Newsflash

Costly Drinks

Somewhere along the way, people at my office started thinking of me as the marketing person. It started because they saw that 1) I am under 40 years of age, and 2) I stuff envelopes with marketing materials. 

What sealed the deal was when our corporate office sent out an email announcing a webinar on the new marketing system our company would be using.  I am the only one in our office who took the webinar.  Presto! I am the marketing person.  

Now my coworkers ask me all sorts of questions in hushed tones… "Christina, you’re the marketing guru. What do you think of this?” Then, they reveal a flyer or website they’ve spent all night working on. Unless I see blatant misspellings, I just say it looks great.

Somewhere else along the way at my office, people started thinking of me as the office event planner. This happened because they saw that 1) I am under 40 years of age, and 2) I stuff envelopes with event invitations.  T

The deal was sealed when I once made reservations at a restaurant for my boss and some clients. Presto! I am the event planner.  Unlike my marketing role, this new role hasn’t been so easy to dismiss.  See, now I actually have to plan some events.  And this is why I am thankful for a manager named Oliver at Canyon Café.

For my first event I was able to haggle down Oliver’s beer prices. Since then, I just plan every event there and say, “So, we’re uh, still getting those same beer prices as last time. Right Oliver?”

And because he has fallen victim to my haggle strategies once, he’s in no mood to endure it again. He gives me the cheap beer.

My first haggle strategy is to use his name often. I picked this one up from a car salesman. The last time I car shopped, the sales guy said my name about six times per sentence.

“This is where you sign, Christina, and then you get your new car, Christina. Oh I can’t wait, Christina, to give you, Christina, the keys!”  

I bought the car and drove away singing my name to myself.  

I pick up the phone and try my new strategy on poor Oliver.  

“Oliver, these beer prices are just too high! Can you help me out, Oliver? Oliver, please?”  

He puts me on hold, and I quickly devise strategy number two— make my boss out to be really powerful and mean.  

“I don’t know, Oliver.  I’m going to have to run these prices by the boss (insert audible tremble of fear here). I just don’t know if he’s going to go for it. And, if he doesn’t like it, you and I better watch our backs. You know what I’m saying, Oliver?”  And that’s when he breaks. Presto! I am the haggler.  

The conundrum of my technique is ensuring Oliver never actually meets my boss at these events. My sweet boss would warmly shake his hand, graciously thank him for serving us low-priced margaritas, and probably even invite Oliver to dine with us. But this simply cannot happen if I’m to keep any edge in this relationship. I suppose I could prep my boss by slapping him in the face and screaming, “Oliver thinks you’re scum. Whadda you think of THAT?” in an effort to toughen him up. 

Yeah…probably not a solid career move on my part though.In the meantime, if my boss ever asks why I continually bolt in front of him when he tries to introduce himself to the wait staff at dinners, I plan to tell him it’s a marketing technique I learned on that webinar. Cheers!


Christina Ledbetter is a columnist for Houston Woman Magazine. She is an assistant working in a local mortgage company. She blogs for her company on issues relating to her job there. You can find her delightful and entertaining blog at http://justtheassistant.com.

Multi-Sensory Trail

The new Palmetto Multi-Sensory Trail at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center (HANC) opened to the public June 10 thanks to the vision of its architects, Leadership Houston’s Class XXIX. 

The quarter-mile, guided-ropes trail built for the blind and visually-impaired supports personal independence, safety and features lush native flora and fauna that encourage visitors to use their senses of touch, hearing and smell. 

Nestled inside the inner-loop sanctuary, the Palmetto Multi-Sensory Trail hosts 18 custom-built learning stations displaying descriptive and historical information in Braille and large print complemented by tactile pieces.This trail is the first of its kind in the southern United States and is endorsed by the National Federation of the Blind, Houston Council for the Blind, Lighthouse of Houston, Taping for the Blind, Inc., and Texas Parents of Blind Children. 

“I’m amazed by the tremendous support from the community,” says David Unger, the project co-chair for Leadership Houston Class XXIX’s class project and husband of a visually impaired Houstonian.  “The trail offers my wife and so many other visually-impaired people an opportunity to explore nature with a sense of freedom.”

The trail transformed and re-purposed an under-utilized nature trail at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center located on the western edge of Memorial Park at 4501 Woodway. The trailhead is located directly across from the Nature Center building with easy access to the visitor parking lot.

“The Arboretum is thrilled to have Leadership Houston Class XXIX create this one-of-a-kind trail for our visitors,” says Debbie Markey, executive director of the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. “The trail will not only allow us to expand our educational programs to the visually impaired community but also enhance every visitor’s experience as they are encouraged to explore nature by listening, smelling and touching at the stations located along the trail.”

 “What started as an exercise in leadership development and team building as part of the Leadership Houston Class curriculum has turned into an impactful community project,” said Rene Cantu, Leadership Houston’s executive director.  “It is truly a testament to the quality of participants our program is fortunate enough to recruit and makes all at Leadership Houston proud that they are making a positive change for the community of Houston.”

Weather Research Center

Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy season! At least that’s what the folks at the Weather Research Center of Houston predicts. According to the experts at the non-profit education and research organization, there will be at least 10 named tropical storms emerging in 2011, with as many as six intensifying into hurricanes and possibly five making landfall along the U.S. coastline. 

“The Gulf Coast is going to be busy this year,” said WRC President Jill Hasling, who founded the organization in 1987 with her late father, meteorologist and oceanographer John C. Freeman, who taught at St. Thomas University and Texas A&M. 

Two years before they launched the WRC, the father-daughter team began trying to predict hurricane activity based on patterns observed in the solar cycle. 

“As the planets rotate around the sun, gravitational forces affect the cycle of sunspots,” Hasling explained. 

The same influences have an impact on the large-scale circulation patterns on Earth and its ocean jet streams, which in turn, influence the formation and tracks of hurricanes. This model, used to predict which areas have the greatest risk of hurricane landfall, is called the Orbital Cyclone Strike Index (OCSI). In addition to looking at oceanic circulation patterns, the hurricane outlook for 2011 was also developed by examining weather data from 13 previous and sporadic years, the earliest being 1870.Louisiana to Alabama and Western Florida have a 90 percent chance of having a hurricane make landfall this season, while Texas has a 70 percent chance, according to Hasling. The forecast also calls for an 80 percent chance of a Category 3 or higher storm forming in the Atlantic Ocean during the hurricane season, which began June 1.

“Better technology has made hurricane predictions much more accurate,” Hasling said. “We’re naming more storms than we did in the past.”

The WRC predictions are actually a little more conservative than other forecasts, such as that of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which says to expect 12 to 18 named storms in 2011, six to 10 of which could become hurricanes, and three to six of those might reach Category 3 or higher strength.

But the WRC also has a track record of accuracy. In only three of the last 24 years of predictions did a storm fail to make landfall where predicted, but in those three years, storms hit the “second-most-likely” areas identified by the center. Hasling also says that this year’s deadly tornado activity that has swept across the country, destroying property and taking lives, may not be over yet. In April, Southern states like Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia were hit by tornadoes in late April, while Joplin, Missouri was devastated in May. On June 1, rare tornadic activity swept across central and western Massachusetts. 

“The cool dry air out of the Rockies and the warm, moist air out off the Gulf have been just hitting in the perfect spot for large thunderstorms to develop and trigger tornadoes,” Hasling said. “We still have fronts coming down, so I don’t think it’s over yet.

“These tornadoes have been hitting populated areas, so it drives home how we really need to prepare for the weather,” she said. “We should be looking at stories about how people survived in their homes for lessons learned.” 

During storm season, every home needs to have a designated safe room and appropriate supplies. Flashlights and extra batteries, a gallon of water per day per person, canned goods and self-heating emergency meals are some of the necessities for getting through hurricane season. The old Mark Twain quip, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” doesn't apply at the WRC, which is committed to meteorological education and community outreach.

Since no university currently offers a comprehensive hands-on training program that incorporates global, marine and tropical weather forecasting, the WRC fills the void by offering summer internships. Together, meteorologists and interns work on severe weather advisories, long-range outlooks, environmental studies and worldwide marine forecasts for shipping and offshore drilling. Another service provided there is forensic meteorology, often valuable in court cases. 

“If there is an accident or if a hurricane goes through, we do ‘hindcasting’ of the weather to provide expert testimony for lawyers,” Hasling said. “It's like CSI, but instead of crime scene investigation, it’s storm scene investigation.” 

Another educational project of the WRC is the John C. Freeman Weather Museum, which opened in 2006, two years after Hasling’s father passed away. Touted as the first weather museum in the United States, it hosts tours for school groups and is open to people of all ages who want to learn about meteorology. 

Visitors at the Weather Museum can watch weather experiments and learn about storm surges with a simulated flash flood. A climate exhibit includes interactive maps and videos. Guests also can touch a tornado, record themselves as on-camera weather reporters and explore the working antique weather forecasting equipment. Summer camps and scout badge programs are also available. 

“Understanding the science behind weather formation and the ways in which storms develop is crucial to all of us,” said Hasling. “The more knowledge you have about weather safety, the better you can protect your family.”


Deborah Quinn Hensel is the news editor of Houston Woman Magazine.

Female-Phobics

If you are a “bimbo” this article is not for you — but then I’ve never met a bimbo. So, why do men use this word to denigrate women? Because mocking a woman’s success is one of the many bullying tactics that some men use to try to discredit women.

The term “bimbo” is all around us and while it is obviously meant to belittle women, men have realized its “attention getting” potential. For example, the Philadelphia Union Soccer Club has recently agreed to take on a new sponsor — Bimbo Bakeries USA. Undoubtedly, the soccer club will proudly strut on the field wearing their bimbo jerseys to a chorus of cheers and applause. Using the word “bimbo” to describe women is a form of female bullying.When it rears its ugly head in business, female bullying is a particularly thorny problem. I learned how to identify and handle several types of female bullies during my business career. The type of male bully that resorts to name calling and reveals an obvious dislike of businesswomen is what I call Female-Phobic. This category of men do not recognize women as qualified business persons and refuse to do business with them directly — probably out of their own insecurity.

Men may not be consciously aware of why they do what they do, but such men put women down, ignore them or otherwise marginalize them — thus limiting women’s business opportunities.Women must identify female-phobic men and find a way around them.

When I was starting my food distribution business, I was determined to learn as much as possible about the products I was about to handle. I read books, spoke with well-known food critics and made dinner out every night a part of my education. I picked apart dishes as if I were an analytical scientist, trying to identify the type of meat and ingredients used to create them. In a short time, I knew my own products inside out. For any cut of meat I sold, I knew the animal’s genetics, its characteristics and the way the cut was created. I could trace the origins of a calf and tell you what it was fed, how it was raised and how it compared to similar products. 

Once I felt confident in my ability to talk gourmet, I met with many chefs to tell them about my products. Most had never dealt with a female distributor, but once they sampled the natural veal cutlets and prime steaks I brought, they treated me the same way they would any other meat distributor. Except François.

The first time I went to see him, he turned his back on me, barked orders to his sous-chefs and took a personal phone call while I was in his office. After giving it my best shot and getting nothing but disrespectful treatment in return, I politely said my “thank-yous” to Francois and left.

I was determined to sell Francois because I knew I had a product that was not only of better quality but also substantially less expensive. I just had to figure out how to get around his all too apparent bias against businesswomen.

Previously, I’d met and befriended a young liquor salesman named Frankie. He was handsome, suave, well-dressed, articulate and male —exactly the kind of person I thought this Frenchman would listen to.

I told Frankie of my situation and asked if he’d be willing to help me out. I let him know up front that if he’d meet with Francois and me, and was able to get the chef to buy my veal, I’d arrange for him and a guest to dine at the gourmet restaurant of his choice.

Now, Frankie knew nothing about veal other than what I explained to him 30 minutes before the meeting, but Francois listened to Frankie as if he were a professor. As for me, I stood in the background and said nothing. In no time, Frankie convinced François to sample the veal. By the end of the meeting, I had the business.

When dealing with female-phobic men, let them think a man is in the driver’s seat, and you will secure the business. It’s not about your method it’s about the end result, because with each success you will best the “bully.”


Susan T. Spencer is the author of “Briefcase Essentials:  Discover Your 12 Natural Talents for Achieving Success in a Male-dominated Workplace.”

Sabbaticals

We are a nation on the verge of professional burnout. The financial crisis has taken its toll on everyone, from technology entrepreneurs, to retail managers, to employees up and down the ranks of corporate America. With stress levels skyrocketing and fierce competition from abroad, how can we as a nation, as well as individuals, reclaim our role as creative leaders and innovators?

If you don’t believe we’re really in a crisis here, check out these statistics. According to the recent MetLife Ninth Annual Study of Employee Benefit Trends, employee loyalty across industries is at a three-year low. One in three workers hopes to find a new job in the next 12 months. More alarming, a recent Gallup survey found that 17 percent of employees interviewed were actively disengaged and trying to subvert their organization. Over 54 percent were passively disengaged – their bodies were in the office, but they had essentially left.No organization can flourish when half (or more) of its workers have a foot out the door. And, no industry can thrive when its companies are bogged down with unhappy, unmotivated employees. Companies need interested, motivated people to excel; disengaged workers cost companies money and seriously impede productivity. Stressed out front-line employees can cause serious reputation problems.

Many of these problems can be attributed to layoffs and increased stress for those who have to pick up the slack in the office. But there’s something else at work here: a severe and chronic lack of time off. According to an Expedia.com survey, 63 percent of Americans work more than 40 hours a week and hand back more than $21 billion in unused vacation dollars each year. Worse, we feel guilty about the little time we do take off, even though Americans put in two to three times more in total hours on the job each year than Europeans and two and a half more weeks than the Japanese. Here in the U.S., younger workers are leaving the fast track in droves to take less stressful jobs. Why? Because work demands keep rising while satisfaction and payoffs decline.

But, before you jump ship or your employees do, there is a way you may be able to address the morale, stress and burnout problems through a simple and age-old practice: a sabbatical (we call it a Reboot Break!).

What is a sabbatical, exactly? It’s a set period of time away from work. A sabbatical can last from one month to a year, and it allows workers to take a break to renew and refresh their lives and better balance their priorities. Corporate sabbatical programs vary from paid for time off to unpaid time off with benefits intact and a guaranteed job at the end.

Intel is a leader in offering sabbaticals and provides a good example for other corporations. Established 15 years ago, Intel’s program has enabled more than 69,000 company workers to take a significant period of time off. All levels of employees, from the CEO to assistants, are eligible after seven years to take two months off at full pay. Most employees save up vacation time, tacking on another month to their break. Management likes the program because it helps Intel attract and retain good people and broadens the knowledge and skill sets of those who cover for the sabbatical taker. The real payback comes when the employee returns with renewed energy, creativity and a fresh perspective.

Companies are catching on. Fortune magazine recently added sabbaticals to its criteria for naming the “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Twenty-one companies that made the 2011 list offer sabbaticals, including Microsoft, The Container Store, REI, Adobe Systems and several law firms.

If you think you can’t do it, or you think your company would never agree to giving you some time to reboot, think again. There’s a lot you can do to get yourself some time away from work. In a new book, Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life By Taking a Break, my co-authors and I offer a step-by-step guide to getting the time you need – and making the best of that time once you get it.Here are a few steps you can take now to get yourself the time you need:  

Research. Find out through human resources (or your company’s equivalent) if your company has a sabbatical program. If not, see if they would be willing to read a proposal. Ask about requirements, and look to other companies in your industry for models. (A successful competitor that offers a program could help you make a compelling argument!)

Fund Your Freedom. For most people, finances are the number one barrier to taking time off. Instead of deciding you can’t do it, get creative. Are there assets you can sell? A house or apartment you could rent out while you travel? Could you borrow some of the money, or tap (gently) into your savings, and then live on less during your time off? Or, take the long view and start saving now for time off. Stash the money in a separate sabbatical savings account.

Make Your Case. Create a plan for what you want to do, when you want to do it, and how much time you need. Outline exactly how your responsibilities will be covered while you are gone. Identify ways the organization could benefit, such as increased innovation, retention and attraction and better morale. 

Communicate. Talk to your spouse, partner, family and colleagues about what you want to do and how it might affect them. Get their support. Talk to your boss about a smooth transition.

Unplug. As part of your break, unplug from the office and clients. Tell them ahead of time when you are going and returning, but don’t stay tied into the office. (AARP actually requires their employees to unplug during their one-month paid sabbaticals.)

Sabbaticals are life-changers. They can renew and reinvigorate your life and your career, helping you reprioritize and better balance your life. Don’t be surprised if, as the burnout fades, your perspective about your work changes. You may decide that staying right where you are is the best thing for you, and all it took was a break.


Catherine A. Allen is the chairman and CEO of The Santa Fe Group, a strategic consulting firm based in Santa Fe, New Mexico and sits on several corporate and nonprofit boards. She is the co-author of “Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break,” with Nancy Bearg, Rita Foley and Jaye Smith. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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