Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Deval: Vignette of a Charmer

In my time, I have known quite a few charming and some charismatic people. Gov. Deval Patrick is up there. Only the criminals and pathological liars can be more engaging.

I saw him at his best — isn't he always in the groove? — this morning while he toured the Roxbury Technology Corp. in mid-JP. He spent his time in the company of President and CEO Beth Williams (left, with him).

If Patrick experienced the slightest boredom at learning every stage of laser printer cartridge rebuilding, we didn't get a hint of that. In fact, over the years, I've been in numerous plants or warehouses when a big shot tours. Workers typically are either cowed or annoyed by the interruption. Today, the men and women on the floor were charmed.

Disclaimer: In a previous life, I wrote for Cahner's Publishing's original magazine, Modern Materials Handling. I was a staff editor, a title trade and management mags give in lieu of bigger salaries to writers. I know more about manufacturing, inventory, warehousing and distribution than anyone not in these fields should have to. I'll spare you here, but a couple of concepts pop in because of Patrick's interactions.

Watching Patrick in action was fascinating and much more revealing than attending his addresses or press conferences, both of which I've done.

First to note is that he listens. Most of us are simple to please. We want our names pronounced and spelled right even if they are unusual or unique. We want people to pay attention when we speak and remember what we say.

Patrick visited a dozen or more stations in the plant. All except the initial receiving area for cartridges ready to start the recycling process had one or more workers. At every one of those, he was fully engaged. He seemed to give as much attention to an hourly laborer telling him how she diagnosed and replaced defective gears as he might to an economist briefing him on a policy issue.

That kind of basic respect was not lost on the employees there.

Moreover, this engagement included asking relevant questions and discussing the implications of each operation. He ratcheted it up when he and Williams were discussing process and business instead of a single operation.

For example, at one point she was discussing her major customer, Staples. The office-supply giant provides accurate order forecasts. She then uses a just-in-time system to minimize her inventory. She likes to keep two weeks' or fewer worth of components on hand. This moment was the closest Patrick got to pandering to his audience. He used the moot point about Staples using her company as a bank for interest-free loans of the materials. As lean as Roxbury Technology runs, that's pushing the empathy. Williams appreciated the view though. Business owners certainly like to optimize cash flow.

At the end of the tour, Patrick tied it all together. The company had a table of goodies — fruit and fruit juices, coffee and Canto 6 pastries (from a block away). Employees could come for the treats. They chose to stand and greet the governor as he went down what turned out to be long receiving line. Those he had met already joined with the others. They hadn't had enough Deval yet.

He didn't disappoint and called them by name, show again that he had paid attention. He even amused and charmed the line when one of men said he looked taller in person. Most workers looked Latino and were medium height or short themselves. Patrick milked the remark well. He smiled, stretched up on the balls of his feet and said that really, he was tall...big laughs all around.

He worked on me too. I stood against a wall out of the way, but he crossed over from the line. He said he recognized me but did not recall my name (honesty goes far with me). I reminded him of Left Ahead! and Marry in Massachusetts. I said his chief of staff, Doug Rubin, had promised to set up a podcast. He iterated that Doug was the right guy, as well as that he'd like to do one with us.

He didn't stop quite there. Rather, he said he'd like to blog more himself but didn't want to blog and run, that is not keep up with comments and answer them. He said his schedule, long periods away from computers, and his low typing speed were limits. I suggested that such follow-up was what he had lackeys for. He flashed that contagious grin, backhanded my nearest triceps and said, "I don't have lackeys. I have staff."

Delightful, simple but delightful.

P.M. Follow-Up: In an amusing footnote, I see that Deval posted on the proposed financial bailout, leading with "I apologize for 'blogging and running,' but here we go . . ."
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