Ticket to Ride

Author maps the road toward making connections

By Martin Lenkowsky

You’re casually driving your no-frills, nondescript rental car to a business meeting in Milwaukee, when you find yourself surrounded by hundreds of thousands of black-leather clad, heavily tattooed bikers on shiny, chrome Harley-Davidsons. You soon realize the iconic American motorcycle manufacturer is celebrating its 100th anniversary in its home city, and bikers from around the globe are here to join the party.

Make no mistake about it; you’re not a biker, and you never will be a biker – although deep down you think it’s cool. Yet you’d love to find a way to somehow connect and share the camaraderie with all these fun-loving bikers. So when the opportunity arises, you go up to a biker and say two simple words: “Nice bike.” He smiles at you, says “thanks” and you two have established a connection.

This is the experience shared by writer, entertainer and motivational speaker Mark Scharenbroich, who has authored the book Nice Bike: Making Meaningful Connections on the Road of Life. He will be the guest speaker at the Easter Seals Get Down to Business Lunch on Jan. 18 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

Scharenbroich, a Minneapolis resident, was interviewed by SFBW, a media sponsor of the event, to discuss his book and upcoming speaking engagement. He says he uses the “nice bike” scenario as a metaphor representing the importance of connecting and how it can enhance one’s business practices.

“The ‘nice bike’ message is all about how we connect with each other,” he says. “With business people, it’s how they create a culture.”

He says when he visits successful companies, he actually feels a “culture of connecting” and how members respect each other. Scharenbroich says a business organization must make sure all its employees connect with each other, their company’s core values and mission statement, as well as customers. Surveys show retail businesses that have a policy of personally greeting – thereby connecting – with all customers walking through their doors have increased sales, employee retention and customer return.

He uses three words to describe his intended message to business leaders: “Acknowledge, honor and connect,” he says. “ ‘Nice bike’ serves as a metaphor.”

In “acknowledging,” Scharenbroich says he is referring to making ourselves fully present in the lives of others. “When you’re trying to connect with someone, put down your smartphone,” he says. By “honoring” he says, “we need to create a meaningful experience for them. And by ‘connecting,’ we need to make it personal.”

He says some successful hotels have instituted what’s called a “10-3” rule to connect with customers as well as provide a rewarding experience for both customer and employees. “Whenever they’re 10 feet from a customer, they need to maintain eye contact with that person,” he says. “Within three feet, they need to say, ‘hello.’ ”

And what will be the main focus of his speech at the luncheon? “I remind people I’m a storyteller. I relate experiences,” he says. “I want my listeners to have a great experience. I want them to leave wanting to connect with others in a more meaningful way in both their professional and personal lives.”

Scharenbroich says, unlike some speakers standing before business leaders, he doesn’t need to use PowerPoint displays. “There are no ‘sleepers’ in my talks,” he says. “The stories are never about me. It’s about the people in my audience.”

He says he’s noticed a positive trend in today’s business world. “One of the biggest things I see is the best companies are making a huge effort toward clarifying the core values of their companies,” he says, adding these successful companies emphasize their “mission, vision and values,” and make them clear to their employees and customers alike.

Paul Leone, CEO of The Breakers in Palm Beach, has been involved with this luncheon for many years. He says his involvement began as a favor to a friend: “My very good friend Bill Perry, a managing shareholder of the Gunster law firm, said to me, ‘This is really a great organization and they need our help.’ ”

Leone says he first simply wrote a check. However, the next year, a friend encouraged him to actually visit the Easter Seals center. “All you need to do is walk through that door and see the children,” he says. “It was a beautiful thing. It was very touching and inspiring. I was thrilled. I felt they needed more support, and before you know it, we were the ‘grand benefactor.’ ”

He says the Get Down to Business Lunch serves several functions. “It brings awareness to the Easter Seals mission, especially to newcomers,” he says. “It raises money for that organization, and it’s an opportunity to share a great national speaker and writer with our community. It’s an educational and inspirational opportunity.”

Leone also credits another close friend, Neil Merin, chairman of the NAI/Merin Hunter Codman commercial real estate services firm, with getting him involved.

“It started out with me helping a friend,” he says. “He actually did me the favor.” ♦

Easter Seals Get Down to Business Lunch

When: Wednesday, January 18, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Where: The Kravis Center, Cohen Pavilion, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33401

• Speaker: Mark Scharenbroich, author of Nice Bike: Making Meaningful Connections on the Road of Life.• Information:

Contact Caroline Tanner at ctanner@fl.easterseals.com or call 407-629-7881, ext. 12101.

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