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Making the Right Choice

§ December 23rd, 2010 § Filed under communication § Tagged , , , , , , § No Comments

A friend of mine called today on her way home from the grocery store. She was headed to put up her purchases when she realized that the checker had not charged her for most of her items. She had a dozen items, but the checker only charged her for six. She asked me “What should I do?”

My first response was “Do you want me to channel my mother?” She said, “I know. My mother, too. She once went back to a store to return a penny.”

I remember being with my mother when she returned some change. I also remember being with my mother when she was given $10 extra in change (a huge sum in the 1960s). With my friend’s mother and mine, the size of the error did not matter. If someone’s cash drawer was going to be short, it was worth it to make the trip back to the store and correct the mistake.

I warned my friend that the cashier might not be happy to see her, since my friend would be pointing out the cashier’s mistake. I know that when I have returned money that I mistakenly received, occasionally the recipient has looked at me as if I had grown a second head. There have been occasions when I have not heard a thank you.

But I don’t return the money because I expect gratitude. I do it because if the roles were reversed, I would hope someone would return to help me. I don’t know if the checkout clerk at my local grocery store will be expected to make up the money or not, but I know if I were in his or her shoes, it would drive me crazy wondering what happened.

In my friend’s case, the inventory would be short, so there would not be any way to track down who made the mistake. But we both knew the correct route to take. A return trip to the store was required.

My friend called a little later to let me know what happened. When she returned to the store, the clerk was grateful and confused, unsure how she could have made that mistake. My friend was in and out quickly, but it took enough time that she did not have the chance to go home before her next appointment. As she left the store, she saw a fire engine and an ambulance headed back in the direction of her house. When she did manage to get back home, she saw a wrecked car on the street leading to her place.

Would my friend have been in the middle of this wreck if she had headed home and not returned to the store? Who knows? The important thing is that she did what was right. The choices we make have repercussions, whether in avoiding an accident or simply in being an example to others.  For my friend and me, we’ll continue to follow the examples our mothers set for us.

Growing Small Business

§ December 10th, 2010 § Filed under small business § Tagged , , , , § No Comments

For the past ten years I have had the opportunity to serve on the Bexar County Small, Minority, & Women-Owned Business Enterprise (SMWBE) Program Advisory Committee. This committee makes recommendations to Commissioners Court on issues that affect contracting and purchasing practices within the County. The focus is on finding ways to create a level playing field for small business and those businesses that are run by minorities, women, and Veterans.

Shortly before I joined, the committee had recommended and the Commissioners had agreed to hire Renee Watson as the Manager of the SMWBE Program. To those of us in the small business community (and San Antonio is primarily a small business community), Renee has been the smartest decision our County Commissioners have ever made. I’m sure there are people all over the country in government or private enterprise who understand contracting and participation of small, minority, women, and Veteran businesses, but I would hold Renee up against anyone in the nation for her knowledge. She has guided us in helping to oversee a race-neutral program since Bexar County has no set-asides or points awarded for participation by particular groups. Our committee has consistently requested that any organization that uses County funds open the purchasing process to small business. That includes County departments and organizations such as University Hospital that are funded by taxpayer dollars. That also includes companies that get large contracts from the County. Beyond that, Renee advises any company that comes to the area in how opening up their purchasing to locally-owned business will help save them money and give them positive publicity and support in the area the company serves.

There have been a number of successes that have grown out of the County’s SMWBE office including a very successful mentor-protégé program for construction companies. The AT&T Center and the J.W. Marriott have posted record percentages of purchases from small, minority, women and veteran businesses in the San Antonio area, partially due to the involvement of Renee and the committee.

One of the most helpful programs has been the Contracting Conference that is held in December each year. We just completed our tenth event. This year’s event featured 170 exhibitors, nearly all purchasing managers who were there to let small businesses know that they want to buy goods and services. The event provides the over 4000 small business owners who attend a chance to talk one-on-one to purchasers from every government agency and a number of private firms. There are workshops and briefings and the entire event is free to the attendees.

The volunteer force at this event has grown to approximately 150 people who donate two or more hours to help register and check in the attendees, provide directions and answer questions, and relieve the exhibitors when needed. There are four of us who have volunteered since the first years of this event who help guide the rest. We all believe strongly in the importance of opening up opportunities to small business.

Small businesses are indeed the engine that fuels this country, and nowhere more than in the San Antonio area. When small businesses grow, they tend to stay in the area. The owners of small businesses are from here. Their families are here. They have a commitment to the area. When businesses such as the J.W. Marriott purchase goods and services from local business, those businesses build capacity and hire more people from the area.

This week, I talked to a number of small business owners who made contacts that will likely turn into contracts. I am honored to be a part of this effort and very thankful to Commissioners Court, Renee Watson, and her team for making this possible.

Communication and Conversation

§ December 3rd, 2010 § Filed under communication § Tagged , , , , , , , , § 2 Comments

It is not what we learn in conversation that enriches us. It is the elation that comes of swift contact with tingling currents of thought. – Agnes Repplier

We have so many ways to communicate these days. In one week, I was able to see video of a friend pulling out of the train station in San Antonio within seconds and photos from a friend’s trip while he was overseas.  Our ability to transmit our thoughts to large numbers of people at one time is immediate. But is it communication?

Communication really has four components – sender, message, receiver, feedback. Without the last two elements, you might as well be that proverbial tree in the forest that falls when there is no one there to hear it. You could argue that you are making a sound, but without a receiver, and without feedback, you are not communicating.

How long has it been since you sat with a group of people and really communicated? I was blessed to spend Thanksgiving in such circumstances and it reminded me of how rare those occasions are. No one was texting or answering phone calls. Everyone was paying attention to and participating in the discussion around the table. The discussion was lively, and although there were differing viewpoints, the conversation stayed agreeable. It was a joy and made the meal even more delightful.

This holiday season, find some time to put the phone down. Pay attention to your coworkers, your friends, and your family. Enjoy each other’s company. Actively listen when someone is talking to you. Stay engaged in the real life of personal interaction.

Then share on Facebook or Tweet what happened. <grin>

Happy Holidays!