Celebrating Heroes in our Midst: Truck Drivers

Our minds have infinite imagination. Words effectively and artfully aligned can move us powerfully as we imagine, or picture, a scenario unfolding. That’s how books have “unlimited budgets”—grander than anything Hollywood could muster. In the reader’s eye, action plays out on a boundless platform.

Still, there’s nothing quite like actually “seeing it” with our eyes to move our hearts and stir our souls. This truth was reinforced recently when I heard about the compassionate actions of a group of truckers who responded to a request from Michigan State Police.

Watch this video clip, and see if emotions don’t well up as you see a trucker fill in the final gap of an ad hoc life-saving process:

The back-story:

On April 24th, a man was considering committing suicide over the Interstate 696 overpass in Huntington Woods, Mich. That’s when police put the call out to an often-unheralded group of heroes in our midst: truck drivers.

As officers directed traffic off the freeway system, they enlisted truckers to park beneath the overpass. That maneuver reduced the distraught man’s potential fall, whether he lost his grip or decided to jump.

For three hours, 13 of those tractor trailers stood sentry beneath that overpass. Finally, negotiators talked the man into their arms and to safety.

Cumulatively, those truck drivers sacrificed 39 hours of travel and invited, at minimum, myriad forms of professional and personal inconvenience. Their generosity of spirit echoes what I have heard for years from Leslie Allison-Seei and Greg Seei, the creative forces behind Robust Promotions, one of the top promotion marketing agencies in the nation.

Robust specializes in promotions and sweepstakes, from the restaurant industry to a variety of other business sectors. One of their clients, Travel Centers of America, has retained them to manage a nomination and recognition process for its TA/Petro Citizen Driver Awards.

Since the awards’ 2014 inception, 31 men and women have been selected—with hundreds of other nominees also reflecting the compassionate selflessness embodied by those 13 drivers in Michigan.

As Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw said after the life-saving support in April:

“We’ve never been turned down by a truck driver. The trucking community is always very good to law enforcement. They report a lot of things that’s happening on the freeway to us. Every time we ask, the response is ‘absolutely.’”

Next time you see a truck driver—and chances are, it won’t be long—be sure to give them a thumbs-up for the above-and-beyond role they quietly play in our daily lives.

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An Uber-Important Lesson on The Impact of Brand Ambassadorship

The car horn was relentless. For at least 30 seconds this morning, someone in downtown Chicago was leaning on theirs to send an urgent message.

With ample time between meetings, I stopped walking to see what the fuss was about. A few car lengths past a busy intersection, just north of the Merchandise Mart, an Uber driver was expressing her angst at the SUV driver a few inches in front of her. The SUV was trying to back into a parking space, but the rear driver was so close behind—only a few inches—that the front driver could not complete the task.

A few minutes went by and traffic clogged the intersection. The Uber driver—let’s call her Angry Driver—intermittently pressed her horn while holding her ground. The next block was now at a standstill.

I walked up to the scene. There was plenty of room for Angry Driver to back up and make way for the SUV. Giving Angry Driver the benefit of the doubt, I informed her that she had plenty of room to put her car into reverse and resolve the problem.

“So now I’m the problem?!” she snapped at me.

“No, I didn’t say you are the problem,” I replied. “The situation is a problem and I am telling you how you can handle the situation.”

“That driver can drive around the block,” she huffed.

Shaking my head, I decided to play traffic conductor. I motioned for oncoming traffic to stop while I waved along a few cars that were stuck behind Angry Driver. But that was only addressing a symptom, not the root cause.

The SUV driver got out of her car and asked Angry Driver if she would please back up just a few inches. A.D. refused to budge.

Then it hit me: time to bring out the Smartphone video recorder. I walked behind Angry Driver and made it clear what I was doing. I noted the sizable gap behind A.D. that would solve the needless stand-off. Within 10 seconds, perhaps sensing the potential PR damage, she grudgingly made the move.

From what I could see, a customer was in the backseat of the Angry Driver vehicle the entire time. Maybe “customer” isn’t the right term—“prisoner” more aptly describes her status for the duration of this avoidable road-rage incident.

For anyone who witnessed this display, the experience likely left a much more powerful impression than the massive advertising campaign that Uber is rolling out. As noted in a San Jose Mercury News story today, “Uber is breaking out the checkbook to spend as much as $500 million on a worldwide ad campaign that is part of the ride-sharing company’s effort to fix an image damaged by at least a year’s worth of corporate controversies.”

Globally, Uber has millions of drivers, and they surely run the gamut in terms of customer service and road courtesy. But it would do well to emphasize to drivers bearing their logo that they are brand ambassadors with boundless potential impact on the company’s image.

Now that is something to get worked up about.

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My 8th Round of “A Beer With Baron”: Forensic Accountant & Filmmaker Kelly Richmond Pope

Nearly three years ago, my interviews of local Oak Park notables for the village’s local cable access channel shifted gears. While I have continued the Q & A format that encompassed my smattering of segments dating back to 2009, the program’s alliterative hook has gone from “Oak Park’s Own” to “A Beer With Baron.”

In that time, buoyed by the skillful work of Village of Oak Park Media Production Manager Joe Kreml and the gracious hospitality of The Beer Shop downstairs from my office, I have had the pleasure of interviewing:

*Chris Neville, a top musician/entrepreneur, whose credits include co-ownership of Wire in Berwyn and co-founder of regionally renowned tribute band Tributosaurus;

My first round of “A Beer With Baron”–with Chris Neville of Tributosaurus, in July 2015.

*Dave Revsine, a national sportscasting studio anchor with the Big Ten Network and author of The Opening Kickoff, about college football’s early stages.

*Matthew James Collins, an artist who splits his time between Italy and the U.S. (and who taught me enough Italian so that I could introduce the show in that language);

*Donna Peel, co-founder of the Pro Bono Network, which provides legal outreach to those in financial need;

*Stephen Green, the Chicago Cubs team photographer (whom I also interviewed in 2009, when he had an exhibit of Cubs photos at the Oak Park Public Library);

*Robert Elder, a journalist and author who specializes in “side hustles” and co-authored “Hidden Hemingway,” a coffee table treasure that plowed new ground about Oak Park native son and literary giant Ernest Hemingway;

Chatting (and talking with my hands) with Isaiah Makar, in December 2017.

*Jamael “Isaiah Makar” Clark, an up-and-coming spoken-word artist/artrepreneur who is easily the youngest guest (though still of legal drinking age!) I have had on “A Beer With Baron.”

With Kelly Richmond Pope, rising filmmaker.

Then, yesterday, I was delighted to shoot my latest segment of “ABWB”: a conversation with Kelly Richmond Pope, the multi-talented director of “All the Queen’s Horses.”

A fascinating, thoroughly researched documentary, the film explores how Rita Crundwell pilfered over $53 million during a 20-year span as comptroller of Dixon, Illinois.

The community, known by many as Ronald Reagan’s birthplace, is now a classic case of what can happen when there are insufficient checks-and-balances on those in authority.

Pope, an accounting and accounting forensics professor at DePaul University and daughter of a former college president, provides keen insight on the psychology that underlies these types of large-scale embezzling. At the same time, she speaks blunt truth about the deference (to a fault) that people within organizations give to those in charge of the numbers (and the dollars associated with those figures).

“The person who knows the numbers,” says Pope, “is the most powerful person in the room.”

She’s speaking my math literacy language! (For more about my math literacy, or numeracy, training and workshops, visit Go Figure: Making Numbers Count.)

See the entire interview with Kelly Richmond Pope:

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Oak Park & River Forest High School Business Incubator Helps Students Flourish

Last week, three fellow Advisory Board “sharks” and I returned to Oak Park and River Forest High School for three half-days to evaluate the 16 student teams from the Business INCubatoredu at OPRF as they made year-end pitches.

There were many terrific ideas that stemmed from months of hard work, so it wasn’t a simple task. We were already familiar with the students, and the business models they were developing. In February, the four of us–restaurant owner Natasha Martinez, real estate developer Dan Moroney, business executive Jon Peppler, and myself–took three days to provide a “shark tank lite” evaluation-and-feedback go-round at that stage of student teams’ development.

Group photos of the Advisory Board “sharks” with each of the three classes from this year’s Business Incubator at OPRF High School

Along with OPRF teacher Matt Prebble, we chose four finalists last Friday afternoon: a bike pedal-clip product designed to help serious bicyclists navigate more conveniently, a line of school-spirit apparel and other products, a philanthropically focused array of accessories with artistic designs, and sets of contemporary and hip accessories that would cater to music festival-goers. 

The public was also invited to help choose a fifth “Wildcard” team at the program’s first-ever Final Pitch Event, which happens this evening at OPRF High School.

It has been inspiring and humbling to be a part of a program that helps high school students develop their entrepreneurial skills. Having volunteered as a Junior Achievement speaker for many years, I was grateful to be able to offer more ongoing, and local, support for students during such a formative time in their education. My motivation also stems from having two children wrapping up their freshman year at the high school, as well as my service on the District 200 Board of Education.

My own roots in entrepreneurship go back over 35 years, to the 8th grade. That is when I turned a 25-cent “apology” from a classmate (he had thrown my rubber ball onto the school roof during recess) into $500 in net profits by selling bubble gum and later branching into the more lucrative realm of Starburst candy sales.

In the midst of the student teams’ pitches last week, I noticed something orange on the floor near my seat. I picked it up and couldn’t help but chuckle when I read the label: it was a Starburst wrapper.

The moment felt like a scene out of a movie, complete with a flashback montage: there’s me, selling the candy out of a paper bag on the bus, in my homeroom, at my locker, throughout the hallways between periods, and points elsewhere at Furnace Brook Middle School in Marshfield, Mass.

There were no candy-sales business models among the 16 pitches from OPRF students. Instead, there were a host of hugely ambitious ideas that demonstrated ingenuity, creativity and an overarching penchant for pragmatic problem-solving.

As I told students during last week’s pitches, regardless of whether they advanced to the finals, the benefits of their experience this year will not be fully apparent for many years as they apply and hone what they have begun learning through the Business Incubator.

Already, there’s no question that the students have derived benefits that go well beyond the classroom. When students shared what they learned most from their experience, the top theme that emerged was their ability to persist through struggle–the simple, but far from easy, principle of not giving up.

My fellow “sharks” along with OPRF teacher Matt Prebble (second from left) select the finalists as we enjoy a lunch provided Natasha Martinez, owner of Mancini’s Italian Bistro.

Many thanks to my fellow sharks–Jon, Dan and Natasha–who have carved out significant blocks of time from their busy schedules and demonstrated their commitment to this next generation of leaders.

Also, kudos to the other coaches, mentors and other volunteers from the community who have likewise sown into these young men and women during this inaugural year for the business incubator at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

Interested in learning more about high school business incubators? Check out the incubator edu website.

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Inside Edge PR’s Media Support of Living Donor Guinness World Record Attempt

It’s an inspiring and humbling thing to be providing public relations and media relations support for the Guinness World Record Attempt: Living Donor Rally on Saturday, April 21st at Millennium Park in Chicago.

Through contacts I have made in myriad media markets around the United States–all after gathering information from organ donors who are attending the rally–I have been inspired to consider donating one of my own organs. The key word is “consider,” since  significant, thoughtful steps must come before organ donation is a reality for me.

Among the heroes I have been fortunate to connect with, and to connect with their regional media: June Monroe, featured in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Ashley Hoyng, the focus of a column by Joe Blundo in The Columbus Dispatch; Misty Shaw, in The State Journal-Register; Rebecca Marsh, in the Reporter-Herald of Loveland, Col.; and Mike Koetting, featured in a “Minnesota Moment” segment on KSTP, the ABC station in the Twin Cities.

Laurie Lee, CEO of Swift Passport Services

Kudos to Laurie Lee, a friend and client (along with her husband, Rob, she is the owner of Swift Passport Services). An organ donor herself, Laurie is spearheading heightened awareness of the need for more life-saving living donors. See the Northwest Herald feature on Laurie’s story, including her distinctive take on the so-called organ “shortage” that numbers more than 100,000 across the country:

“You hear every day on the news about an organ shortage,” Lee said. “There isn’t an organ shortage. There’s an organ surplus.”

The problem is a lack of people willing to donate, Lee said.

“There’s an allocation issue,” Lee said. “Most people are walking around with two kidneys. You only need one to live a perfectly normal life.”

Those are challenging, and inspiring, words indeed!

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