge

opportunity to spread its branding message to the vast majority of its

patrons, as some 96 percent of hotel patrons turn on the TV upon

entering a room.

Financially, Starwood is benefiting from a massive rebound in the

hospitality industry after an economic slowdown and fears of terrorism

dropped occupancy rates for several years. Starwood’s revenue per

available room jumped 11.6 percent worldwide and 9.4 percent

nationally compared to the same periods in 2003. "It’s pent-up

demand," says Williams. "Either they’ve been restricting their

personal budgets, or their corporate budgets have been restricted, and

now they’re back on the road doing business. People can communicate by

E-mail for only so long."

Potential customers are out there. It’s Williams’ job to make sure

they choose Starwood – again and again. So, like the government, he is

stepping up surveillance. What are his guests saying about the amount

of shade at the pool? The quality of steak in the restaurant? The loft

in the pillows? He intends to find out.

– Pete Mladineo

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Women Wanted On Corporate Boards

When Scottish men began playing their newly invented sport, they

placed a placard over the clubhouse doors: "Gentlemen Only: Ladies

Forbidden." And that is how "golf" got its name. Today, many women

complain that while the old G.O.L.F placard has come down from the

links, it has been firmly nailed above the mahogany doorways opening

into corporate board rooms. Citing a pitiful 13.6 percent female

representation on the boards of Fortune 500 companies, they claim that

this bastion of male chauvinism unjustly denies women this final

business advancement.

However, Donna Myers, 30-year veteran of the Gerber Life Insurance

board, approaches the problem from a different perspective. It’s a

waste of time to ask why not a woman?" Instead, counsels Myers,

prospective female board members have to ask themselves: "Do I have

the stuff that justifies board membership?" Formal qualifications,

along with intangible attributes, are discussed in the panel "Women on

Corporate Boards," on Friday, June 11, at 2:15 p.m. at the Marriott

Hotel at Glenpoint in Teaneck. Myers moderates and is joined by Lisa

Bailey, managing director of New York-based Raines International, and

by Meesha Rosa, senior associate at the executive search firm

Catalyst.

This is one of several seminars presented at the New Jersey

Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO) 2004 Conference. The

conference takes place on Thursday and Friday, June 10 and 11. For

more information, visit ww.NJAWBO.com.

"Many women have been misled by the starry-eyed conception that if

they have run the PTA, they have proper qualifications to hold a board

position," says Myers. "Believe me, they don’t." Few business people

understand as well as Myers what it takes to be chosen and to be a

true contributor in the inner sanctum.

She certainly was not born into the role. Growing up in North Dakota,

her father was a railroad man, "who was about as anti-management as

you could get," laughs Myers. As the first of her family to attend

college, she graduated from North Dakota State University with a dual

major in home economics and communications.

Using both lines of her college training, Myers worked successively

for Best Foods, a major utility, and public relations giant

Burson-Marsteller. She then found a very congenial home in Gerber

Foods, where her understanding of customers brought her to the

attention of founder Dan Gerber. Today, in addition to her board

responsibilities with Gerber Life Insurance Company, she runs her own

company, the DHM Group, which specializes in marketing hearth, patio,

and barbecue furniture.

"Being on a board has lost a lot of its glamour recently," notes

Myers. Today the corporate veil of immunity has been pierced by a

multitude of legal spears. If a company is seen as deliberately

polluting, withholding tax funds, or involved in any financial

mismanagement, its board members may personally face serious fines and

jail time. The plush chairs have become hot seats, and board members

are selected less for gender and gentility than for lifesaving skills.

"Oh, undoubtedly there is still a glass ceiling," says Myers, "but as

a new generation of women are better trained, this will definitely

give way."

The glass ceiling. "Boards are very political and very cultural," says

Myers. "Most new members are chosen by the chairman, and he is looking

for someone who fits in with his thinking." This, more than anything,

creates the good old boy network. When Gerber was looking for another

board member, the choice was Tim Smucker, already CEO and board chair

of his family’s successful jam and jelly company. He had business

training and product knowledge. "I remember at the time thinking what

a logical selection that was," says Myers.

In short, board member is not a trainee position. Firms do not tend to

experiment with untried people at this level. But you can act locally

while aspiring to the big leagues. Many area mid-size companies have

board openings, and are open to people with the right skills.

What do you bring? It is a myth that board doors only swing wide for

those toting large money bags to heft onto the company table. Myers

notes that her own appointment came about because her board was

seeking a new member with customer and marketing expertise.

However, Myers admits that her path to the top was very atypical, and

says that the odds of filling the need for a specialized skill are

long. This is so, she says, because the board room is a temple for

thinkers, as opposed to doers. Boards are impressed by employees who

have achieved a lot, but they are more likely to elect a strategic

thinker – one who asks why before asking how.

Boards also look for members with a broad knowledge of the entire

corporation. They look for a deep understanding of all functions,

including manufacturing, marketing, distribution, and investments?

While it is important to know about products and processes, it is also

important to know people. Whom can you personally call on within the

firm to fix a problem swiftly, and how impressive is the list of

outside investors you can bring to table.

Financial wizards only. This is probably the biggest stumbling block

for women seeking to enter the inner circle. Boards of trustees, most

of all, allocate money. What is your opinion on off-shore investing in

this interest rate climate? Can you analyze this new division’s

budget? It may be impressive to have engineered the better mouse trap

that is making the firm millions, but unless you are as able an

investor as you are an inventor, you probably will (and should) remain

where you are.

"The problem for women of this generation," says Myers, "is that very

few businesswomen have gained full financial training as part of their

education." Today many boards are actually giving financial

examinations to prospective members, just to make sure they have the

ability to be a contributor. The Peter principle is no longer

acceptable, and seats on the board are seldom handed out as rewards.

Showwomanship. Gaining a seat on the board is not a job for which you

apply. You will not find "Board Members Wanted" in the classifieds.

Instead, you must promote yourself throughout your corporation and the

entire business community. Joining professional organizations,

becoming an officer, giving speeches, and writing for journals are all

part of the plan for those who aspire to the inner circle. The goal is

to gain a reputation as a resource. When people start saying "ask

Barbara, she knows all the right people" or "she has great expertise

in that area," Barbara is well on her way.

There are no short cuts to the board. Myers cites the NJ300 and

Boardroom Bound as companies that claim to guide women into corporate

board membership, but "when I ask them about their actual success

rates, they are always very elusive and vague," she says.

– Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Look to the Bottom Line When Selling a Business

Running a business or selling a business, just like managing life,

involves compromise. "You can’t have it all, and it’s rare that you’re

going to get everything that you think you deserve," says Betty Jagoda

Murphy, president of ReGenesis LLC.

Murphy, who lives in Cedar Grove, learned the ins and outs of selling

a business by stumbling through it first hand, and she shares her

experience on this topic at the New Jersey Association of Women

Business Owners 2004 Annual Conference on June 10 and June 11. See the

article above for full details on the event.

The title of Murphy’s workshop is "Winning the Gold: Cashing Out

Strategies for Your Business Plan."

Murphy, a Virginia native, never expected to own a business. She grew

up in Virginia, where her mother’s Ladino singing career influenced

her early ambitions. Ladino is the language the Jews spoke in Spain at

the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Murphy learned it from her

mother, and still performs with her brother and sister. Her early

experiences on the stage contributed to her decision to major in dance

at Adelphi University and to go on to earn a post-graduate

certification in Dance Therapy from New York Medical College.

While Murphy inherited a love of the arts – and of communication –

from her mother, she inherited business genes from her father, a

building contractor, who is still on the job at 90. Hired by product

development company Lehn & Fink Products (later acquired by Reckitt &

Coleman), she soon teamed up with Jim Smith, a colleague, in founding

Creative Products Resource (CPR) some 25 years ago. The company

subsequently produced Jet Dry and Carpet Fresh. CPR’s major product

was Custom Cleaner, the first product to dry clean clothes in a home

dryer.

At the time that Murphy’s company was growing, she didn’t think about

selling, but she now urges others to insert a plan for selling their

companies when they draw up the first draft of their business plans.

Considerations include:

Delegation. A company must be productive to be salable, and that means

rounding out the company with employees who can do what you cannot. It

is hard to give up control of the baby you grew from a spark of an

idea, but Murphy forced herself to do so by adding marketing and

financial personnel to her staff.

Support. Growing a company to the stage where it will be attractive to

buyers involves a huge time commitment. Women often face the struggle

and guilt of balancing career and family, but must be realistic.

Murphy was encouraged unconditionally by her husband, Greg, who

reassured her that her products were great and that she would succeed.

He even supported her in the days when CPR employees were paid but she

didn’t take a salary. The couple, realizing the demands the business

put on Murphy’s time and energy, decided to have only one child,

Capital. Murphy’s company raised $11 million over four years in a time

when dot.com companies were all the rage. Because she and her partner

raised money in stages – $2 million here, $4 million there – they

could only afford to grow it in stages, region by region. She urges

other entrepreneurs, where possible, to raise all of the cash they

will need early on, so that they can see their business plan to the

end. The need for more cash was the catalyst that led to the sale of

Murphy’s company.

At the point that she was faced with raising another $11 million to

advertise nationally, Paine Webber approached CPR with client

companies looking to buy. She didn’t want to sell, but she recognized

that Proctor & Gamble’s Dryel product would hit the market soon, and

that her company didn’t have the finances to fight the expected

advertising blitz, and make its own home dry cleaning product

competitive. The decision was to sell.

The end game. The selling itself turned into a second full-time job of

meetings and paperwork. Murphy recalls customizing each presentation

because one company wanted to know the backgrounds of managers, while

another was more interested in the marketing research or sales data.

Once a buyer is interested, the negotiations begin. "You have to think

like they are thinking," Murphy says. What is this specific company

looking for? What are they asking for?

Through it all, there is an air of excitement. How best do you

describe your sales efforts to fit the culture of the buyer? Is a

company interested in the product or the potential of the product?

What’s the best way to sell yourself? Selling a business must be

win-win for you and the buyer. Some deals look good for future

financial gain, while some are good for the moment, with less chance

of future financial gain.

Murphy’s advice? "It sounds so crass, but take the deal that’s best

for your company now because you have no control over the product or

how it will be marketed once you’re sold." In the end, CPR was sold in

1999 to Dial/Henkel LLC, a global joint venture.

– D.W. Hirsch

Top Of Page
New Woman at the Helm Of NJ Science Commission

You could call Sherrie Preische the "new broom" at the New Jersey

Commission on Science and Technology, and you could say she is

sweeping it clean, because she did replace all but one staff member

when she landed the top job.

Domestic metaphors, nevertheless, are not very appropriate for a woman

with her PhD in astrophysics. More apt are nautical metaphors that

show how the new executive director of the NJCST has set sail on a new

course. Preische is using a variety of skills – scientific, personal,

and political – to throw lifelines to the high tech industries in New

Jersey and help them link to the research institutions and government

agencies.

With her science background and her passion for affecting public

policy, Preische intends to see how science can make New Jersey and

the world a better place. "Our mission is to promote the ties and the

links between the research universities and technology companies, to

bring ideas from university labs to the market and make sure that

these ideas are commercialized in New Jersey," she says.

"I’m optimistic about Sherrie," says Dick Woodbridge, of Synnestvedt,

Lechner, & Woodbridge at 112 Nassau Street. A patent attorney, he is

helping to promote the technology corridor called Einstein’s Alley.

"She’s smart, she worked in [Congressman Rush] Holt’s office so she

has political skills and contacts and she was the Governor’s

Scientific Advisor – so she should know the ins and outs of the

administration," says Woodbridge.

Preische will speak at the Einstein’s Alley Breakfast Series on

Friday, June 11, at 7:30 a.m. at the Sarnoff Corporation auditorium at

201 Washington Road. Limited free reservations are available by faxing

name, address, company affiliation, E-mail, and phone number to the

Princeton Chamber at 609-924-5776, or reserve online at

www.princetonchamber.org/events.

The granddaughter of a physics teacher, Preische (pronounced pry-sha)

majored in physics at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg,

Virginia, and in 1995 she earned her PhD in plasma physics in the

astrophysical science department of Princeton University. Her thesis

title: Radially Localized Measurements of Superthermal Electrons Using

Oblique ECE. She did her research at the Princeton Plasma Physics

Laboratory, where she met Rush Holt, who was assistant director of the

lab at that time.

Once Holt was elected, she served on his staff, supporting his efforts

on science and research. She was also his New Jersey district

director. In 2001-’02 she went through the Leadership New Jersey

program for emerging leaders. Most recently Preische was a science and

technology policy advisor in Governor James E. McGreevey’s Office of

Management & Operations.

"I had spent several years back in New Jersey, and I wanted to get

back into science policy," she says. "I had worked with the research

universities from the Rush Holt perspective, and I wanted to be doing

the science policy more specifically."

"I could see that the governor had a real interest in science policy,

since he was talking about the life sciences industry and had

commissioned the Porter study," says Preische, speaking of the Harvard

study on how to take advantage of the state’s technology. "Even before

he took office, he had talked about the innovation between industry,

research, and government, and about links that could really help our

high tech industry. The governor understood that the New Jersey

economy is very much based on our technology industries. That is what

motivated him to talk about the restructuring the universities."

Restructuring the universities was a McGreevey idea that did not

succeed, perhaps because too many sacred cows were roaming the

campuses, and he gave it up gracefully. Preische, who worked hard on

that plan, does not admit total defeat. "The discussion over the

higher education reorganization plan really created a lot of new

connections," she has observed. "People who didn’t even know about

each other previously started talking, and the positive results of

that are clearly evident." She believes that the same goal –

cooperation between institutions – can be accomplished without the

hard feelings that the original plan prompted.

Preische replaced John Tesoriero, who had resigned last year. She

picked two staff members that she knew through her work with

Congressman Holt: Joshua Trojak, who majored in political science and

history at Rutgers, and Michelle Ruess, communications director, who

majored in journalism at the University of Missouri/Columbia.

Preische’s second-in-command is another woman scientist, Michel M.

Bitritto, associate director for business relations. Bitritto majored

in chemistry and math at Rutgers/Douglass, has a master’s degree in

chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of New York, and a PhD from the

University of Connecticut, and she went to the Stanford University

Executive Institute for Women and Leadership. Bitritto worked at

Celanese and Hoechst, where she pioneered in creating an engineering

plastics recycling business, and at a plastics company, Ticona, she

developed a lead tracking protocol and marketing database.

Preische needs to do more than bail out a weakened commission that had

nearly expired from lack of funding. She needs to reconstitute it.

It was early in McGreevey’s term when, in the throes of deep budget

cuts, he made noises about shutting the commission down and cutting

the money available for technology grants and loans.

Technology organizations lobbied the legislature, which responded by

restoring the commission’s funding. The much lauded Springboard Grants

have also been restored. Although they are reviewed by the

commission’s scientists, the fiduciary responsibilities for these

grants have been turned over to the NJEDA.

What is there left for the NJCST to do? Preische wants to concentrate

on the areas designated by the Porter report as vital to the state’s

health: life sciences, nano electronics and advanced materials, and

telecommunication and information technology. Some of her choices:

Supporting incubators. The incubators survived the first budget cuts.

Now most of the commission’s $8 million budget goes to support the

number incubators for high tech businesses, including the ones in

Trenton, Mount Laurel, and Newark.

Improving communication, which she labels now as being "informal and

haphazard," so that "everyone knows what is going on."

Establishing innovation zones. The governor’s soon-to-be unveiled

"innovation zones" are designated areas surrounding research

universities in Newark, New Brunswick, and Camden. These zones will

have special business incentives and programs to encourage

collaboration between private industry and research universities.

Encouraging federal grants. The governor has made a point of saying

that the amount of money that New Jersey gets from the National

Institutes of Health is grievously low. "For an economy that is so

life sciences based as we are in New Jersey – to be 24th in the

country in bringing in money from the NIH, that is pretty far down the

list," Preische says. "The NIH gives out research grants for good

research, especially medical/life sciences research. That’s what they

do. Having a greater quantity of that type of research will bring in

more federal dollars."

Supporting new centers, such as the $50 million stem cell institute, a

blend of university-based research and biotech companies that could

develop new therapies and new technologies. To be located in New

Brunswick, it will be operated by Rutgers University and the

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and $6.5 million

has been proposed in the state budget for its construction.

The institute will be able to recruit top scientists, she believes,

because "what we have that other states don’t have is a law that

allows all kinds of stem cell research to be done here," she says.

"And we have the heart of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology

industry." Another potential center could be one for bioinformatics.

These ideas for centers came from the attempt to restructure the

university systems.

"Our next steps are to review all the programs that the commission had

in place," says Preische. "There was a review of the effectiveness of

the commission a year and a half ago. We are going back to do our own

internal review, to see how the programs have been able to help the

technology business community, in order to figure out how we can be

more effective."

Preische does not promise to announce any new programs at the June 11

meeting. She will say only that "the commission is taking a different

tack."

– Barbara Fox

Top Of Page
Grand Slam Service

When your kid yells "Take me out to the ball game!" he is expecting a

lot more than two teams in live action. He is envisioning the entire

legendary mystique of the stadium experience. For the past decade, the

Trenton Thunder and its 300-person support staff have seen to it that

their guests achieve that full experience – and more.

The AA minor league Thunder, farm team for the New York Yankees, is

now a major part of the central New Jersey entertainment culture. The

Thunder’s general manager, Rick Brenner, outlines the delicate process

of turning residents into home team fanatics in "Big League Customer

Service," a Princeton Chamber event taking place on Wednesday, June

16, at 7:30 a.m. at the Nassau Club in Princeton. Cost: $25. Call

609-924-1776 or visit www.PrincetonChamber.org. This Business Council

Breakfast is designed to present a host of customer service ideas

applicable to all sizes and types of business.

In the minor leagues, the general manager is part COO and part limited

monarch, answerable only to the owners. It is his spirit, even more

than the score board, that is the barometer for his staff.

Brenner, who fills that role with enthusiasm, was raised in

Pennington, and graduated from the Hun School before enrolling in the

Norwich Military Academy in Montpelier, Vermont. "I always loved

baseball," he recalls, "and what was fun about Norwich was that it was

the right size. I could play both soccer and baseball without

competing against those bound for professional careers." Majoring in

physical education at New Hampshire’s Plymouth State College, Brenner

went straight to the Thunder as intern in l994. Five years later, his

abilities and innovative ideas set him in the general manager’s seat,

where he has remained for the past five years.

"We are sports entertainers," Brenner explains. "We simply do not have

the luxury to dismiss customer service as a costly frill." The stadium

does not generate fans. And interestingly, neither does the

scoreboard. "In extreme cases of winning or losing streaks, a team

might see attendance change, but that’s not what makes the gate," says

Brenner.

Brenner says that his business needs to be a heavy hitter on three

counts: entertainment, convenience, and affordability. The evening has

to be fun. Fun on the field must be stimulated by mascot antics, a

host of games, contests, and announcements that touch kids and adults

alike.

Convenience is a demanding taskmaster. The Thunder frequently brings

in time-motion study experts to improve auto and foot traffic flow.

The organization is always on the look-out to improve placement of

vendors and facilities. Making a Thunder game a family-affordable

evening that can be repeated often, as opposed to a pricey, occasional

treat, entails constant juggling. The 6,000 fans that keep filling the

stadium are proof that Brenner and his crew have gotten it right.

Brenner laughingly refers to himself as a graduate of Disney

University. But he sees the Disney philosophy as no joke. The "Keys to

Excellence" seminar offered by Disney Corporation presents a proven

system of delivering a superior customer experience and outlines

attitudes that lead to improvement. "A few of their ideas were frankly

bad," Brenner says of the seminar, "but many of them were fabulous and

we have adopted them."

The Thunder’s goal is to exceed the expectations of its guests. For

general manager Brenner, it is a process that begins with the job

candidates, before any work is done.

Hiring right. Brenner is the first to admit that not everybody is

right for the Trenton Thunder. Whether tucked away in accounting,

cavorting on the field as the mascot, or helping out in the stands –

as 40 college interns do each year – everyone has to be gregarious,

friendly, and upbeat. Everyone on the staff is a public person.

"We have a standard of excellence and state to our people that they

are here to give the customers a better experience. If an employee

does not naturally embrace this goal, we suggest he seek a career

elsewhere," says Brenner. Embracing this core goal has led to clear

direction for the organization – and has improved employee loyalty.

Keeping in touch. Every game night, each employee sets aside a few

minutes to chat with one individual or family. He finds out where they

are from, what they liked about the evening, and how they think the

experience might be improved. The employee then thanks them for their

time. The results of each encounter are written down and reported at

the next staff meeting.

Fans who are not singled out for a one-on-one informal survey can

still convey any praise – or complaints. Brenner’s E-mail address

appears on the score board in foot-high, lighted letters frequently

throughout each game. All fans are invited to write him with their

comments.

Fielding suggestions. It has been said that the only truly stupid

suggestion is the one not made. Brenner says that managers must be

constantly drawing in ideas from their staff, but he adds that

managers must realize that these ideas do not come through just one

channel. "Some people want to make their suggestions quietly, even

anonymously," he observes. "Others want a public forum where their

idea can receive credit and praise." For that reason, he places idea

boxes all around the stadium for those staffers who do not want to

stand up publicly during the portion of each weekly meeting during

which ideas are solicited.

The team also runs mid-season and end-of-season focus groups to reel

in suggestions from those who sit in the stands.

Appreciating the athletes. When it comes to getting all the fans

rooting for the home team, the minor leagues have a real advantage. Up

close and personal, right in your own home town, you can watch

professionals play masterful baseball, and at the same time you can

root for your players’ careers. "Boy, did you see that hit!" fans can

exclaim. "This guy is going straight up to the Yankees. You just

watch."

Over the past 10 years Brenner estimates that more than 100 players

have made it to the majors. And when a former Thunder finally steps up

to a major league plate, you can bet that all central Jersey fans are

cheering for "their boy."

"They are all superlative athletes," says Brenner. All of these

players possess an exceptional athletic gift. Since childhood they

have been training and building that gift and honing themselves into

competitive machines. "What makes the difference here – what we see on

our field," says Brenner, "is the victory of mental toughness."

On the right day, any of these athletes could slam two home runs out

of a major league park. But the true star quality emerges when they

are asked to play in 142 games in 148 days. In addition to the

schedule, the sport itself is an emotional grind. Eighty percent of

the plays in baseball are failures. Even the top hitters, batting

.300, are failing 7 out of 10 times. "The one who will make it," says

Brenner, "is the one who can say 0-for-4 was yesterday. Today is

mine.’"

– Bart Jackson


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