The Chamber Dinner: A Family Affair in ’09

IB Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick blends work and life in this very clear departure from both her column for In Business magazine, and the other bloggers. Awarded national recognition for her previous work as a newspaper columnist, she brings us all back "Closer to Home" with her insights and remembrances. A nice place to be "After Hours." Check back often! Read Full Bio

You didn’t make the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Dinner on October 6th? No problem; I’m here with the highlights.

Let’s start with parking. Some folks had the foresight to park elsewhere. I, on the other hand, idled and inched forward by half-car lengths — and this went on for a foolishly long while — creeping slowly toward Monona Terrace’s parking lot. One person alone handled all of the $4 pre-pay parking admissions through one entrance gate. [After the event, the John Nolen gates closed early — don’t even get me started about that delay. Slow in, slow out.]

Note to parking supervisor: The event deserved better planning/staffing.

On the positive side, and of much more consequence, kudos to GMCC president Jennifer Alexander and her staff for putting together such an obviously well attended affair — an immense undertaking with tickets still priced at $100/person and held at a time when most rational folks were avoiding potential flu incubators. Yet the dinner’s opening reception was a “tuck in your elbows” affair with about 1,000 people forming the traditional human obstacle course between the registration table and cash bar.

Seeing so many old friends was delightful, and I even made a new best friend while standing in the bar line. (We had time to share a lot of personal information there, as it turned out.)

Dinner: After folks were mostly finished with their banquet chicken breast and rice entree, Jennifer Alexander kicked off the formal welcome and introductions. An early introduction was of Gary Wolter, CEO of Madison Gas and Electric and former GMCC Board Chair. She told us that he now has the additional responsibility of being named Chair of THRIVE, the regional eight-county economic development entity headquartered here — the brainchild of the Collaboration Council.

What does THRIVE have to do with the Chamber of Commerce? Plenty. Jennifer Alexander is president of THRIVE. (Deb Archer, head of the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau, is President of THRIVE’s board.) While the organization is an eight-county venture, it appears that control of the entity remains largely vested in the Madison core, reflecting area and regional interests in bioscience, agribusiness and health care.

Personally, I’m glad that Wolter is taking on the THRIVE mantle, and happy that he confirmed that Sean Robbins (formerly of T. Wall Properties) is coming on board as Executive Vice President. Robbins is in a Leadership Greater Madison class, and he’ll soon have day-to-day operational responsibilities for the THRIVE organization (first day is October 19). Wolter and Robbins may be just the ticket to inspire and assist THRIVE in moving beyond its three-year start-up persona.

Just last week, our IBTV crew produced a quick video report on THRIVE’s work to secure grants for food incubation so it’s showing progress, at least, toward its potential to become a contributing economic development engine.

Wolter is a known entity to me. I always speak to him candidly [too candidly?] because I trust his intelligence and decency. Robbins I met for the first time at the Chamber event, where he told me over a desert cake, “I’m a ‘get it done’ kind of guy.”

“Outstanding!” I chirped, thinking that I’ll have to get a better handle on exactly what that means fairly quickly in the next few weeks. [Stay tuned.]

Believe it or not, I’m not drifting off topic with all this THRIVE talk. I’m following the Chamber’s script for the Annual Dinner, where business owners were asked to invest in THRIVE. That message was made crystal clear, in so many more words.

[My editorial prediction is that you also will receive a follow-up phone call from a very influential someone (not me … think really INFLUENTIAL) who will make the more formal pitch in the near future. THRIVE definitely is now competing with other area non-profits in dialing for donor dollars.]

Moving to the next major event of the evening — the keynote introductions — here’s where the night started to become truly intriguing.

I remarked in my last blog, referencing Full Compass’ ribbon cutting event, that Madison is a small town. I think I’ve just explained that the Chamber community is tightly and well connected, too, as is THRIVE. And, well, all strings attached, Wisconsin is a smaller arena than I realized, too.

Allow me to illustrate: After Wolter’s remarks, Alexander introduced Mark Bugher, Director of University Research Park. Bugher also is Chair of the GMCC. Bugher then introduced the evening’s emcee, Richard “Dick” Leinenkugel, Wisconsin’s Secretary of Commerce. Coincidentally, it turns out that Bugher is married to Leinenkugel’s sister.


The evening’s keynote speaker was Tom “Jake” Leinenkugel, president of Leinenkugel Brewing Company. Good guess. He IS brother-in-law to Mark Bugher and brother to Dick Leinenkugel.

Yes, of course our table talk drifted toward the question of if Jennifer Alexander had ever dated oh … maybe Jake Leinenkugel in ages past? We felt like we were all aboard a train that was going somewhere, though we weren’t sure of the final destination, so we scripted a scenerio ourselves for a few moments. But all that silly chatter stopped as Richard Leinenkugel seriously approached the podium to introduce his brother.

I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed the introductory quips Richard Leinenkugel read. His presentation was clever, entertaining, and made the point that he didn’t believe his family was raised in wealth or privilege. His father worked hard in the family’s brewery business, moving up the company ladder from traveling salesman to company president. I also liked his insights into his brother Jake, who, I learned during the speech, was born the same year as I. (Dick shared lots of family facts and details about their boyhood days in Chippewa Falls.)

I got a little teary, I also must confess, as the pair moved into adulthood in our minds’ eyes; especially when Dick spoke of unexpectedly finding his brother on foreign soil when both were in the Marine Corps. It brought on a flush of patriotism.

Then Jake took the stage with a glass of beer to craft his own message: “Buy Leinenkugels.”

Jake also gave a moving testimonial to their father, this one accentuated by a film presentation. Overall, today’s brewery president (Jake) impressed me as a likeable, down-to-earth guy and a pretty good son and brother, based on his tribute film to his dad and comments about Dick.

But (and there is a “but”), after the family slides were over, we were treated to marketing photos of six packs and long descriptions of the brewery’s many varieties of beer, and explanations of why Jake thinks each is the best of its class on the market. He also announced a partnership with the Milk Marketing board to promote cheese with beer, and said it was his intention to position beer in the same light as wine, as a meal accompaniment. His main pitch then shifted to the lodge in Chippewa Falls, where, next Father’s Day, we are all invited to bring our husbands or male buddies to drink responsibly during the annual all day celebration with Leinenkugel groupies.

Let’s fast forward: Following Jake’s presentation, his brother Dick — now speaking as Secretary of Commerce — thanked him for doing a good job running the brewery and working so diligently to partner with government (state government? I wondered) to take a leadership role in cleaning the lake waters that the brewery uses and partially recycles.

Those closing accolades pretty much concluded the formal dinner and reopened networking opportunities, so I joined a few hundred others to sample the dessert bar.

I’m calling it a “dessert bar” rather than the Chamber’s description of it as a “dessert reception” because it featured two-ounce samples of Leinenkugel’s Berry Weis beer, which, Jake says, is made for women who don’t like the taste of beer. I sampled it and discovered that I’m not a big fan of berry beer, but [full disclosure] I am a woman who likes the taste of Guiness. So I probably don’t fit the target profile anyway.

My final impression of the evening was that the little coconut pastries were very, very delicious (I foisted them on everyone I saw, wanting us all to eat such great cakes) and the networking alone was worth the price of admission. In fact, I shook so many hands that as the lights went down on the evening, Tammy Rozek and I ducked into a ladies’ room to wash our hands while mentally singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” just as doctors advise to ensure washing long enough to really kill potential flu germs.

And while in that very bathroom (in addition to amusing ourselves with pithy comments about who else might be related to Secretary Leinenkugel), we decided that if Jennifer Alexander sent out evaluation forms this year, we would comment that we’d like to see the nametags changed to first name (only) on the first line, in 36-point bold font, as suggested by PC Nametag experts. Older eyes, you know, and squinting does give one away as the loser when it comes to the “do you remember me?” games. We need a handicap advantage of big bold letters to level the field with eager newbies with good eyes.

And that, my friends, was my 2009 GMCC Chamber Dinner Experience. Sorry you missed it; see you next year.