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The strength to face those difficult times - Mary Jane Holt

Wow, did I ever enjoy meeting and hearing Milt Thomas, the guest speaker at the Fayette County monthly Business to Business Luncheon on Aug. 13.

I felt good after hearing him speak, and I've wanted to feel good lately.

Thomas is a former marketing communications executive with Home Depot and The Coca-Cola Company. Today, he is founder and CEO of QuuM, a consulting firm that "offers a strategically robust complement of services that combine to offer a highly distinctive value proposition."

Big words, huh? Trust me, the guy measures up. So how did he impress me?

At first, he pointed out that GE, Walt Disney, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft and Home Depot are all companies that were launched during a recession or depression.

Tell me that did not thrill Todd White, who started Resolve Pest Control in Peachtree City about four months ago. Todd, a good looking, clean-cut redhead was sitting at my table. He left behind a very promising career in banking where, for 13 years, he had helped other people launch their businesses. Now, he is visibly excited about starting his own business.

You gotta love that kind of entrepreneurship especially in an era when small business literally is saving the U.S. economy. I mean small businesses are actually hiring!

Then Thomas delighted us as he repeatedly drove home the importance of building relationships with clients.

Listening, I recalled anew why I like to shop at Chico's and Coldwater Creek where the staffs know me by name. Intent on developing a relationship, they asked for it the first time I ever went in their stores. I like their clothes, but I like it even more that they remember my name.

At one point, Thomas reminded us that Russell Athletics actually invented the sweatshirt and specialized in athletic wear. Then Nike came along, with an amazing marketing slogan that immediately established a relationship with consumers who wanted to be and do more than they had been and done in the past. "Just Do It" inspired hope, excitement, a future ... and huge sales!

My healthcare background makes me know there is nothing more important that health providers can do for their patients than to strive to develop strong and mutually respectful relationships.

Why? Because, one, it's the preservation of one's health, or even one's very life that the consumer entrusts to the physician, clinic or hospital staff. And two, in the end -- literally in the end -- when death is approaching, it is ALL about relationships.

Beyond our actual physical demise, we also experience the deaths of various identities from time to time. Illness, injury, the death of a loved one, divorce, getting fired from a job, choosing or being forced to go from one career into another - all these life events, to some degree, represent the death of a past identity.

With that in mind, I really loved it whenThomas talked about how his daddy used to tell folks that "opportunity is like a bald-headed man with a beard; if you're going to grab him, it must be done when he faces you, because, once he passes, there is little to hang onto."

Then there was the encouragement once shared with Thomas' mentor, Bernie Marcus, Home Depot Founder, who once faced his own life-defining moments. As he stared into the abyss now filled with his Big Box creation, Home Depot, newly fired from a company that he ran, he was told, "you just got kicked in the [ rear] with a golden horseshoe."

If you are going through a down time now, look closely at the color of that horseshoe. You might want to welcome your own kick.

Many of you know that I teach (and sometimes get downright preachy about it) that the worst thing that ever happens to you has the potential to be the best thing, if you do not let it get the best of you.

So please embrace the challenges of this present recession, as well as any other personal-life trials you may be experiencing. Choose to be thankful for the lessons that can more effectively be learned at such times, and resolve to recognize unexpected opportunities as they are made available to you.

And remember, when absolutely everything else seems to be beyond your control, your attitude is not. Oh, and if you ever have the opportunity to hear Milt Thomas speak, take it; he will strengthen you for those inevitable down times that we all experience.

Mary Jane Holt, an avid reader, book lover and spiritual thinker, writes an occasional column for the weekend edition of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. You can visit her at: www.maryjaneholt.com.