He begins: “There are two ways to run a public library in a small town: the traditional way, or the Maxine Bleiweis way.”
After praising the director for being “a vibrant tool for bringing out the best in others,” he cites her for not knowing the definition of “can’t.” Her library, he says, can be “noisy, boisterous, provocative, outrageous (and) entertaining.”
Kasanoff adds that Bleiweis’ best talent may be bringing out talents in other people. He cites these traits that we all should emulate:
Boldness: If it will benefit the library, Maxine will ask anyone to do anything. She enlists CTOs of Fortune 50 companies, top journalists, famous authors, and a huge corps of enthusiastic volunteers. Just as importantly, she always has a bold idea and a few “asks” ready; if she spots you in the library, the odds are 100 to 1 that she’ll tell you about her latest projects and how you can help.
Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis has often enlisted the help of David Pogue. The Westport-based tech guru-writer-video star happily obliges.
Warmth: The Westport Library is partially funded by the town, and also depends on donations from its supporters. There’s never enough money, especially now that the library is embarking on a capital campaign to reshape the building to be much more of a gathering, social and performance space. Leaders in such an environment don’t get to bark orders. Maxine leads with warmth, charm and enthusiasm. She understands that her role is to be uplifting and aspirational.
Imagination: What if we turned the middle of the library into a Makerspace? Could we teach kids to program computers by buying two Aldebaran robots for them to program? Maxine discovered the answers to both these questions was “yes.”
The Westport Library’s Makerspace has a prominent position in the Great Hall.
Maxine taught an entire town not to be limited by outdated conceptions of what you or your organization is supposed to be doing. She showed an entire generation that you are limited only by your own imagination, creativity and willingness to whatever it takes to bring your dream to life.
Most importantly, she showed us what happens when people with diverse talents, abilities and interests work together to uplift a community. The answer, of course, is that magic happens.
Bruce Kasanoff is a Westport-based ghostwriter and former Planning & Zoning commissioner who works with entrepreneurs. He is also — most importantly for this story — a Metro-North rider.
Well, he rides when the trains are running. Which is not as often as he — or the rest of us — would like.
Yesterday, Forbes.com published his opinion piece: “Fix This Bridge, Or Connecticut Dies.” Bruce began:
I’m a big fan of bringing out the best in others, but even an optimist like me knows that when people act like they have rocks in their heads, to make progress you might have to bang some heads together.
Commuters who live in Connecticut and work in New York City are all in favor of banging some heads together. Most depend on the Metro-North train system to bring them in and out of the city. Over the past two years, service has gone from pretty good to consistently horrible – and it’s about to get worse.
Bruce described the issues, like fatal accidents that led (via additional safety requirements) to longer train rides and the stuck-twice-in-8-days South Norwalk bridge. He continued:
Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy was outraged by the latest failure, which I know because his office immediately issued a press release that said, “Let me be clear, this is outrageous.”
The problem is, Metro-North doesn’t own the bridge. Connecticut does.
The infamous South Norwalk bridge. (Photo courtesy of Forbes.com)
The governor blames Metro-North. The train system blames Connecticut. Connecticut blames the federal government. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
By the way, the repair tag for that bridge is somewhere around $465 million, according to ConnDOT, but my guess is someone just made that number up.
Meanwhile, hedge fund executives ride that train. Asset managers, too. The people who fund half the world, ride that train. If no one can figure out how to keep the infrastructure working between here and New York City, how good a job do you think we are doing keeping bridges and trains and highways safe in Nebraska and Florida and Arizona… and where you live?
Here’s a hint: walk, it’s safer.
The truth is, we stopped paying for our infrastructure decades ago, in favor of a higher standard of living. Now our infrastructure is falling apart, and it’s going to cost a bloody fortune to replace it. Get used to it. Our standard of living is going to go down a bit, and we are all going to have to tighten our belts.
Until someone has the courage to admit this, the world will continue to crumble at our feet.
Personally, I don’t care whether we pay for new infrastructure via taxes or tolls. It doesn’t matter to me whether private industry or government solves the problem. But if it becomes impossible to get from the Connecticut suburbs to Manhattan in less than two hours, the value of every property in southwestern Connecticut will plummet by 50% or more. Add up the cost of that decline, and it will dwarf $400 million.
By the way, I’m almost certain that you have similar problems wherever you live. The blame-the-other-guy virus has spread around the world.
Bruce is not impressed with Metro-North’s responses. But he is not letting anyone else off the hook either. He concludes:
It’s time for actual leadership – not just bluster and empty words – from everyone: state and federal politicians, business leaders, private companies, even commuters. If we can’t keep the trains running on time, then we might as well abandon all pretenses of living in a modern civilization.
To read Bruce’s entire piece, click on Forbes.com.)
When Hurricane Sandy struck, no one in Westport was immune. CEOs, hedge fund managers, Masters and Mistresses of the Universe — all suffered the same flooding, wind damage and power outages as the rest of the East Coast.
What happens when someone whose professional life revolves around instant and constant connection to technology — and international finance — gets cut off?
David Wismer found out — and shared his thoughts with the world. Or, at least the part of the world that reads Forbes.com, which he writes for. And has power.
He’s also a contributor to StateoftheMarkets.com, and runs a subscription trading service. Most importantly for this piece — and “06880” readers — he lives in the Charcoal Hill neighborhood.
Here’s David’s story, posted yesterday on Forbes.com:
Dinner by candlelight. “Military showers.” Searching high and low for an internet connection. Navigating every shortcut and back road we can find.
Such is life currently in Westport, CT.
And all are minor inconveniences versus the death and destruction brought by Hurricane Sandy to the East Coast. (Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who lost friends, family, their homes and perhaps their livelihood to this most destructive of storms).
My last post was on Monday afternoon, when the storm was just starting to accelerate in the coastal area of Fairfield County, CT. The winds were still in the relatively “benign” neighborhood of 25-35 mph, with gusts up to 45, when we had a 90-100 foot tall Eastern white pine come crashing down in our front yard, narrowly missing the house. Neighbors were not as fortunate, as a huge old oak took out their garage and thankfully just a small part of their house.
The smashed garage around the corner from David Wismer’s house. Underneath was a 1960 Mercedes. (Photo by Kathie Bennewitz)
Although we do truly believe first responders, the local police, firefighters and various State of CT officials have worked non-stop on rescue, recovery and restoration efforts, it is just a bit frustrating regarding the restoring of power and the blockage by trees still of some major thoroughfares.
According to Connecticut Light and Power, as of 9:30 am this morning 55% of Westport customers were still without power, which is at least some significant progress….
A few blocks away from us on Easton Road, not more than a few hundred yards from a satellite firehouse, the road is still one lane only where a tree hangs precariously over the road and is tangled on wires. And North Avenue, which is also a major connecting road and the location of the local Staples High School, is still blocked in places to traffic due to downed trees and at least one fallen utility pole.
One would think that some of the most important roads in town would be cleared by now, but we really have no way of knowing how the priority list of tree and power work is being determined. And there is no doubt that that homes and neighborhoods which were flooded near the coastline have been a first priority, as they should be.
(In a sidebar, my son is doing some backbreaking work in clean-up efforts at Westport’s “ravaged” Compo Beach…you would not believe what was found from the beach blocks away in residents’ yards and the items which washed ashore from near and far.) As one drives down the beach road, many residents have thrown out mountains of household items which are no longer salvageable.
Scores of Staples students helped out with the cleanup effort, all around town.
It is a little difficult, to say the least, to try and operate as trader, free-lance writer and contributor to Forbes.com without proper internet access. Our usual go-to back-up location, the Westport YMCA, is shut down indefinitely due to flooding and significant damage to electrical and other systems.
My wife and I have tried also to take advantage of the hospitality at the Westport Public Library, the Wilton YMCA, and the Wilton Public Library, each of which boasts Wi-Fi access and a very welcoming attitude. We are extremely thankful for the hot showers we found at the Wilton YMCA but have had somewhat limited success getting online, due to what we are told are bandwidth issues at each of those locations. But we keep trying.
Yesterday, one of the Starbucks in town reopened and we checked that out but were quickly discouraged by the mob of cars parked outside. I suspect many were trying to get internet access sitting in their cars and not sure how that worked out.
Ok, by now you are surely saying, “well just use your SmartPhone, dummy”! Yes this is true, but it is hardly the greatest instrument for researching stories and using publishing tools. And the access even there has been spotty as well.
According to a post by TheStreet.com on Wednesday, cellphone service on the East Coast was hit significantly by Sandy and the situation might actually deteriorate:
Hurricane Sandy’s high winds, flooding and, in some cases, snow and ice have crippled cellular connections in 10 states from Virginia to Massachusetts. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says Sandy has affected 25% of all cellular phone service, from providers like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and others, in more than 150 East Coast counties.
Flooding at Verizon’s New York City headquarters.
And that’s not all that was affected by the storm. In addition to mobile voice and data services, cellular towers also handle cable television and broadband Internet relay services. In a conversation with CNet, Genachowski also predicted that the situation will get worse before improving. Cell towers are powered by local electricity companies. When power was lost, cell towers were forced to rely on backup batteries to keep communications going. But as those batteries drain without any way to recharge, more cell phones will be forced out of service.
One other local concern for now, aside from the obvious of the school closings, public health and safety matters, power restoration, and the opening of all roads, is the status of the election next Tuesday. With power still out for now at several school polling sites, we have heard that state and local officials are investigating back-up plans, but we have no clue for now what that may mean and how they will get the word out if things do not improve rapidly.
Bottom line? We are extremely thankful to have survived this storm with our lives and property intact, and will gladly trade our minor inconveniences for what might have happened. “Godspeed” to all in the region and especially those directly on the coast.
So it’s no surprise that Forbes — “the capitalist tool” — featured the store’s own CEO, Jack Mitchell, in yesterday’s “CEO Show” Q-and-A on its website.
Here’s a sample:
Describe the Mitchell model for building customer loyalty.
Customer loyalty is about making the customer the center of the universe. We do that through famly values from Mom and Dad, something we call “hugging.” I define a “hug” as any large or small deed that shows you genuinely care about someone as a real person.
Everyone in our stores tries to understand every customer as a complete individual. Where they work and play; what they like and don’t like, their anniversary, their favorite food, wine, restaurant, sports team and hobby … and if they have kids, their kids’ birthdays and sports or instrument.
If someone loves wine send them the right bottle; of course not to a recovering alcoholic. Once we know someone genuinely, we connect with them genuinely by delivering what’s important to them. It could be a handwritten note – of course with a real ink pen – congratulating them on their son being part of a championship junior high football team.
Or perhaps they’re going to an important wedding, so we’ll come over and personally tie their bow tie. Anything that makes them know we understand how special they are. As a business, we are completely data driven and the computer remembers everything … and that’s our how we build loyalty, through a hugging culture.
How do you build the hugging culture?
Total 100% commitment to personalized customer service. When starting, it’s all about the hiring process. We want people who are honest …which includes being open, caring and transparent. Then they must be nice. They must be passionate to listen learn and grow. And finally, they must be competent and open to new ideas.
What advice do you have on family business?
If it is working well through a set of guidelines or rules; stick to it. For the Mitchell family the most important thing is viewing it 1st as a business and 2nd as a family business. So family members often are entitled to equity, but not to a job. That’s why all of our 7 sons had to work for 5 years outside the family business.
This enabled them to develop a specific business skill. Once they have a business skill we try to match that skill to our business needs. We give annual reviews including a modified 360. When you put the right people in the right place on the bus, you get where you’re going faster, and everyone can enjoy the ride.
Your culture is all about being customer centric. There must be other elements responsible for your significant success?
Of course, as our mission statement points out, we are a family-owned high-end men’s and women’s specialty store committed to providing exceptional customer service and high quality merchandise in an exciting, friendly, and visually dynamic atmosphere.
I often say we are about C’s…commitment, Customer, Community and Cash. We learned that (C)ash is the only meaningful addition to our hugging culture (since the recession of 1989-1991). I am proud that we consistently deliver on our hugging culture.
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