Running the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for a city is a daunting task. But for three counties? That’s the challenge Annette Rummel faced when she accepted the position as CEO of the Great Lakes CVB. As the CEO of the Great Lakes Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, shares with us lessons she’s learned regarding leadership through service to others. Her role is to encourage travel and tourism in Saginaw, Midland and Bay Counties. Quite a feat for anyone. In this episode, she talks about how her upbringing, philosophy and values impacts how she leads such an important organization.
Great Lakes Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (Click Here)
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the call of leadership podcast, where we interview people from our Michigan community who answered the call of leadership. We’ll hear their powerful stories and get their advice so that we can be better leaders for ourselves, our families, and in our communities. I am your host Cliff DuVernois.
And today I’m joined once again in studio with my producer. Miranda Urbanczyk. And for today’s episode, it promises to be a really good one. She’s a pure Michigan partner serves on the destinations international board of directors, ladies and gentlemen, please. Welcome to the show, the CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, Annette Rummel. Annette, how are you?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:00:48] I’m doing great. How are you today?
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:51] I’m doing well. Thank you for asking. Tell us a little bit about where you’re from. Where did you grow up?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:00:56] well, actually I’m a born and raised Michigan girl. I was born in the city of Detroit and then early, in the 1950s, or excuse me, 1960s. My family moved up to Vassar Michigan where I grew up, went to high school. and then I’m now living in Frankenmuth.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:15] And where did you, where did you decide to go to college?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:01:19] well, I actually started off at Delta community college, which was a really good transition from high school into the, college life for me. it also allowed me to work and pay my way through school. then I went to, Northwood university for four years. That was before they have those wonderful, Optional programs that they have in place now, received my undergrad in business and then, did my masters degree at Rochester Institute of technology in Rochester, New York.
and then on to Michigan state university for my PhD.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:53] That’s excellent. Why did you decide to chase after your masters?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:01:58] well, it’s kind of an unusual story. I was working in Frankenmuth, running the chamber of commerce and convention and visitor’s Bureau and actually hired, Some folks to come in and do some business training for our organizations in here. And when I met, one of the professors from RIT, he asked if I would come there and teach for them.
And I said, I’m not allowed to teach at the college level at this point because I don’t have a master’s degree. And so he offered me the opportunity to attend RIT, to obtain my master’s degree. And, I just then finished off at Michigan state with my PhD after that.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:37] You got your master’s in science. Why did that feel? Stand out to you of all the fields such as leadership and business. Why did you think science would help you with your job?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:02:46] I believe that in life, we shouldn’t just stay on a single path that, by learning different aspects of, the world, you have a bigger, more broad perspective and that would help with leadership. And so I wanted to challenge myself in an area where I hadn’t studied before, and just bring a different dimension into my thoughts.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:08] And I know that you have spent quite a lot of time. Your, your education goes, in your first job, everything inside of the tourism field, what is it about tourism that made you decide that you wanted to dedicate so much of your educational training and for that matter your career to it?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:03:28] Well, I don’t know that I ever really gave that conscious thought, but growing up, my mom and dad always told us kids that service to others is, very important. And it, it adds to the fullness and richness of your life. So having been raised with a service mentality, it just seemed a natural fit for me to go into the hospitality industry.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:51] Okay. And was this something that was just something that your, that your parents just raised you with growing up?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:04:00] yeah, we grew up on a small farm in Vassar and we were taught to work really hard and, again, serve other people. And so, part of the, Part of our upbringing was also volunteerism. And so we would volunteer for the church and we would volunteer for the committee unity and within service organizations.
And so I naturally really gravitated to serving the community when I came here to Frankenmuth, I just fell in love with the community and wanting to give back and say, thank you. And so I started volunteering for the Bavarian festival and that’s actually how I was able to get to know the people at the chamber of commerce and ultimately began working for the chamber at that point.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:04:43] Why didn’t you decide to stay in Michigan and not move to a bigger vacation spot to start your job.
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:04:48] I, as I said, I was born and raised here in the state and I don’t know any place on earth. That’s more beautiful than Michigan. some places might seem more glitzy and glamorous, but Michigan provides. Everything that I would ever need to be happy in life. We have four seasons. We have a wonderful agricultural community.
We have rural areas, trails, hunting, fishing, that’s just a lifestyle lifestyle that I’m, I really find attractive.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:21] And from your decision to stay within Michigan. And I do want to make sure that we spend some time talking about this with your involvement inside of tourism. Tell us a little bit about the, the history, the recent history of the Great Lakes Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. How did that even get formed?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:05:43] Well, I said I started, working at the Franco chamber of commerce and convention and visitor’s Bureau and the chamber of commerce really focuses internally on, businesses and ensuring the health of a local business community. Whereas a convention and visitors Bureau reaches outside of the community to invite guests, to come and enjoy the place where you work.
And. there came a point where I transitioned up to the Saginaw County level and was very happy inviting, visitors, not only, still to Frankenmuth, but also to Bertran Chestnut Saginaw and Saginaw township. Well then in the economic downturn of 2000 and an eight, I was asked to also run the County convention and visitor bureaus of Bay County and Midland County.
And create an overarching umbrella organization that would, eliminate duplication of effort. Reduce overhead expenses and ultimately allow for more money to be invested into marketing and advertising our region. And what I found is that separately, each County had a really good tourism product, but together collectively we have a world class destination where we, we should feel proud to live here, to work here, worship and play, and be proud to invite people into enjoy.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:06] And what was the, what was the transition like from going from like, let’s say like a really tight community, like Frankenmuth versus now being responsible for three counties.
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:07:20] It’s a, that’s a really great question. when you’re in a community and working in Frankenmuth, you know, every single owner, you know, the employees, you know, the details of the trip town, and. There’s there’s some benefits to that. and you’re personally involved with that. As you move up to a larger area, you are less involved in the day to day operations of each individual business, and you have to look at things on a more global scale, and working at a higher level with, with the owners of these properties.
So you still maintain the relationship and I think that’s critical. For us to operate in a professional and effective manner. I think it is very important that you still know these individuals, but it’s not on a, as personal a level as it is when you, when you’re in a small town and you know, everybody, and, and you go to church with everybody and go to, you know, shop at the same stores.
So it is a different environment, but there are some benefits as well.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:08:28] And when the Great Lakes, CVB was formed, you you’re basically you’re taking. Three different counties who never really worked together under one umbrella before. I mean, they might’ve had, you know, like partnerships they’ve, might’ve exchanged idea Diaz and talked to each other right now they’re under one umbrella.
What was, what was some of the big challenges in trying to make sure that each County that you were working with was receiving the benefits it’s of, of the, of the CVB.
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:09:00] That that’s a really good observation as well. I think the most important thing was that. Each County organization retained its individual identity and retained its individual presence within the County that it was located in. each also owned a different amount of assets associated with it. And those were retained with each organization.
The benefit was that we weren’t. Duplicating memberships in national organizations and national marketing and sales operations. so what I was able to do is go through and, do an assessment and then strategically decide based on the type of business that I want it to have attracted here, to benefit the entire region and focus.
The resources necessary with one membership instead of three. and so we were able to reduce overhead expenses by more than 85% by restructuring sharing stacks, and aligning, the business separations. We were able to really reduce those overheads and drive even more money into marketing and advertising, which ultimately benefits everybody within the region.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:16] Yeah, I definitely could understand that. And my next question is kind of gonna fold into that a little bit and. Is, if you would share with us a little bit about the, that the responsibilities of being a CEO of the CV, what is, what does your role entail?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:10:33] well, as I said earlier, I think my mom and dad gave us a really good upbringing because, they, they actually taught us that when you’re in charge, you. Are responsible to ensure that the people that you are leading, you’re actually serving. And so my job, my primary role is to make sure that my team members have everything they need to do the best job they possibly can.
And that I’m thinking of their needs before mine. I always say that when life is. In a normal, cadence that, they’re their own CEOs of their various departments. But when there’s a crisis, then I have to be the boss. Otherwise we’re just coworkers in this and working with one another.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:11:19] what was your opinion on CEO’s as a child? And what were your thoughts on what a CEO should do?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:11:25] Okay. As a child, I thought the loss was the person that got to tell everybody what to do and how to do it. And my perspective has changed drastically. I have. Selected mentors. these are other leaders that I have gained a great deal of respect for, and try to live up to the way that they behave and, and, what I’ve learned from them.
one of the, my favorite. CEO people. And, it might be unusual for your listeners, but, I look at Jesus and his life and the way that he led his, 12th. Apostles and taught them and serve them. Yeah. And, there’s a great book out there called Jesus CEO. And if you equated some of his behaviors to what a CEO and a corporation would behave like, you can learn an awful lot.
So that was one of my big mentors. And then as I said, Earthly mentors. I, I have a number of people that I respect and look at their behaviors and try to imitate how they would act in different situations.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:38] You know, it’s interesting that you bring up the topic of Jesus and this book. And I wrote that down because I’m going to order that. On Amazon. Once this interview is over, I’ve been doing a lot of research into the subject of leadership, and I’m really surprised at the amount of overlap there is between the, the teachings that are in the Bible.
Versus the, the, the tenants of leadership. Is there anything in particular from the Bible or one, the Jesus’s teachings that is something that you have applied directly to being the CEO of the CBB?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:13:18] Oh, absolutely. Again, ensuring that I’m not thinking of myself first, but I try to think of the team members first and what their needs are also. if. You are head of a corporation. You always have to be mindful of the finances and your responsibility to, the people that are employed at that organization to make sure that the finances are in line.
And the Bible is one of the best resources for how to handle that treasures that are put under your authority. So that’s that those are just two examples and there are dozens, as you said,
Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:55] Yeah. And it’s interesting that you bring that up because one of the people that I do listen to a lot. as far as money management goes is Dave Ramsey. And he bases his entire philosophy of money management on what the Bible teaches. So very simple, very straightforward stuff. I’m I’m thoroughly enjoying that.
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:14:15] I’m a big fan of his. And when I onboard an employee, there are certain books that I recommend that they read. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace, one of those because, scientific studies have shown that productivity decreases. As much as 20% per employee, if they have financial personal problems. And so if I can help resolve them and give them the tools they need, not only at their office, but also in their homes, that ultimately helps to work the, make the corporation work better.
there’s another book called Boundaries that I have my team leader or team members read. And that’s a wonderful book as well.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:57] So that’s two great books that I’m going to have to now order I, since my bank account getting much lighter before this interview is over.
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:15:04] make her bed it’s in the budget.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:15:05] Oh, nice. So I do want to talk about. The elephant that’s in the room.
When COVID-19 first came and was coming across Michigan and everything was being shut down. What were some of the actions that you took to try to help the businesses and organizations that are under your purview?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:15:24] Well, the first step, obviously again, is to make sure that my team members were healthy and safe. I was actually in the country of Billy’s. And, keeping in contact with my staff via cell phone, learning about the, the spread of the COVID-19. At that point, I had asked them, on March 14th to please.
Prepare to work from home until, until I could get back into the country and find out, what the situation was. So always the safety and health of the team, came first. Once I arrived back on the 16th, which was one of the last days that flights were allowed back into the United States, went to work right away to do assessments, to see what the immediate.
Needs of the, the community at large worse. So I got in contact with the County chambers of Commerce’s, the County economic development office, our regional Alliance office, which is comprised of the healthcare sector, the schools, et cetera. I was also monitoring what was going on in New York with the closures of the businesses, because at that point in time, we were not yet completely closed down.
And so I wanted to understand, What was happening in New York. And could we prepare in advance for some of the experiences that they were, that they were seeing? And so what we started to do is communicate with our hospitals and which. Was, you know, even prior to that, we had a relationship with the hospitals.
And I think that that’s a very important, thing for the listeners to understand that this wasn’t the first time that the convention and visitors Bureau had reached out to the healthcare community. We had an ongoing relationship with these folks. So when I called, they already knew who I was and what we did.
And so I said, based on what’s happening in New York, I just want you to know that we’ve done an sense of various properties and their proximity to the hospital. So should we need overflow facilities? Here are the people that oversee those convention centers, large exposition halls, and I’ve already done the work in advance to say if overflow is needed.
And then we also, did an inventory of the hotel properties. Hearing that in New York, they needed, healthcare workers to shelter away from their home. So as not to infect their own families, we contacted hotels and ask if they were willing to house healthcare workers. And then the next phase was, are you willing to house covert?
Patients if the need, exists within our area. And then third, we worked with the County health department to find housing for homeless people who may or may not have been exposed to COVID-19. So those were the initial actions. And again, that’s. just like when you’re building a house, you need to set that firm foundation in place and make sure you’re working from a solid base.
And so those were the, the basic, fundamental. Needs in the initial plan, part of the crisis that we addressed. And then we transitioned on to communication communication with the residential fabric to say, how are you feeling? What resources do you need? And then of course helped work with the parents who were now having to be teachers at home.
Right. So we created information on, virtual field trips through our website site that they could access at no charge. Of course. and that is another thing. All of the services of the company and, and visitors Bureau are free to anyone to use. So, in that sense, same period of time, we were working with the meeting planners to say, we know that you have to, perhaps.
Cancel your meeting now, but instead of just simply canceling, can we postpone and reschedule at this point in time? So we were working with conventions and meetings and weddings and sports and, any other kind of activity that was occurring, a lot in the arts and entertainment area. and then we were communicating what was still available.
And working with the restaurants to put, the specials and what their hours were. And so it, it was a lot at the very, very beginning and we’ve ramped up, to even now providing links and resources for remediation efforts. when the time comes and people do want to begin to travel again. What should they be looking for in product delivery and what can our hotels, our restaurants, our attractions do to keep those customers safe.
And that’s where we are right now.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:05] For someone who loves to travel and is so travel oriented, how does it feel not to be able to travel or help others do that during this pandemic? And how has that affected you?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:20:16] Well again, I’ve been trying to focus on the needs of other people. And I think that that really helps you forget about what. You’re missing. And then also I tried to focus on the things that I still have and appreciate those things. So I don’t talk, I don’t dwell on what I can’t do. I well on what I’m able to still do have appreciation for.
And I’m Winston Churchill in world war II said never let a good crisis go on. unused. And so I’m saying. What during this crisis can we do and make happen that will we’ll make lemonade out of lemons. And so, for example, right now, my team is working on upgrading our entire website. We’ve got our, as well as doing all of the normal day to day activities.
So we’re really kind of trying to freshen ourselves up and clean up and tighten things up while we have this. A restriction in place so that when the restriction is lifted, we are ready to go.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:27] And speaking of ready to go. I know that we’re just weeks away from having the restrictions lifted. And I know I referenced that before people are going to start traveling more. They’ve been cooped up now for a couple of months. What are. Are some of the plans or initiatives that you might have in place that when people do start traveling, that they can travel.
And at the same point in time, know that that they’re safe.
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:21:53] Well, we’re, we are blessed to have, properties like Marriott and Hilton and, holiday and some of the major franchise that have the benefit of their corporate offices, providing them with. Step by step directions on how to interact with the guests, but some of our independent hotels and our smaller properties don’t have that benefit.
So what the convention and visitors Bureau has been doing for everyone is putting together that, step by step instruction on welcoming the guests back into the property, regardless of whether it’s a hotel or a restaurant or an attraction. And basically what we’re advising people to do is. Pretend you’re the guest and look at all the things that are touch points, where the guests would walk up to the door.
Do they have to pull the handle open? If they have to pull the handle open, let’s put some cleaning solution there or hand sanitizer. in those places that are, very high profile and high used, also things like the breakfast buffet that was served in the past, along with the, room purchase at a hotel is rethink that through, try and, consider it from the person’s perspective and say, Instead of having a service bar where there’s a common, pitcher of orange juice have separate servings of orange juice have separate servings of butter so that it’s not a shared situation.
And if you had, An area where there is the ability, try to gather the information in advance of what that person would want to eat in the morning and actually have that prepared for them in advance. So then they they’re just being handed that kind of a breakfast instead of having to do a self serve situation.
So hints like that. We’ve done, a hotel. A seminar already on that. We’ll be moving into a restaurant and service area. But as far as the guests goes, I would just ask our listeners that as you’re making the decision to come out of your homes, which I encourage and, and, again, engage in some of these activities, think of.
wearing your mask, wearing your personal protective, materials when you’re around the groups that you’re not cohabitating with at this point in time. and just, being part of the solution.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:20] The things that I don’t even think about, like the hotels that are offering the, all you can eat buffet or the continental breakfast downstairs, I’m just so used to seeing, you know, rows and rows of muffins or toast or bread or cereal, or, or like you said, the pitchers of orange juice. So, it’s, it’s really cool.
There’s been a lot of thought going into how hotels can still offer the same level of service, but at the same point in time, Really focused on keeping people safe.
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:24:50] I agree. and it also goes into the back of the house as well. the owners of our restaurants want to ensure the safety of their employees. And so. Put in safety protocols, not only for the front door where the customer come in, but also the back door where the employees usually enter, they’re doing temperature checks.
They’re making sure that they have the equipment. They need to socially distance from others until we get away. I’ve seen, even with delivery, something as common as a food delivery in the back of a house at a restaurant is now being monitored. Signed in who was there and they’re tracking the individual people in the event that there would be some kind of a situation where they’d need to notify people.
Hey, we, we did experience a problem. Those kinds of actions are being deployed throughout Michigan’s great lakes Bay region.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:41] Excellent. as we, as we draw this interview to a close, if people want to connect with you, follow, follow you online, maybe check out the CVB, what is the best way for them to do that?
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:25:54] Go gray.com. again, it’s, G O G R E a t.com. also we have a toll free number one, (800) 444-9979. those are the two easiest way we’re on Facebook. We’re on Twitter. but go to the website first and you can go from there. We’re also interpret visor. So.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:26:15] And for our audience, we’ll have all the links down in the show. No it’s down below, including all those books that you can get from amazon.com, which is going to drain my bank account dry a net. It’s been a privilege having you on the podcast today.
Annette Rummel, Go Great Chamber of Commerce: [00:26:29] Well, thank you both for having me. And I love that your daughter, your producer, What’s on with us today. I love to have young people. I think it brings a sense of energy and hope for the future for us all. So I appreciate it very much. Thank you.