Community and Communication: How to Improve Your Management Skills.
By Mark Hamister ~ CEO of The Hamister Group, Inc.
Thursday, 27th July 2006
I strongly believe in giving back to the community that gave me the opportunity to be successful which is why I began my involvement in community service activities shortly after starting my first company. 

I was aware that such service would improve our corporate image and build customer loyalty, but I had not yet realized how much my community work would contribute to my own personal and professional growth.  Just as John Dewey describes in the quotation above, I found that my own attitudes and skills changed through the experiences and challenges presented to me by community service.

In the early 1980's I participated in saving the Shea's Buffalo Theater, now an official Buffalo Landmark and National Historic Place, from bankruptcy and demolition.  This 4-story, 3,200-seat theatre had been built in 1926 as a movie palace.  It has walls of Italian marble, Czech crystal chandeliers, furnishings from Chicago's Marshall Field, and an interior design done by Tiffany studios. The stars who had performed there included George Burns and Gracie Allen, the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Bing Crosby.  The demolition of this grand building would have been a great loss to the Buffalo community. 

Along with James Varden, then CFO of M&T Bank, I led a management team called the Shea's-O'Connell Preservation Guild, which raised enough money to perform extensive renovations and make the building safe again.  Varden and I reorganized the operation, adopted traditional business practices, and turned it into a successful enterprise capable of hosting broadway musicals and major national acts.  Through my experience volunteering for Shea's Buffalo, I gained a deep appreciation of Buffalo's history and landmarks.  I have always loved my city, but fighting to save such a special part of its inheritance gave me a new understanding of what it means to be part of my community.  As a manager I sharpened my solution-finding skills and further improved my ability to work with different constituencies.

One of the most challenging experiences I have had was (and still is) my 15-year participation in the Board of Directors of Independent Health, a non-profit health insurer with approximately $1 billion in annual revenues.  Independent Health operates in a complex business sector and is an organization which requires its directors to engage consistently at a high level.  By serving on this board I learned a great deal about strategic planning and thinking.  The intensity of the challenges it provides have made me a better and more thoughtful leader.

Kay Dekker, our Regional Director of Operations for Health Care and Compliance, says that her volunteer work has helped her learn how to be a confident public speaker. Kay became a Rotarian after winning a Rotary Club scholarship. She was asked to speak in front of various groups (including Rotary Club members, groups of high school students, and the Optimist Club) regarding her education, career, and community involvement. A shy person by nature, Kay stepped up to the challenge and found herself becoming more comfortable and self-assured at each engagement. She is now very much at ease when speaking to larger groups within our company.

Participating in community boards also helps managers develop solid relationships with their peers.  As Chairman of The Buffalo Niagara Partnership (the Buffalo/Niagara regional Chamber of Commerce) from 2001 to 2003, I had the privilege of working with some very talented CEO's on a variety of issues important to the community.  This committed group of area business leaders, led by CEO Andrew Rudnick, has a proud and effective history of dealing with the challenging issues of our community.  Serving as volunteer Chair for two years on The Buffalo Niagara Parntership represented the pinnacle of my experiences in community service.

Due to our firm belief in community service and our commitment to helping managers grow, The Hamister Group, Inc. encourages all of its managers to serve on at least one non-profit board.  We advise them to choose something that they are passionate about, whether it be the performing arts, Boy Scouts, park preservation, aiding the disadvantaged, or any number of activities.  We let them take time out from their busy days to attend meetings and usually give donations to the organization in which our managers participate, letting them know that what is important to them is important to the company.  These activities help our managers learn different approaches to issues we have in our own company.  The community benefits from their volunteer work and our managers become more effective.

I believe that all companies should practice corporate philanthropy in a selective and passionate way.  We give our staff the opportunity to help us decide where to donate.   At The Hamister Group, Inc., we choose to give to organizations that have special meaning to us.  We recently lost family members to cancer, including my brother Bill and our Senior Vice-President, Lisa, and so donating to Roswell Park Cancer Research is something that we all feel strongly about.  Another group that our staff likes to support is the Alzheimer's Association.  Since providing care to the elderly is one of our main businesses, this debilitating disease has affected many of our friends and families.  Our support of these associations and many others motivates our staff and helps them to believe in what they do.

Community service gives us all a sense of pride and makes us better managers and communicators.  Through such activities we open ourselves to new points of view and ways in which to solve common problems.  Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote that the "first duty of a human being is to assume the right functional relationship to society—more briefly, to find your real job, and do it."  So find what you are passionate about as individuals and what kind of community service has meaning for you as a company.  Then go out and do it.  Non-profit organizations cannot afford to pay for executive talent, but everyone's quality of life is enhanced when they are able to obtain it through corporate volunteers. Our communities will be better and more vibrant places to live in if we all buckle down and lend a hand.

Mark Hamister is the CEO of The Hamister Group, Inc. and The Hamister Hospitality Group, LLC, a rapidly growing hotel management company. The Hamister Group is actively seeking hotel acquisitions and management contracts in the United States. For more details, please see our web sites: www.hamisterhospitality.com and www.hamistergroup.com . Please feel free to send comments or questions to Mark at: chairman@hamistergroup.com.

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