Interview with Bill Stritzler, Chair

Question #1: From your vantage point high in the mountains at Smugglers’ Notch, “America’s Family Resort”, how would you describe the current trends within the travel/recreation industry, and what does it portend for economic development in the state?

Compared to last year we are seeing about the same volume of travelers but spending levels have declined. Vacations are still a high priority, especially for families, but vacation budgets are lower. Every consumer has become a negotiator looking for the best deal. There remains a fair amount of financial fear despite signs of a recovering economy.  When the job market recovers then consumer confidence will return and our industry will see an upswing. The bottom line? Consumers will continue to travel with smaller budgets and industry growth will return as jobs grow which in turn will mean revenue growth for Vermont.

Question #2: All businesses across industry and geography have had to make concessions and reduce expenses to weather the economic storm. What has been the area in which you’ve chosen to invest during this time period, and why?

Almost all business is re-trenching in one form or another. We have reduced capital spending in favor of protecting jobs to the greatest extent possible. Our business is essentially a people driven service business and when the economy turns around we want to be sure our best people are here to help the business and themselves enjoy new growth.

Question #3: You have been in leadership positions with a large number of non-profit organizations in recent years including, among others, Vermont Public Television and the Vermont Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. What is it about the Roundtable that prompted you to accept a leadership role as board chair and invest your personal time and energy?

Before accepting an invitation to join a non-profit organization I have a number of criteria I employ to help my decision.

First I have to believe in the mission.  The Roundtable’s Mission to “Making Vermont the best place to  do business, be educated, and live life” was easy to buy into as I have a Vermont education, am a Vermont business owner and do not want to live anywhere else.

Second, I evaluate the staff leadership and Board membership. Both have been outstanding over a long period of time at the Roundtable.

Third, I ask questions about the reputation of the organization with a focus on ethical behavior. VBR passes with flying colors.

Fourth, I try to evaluate whether or not the organization really is capable of making a difference to the well being of Vermonters.  Again, VBR passes with flying colors.

Finally, I never join an organization without the intent of committing time and effort to making a personal contribution to the goals of the enterprise.

All of the above made the decision to accept the honor of Chair an easy one.

Question #4: You have been a strong advocate for public investment in pre-K education in Vermont, in fact, it was a major recommendation from the Roundtable’s “Courage to Change” task force that you chaired. What would you say to other business leaders who may be skeptical about investing dollars at this end of the education spectrum?

I believe pre-K education is an integral part of a much bigger picture of a healthy future for Vermont.  Making Vermont a great place to live includes respect for one another including meeting the social needs of our Vermont society. We cannot take care of these needs without strong state revenues and we cannot and should not raise taxes. The best way to raise tax revenues is to raise personal and business income. The best way to raise income is through a highly educated and motivated work force to both attract jobs to Vermont and help companies grow who are here now. The best long term way to ensure a vital workforce is through a vital education system that is designed to start early in the child’s life to build the child’s knowledge base as well as create an understanding of the value of education.

I strongly believe that we must think of pre-K educational investment in the same way as a business evaluates a capital investment.  We must put money “up front” to gain the long-term benefits. There is ample evidence that children given an educational head start tend to stay in school and go on to higher education and that fits perfectly in the system of making Vermont a great place to do business, be educated and live life.

Question #5: The winter season is long and the conditions can be harsh. How do you motivate your senior leadership and front line staff from November to March?

First we must hire people who have a “love of chaos!” and know how to celebrate success as well as cope with frequent challenges. Second, once hired, everyone has to know that they are respected, from the night janitor to the president. Third, the main business objectives must be regularly measured and all concerned must be given feedback. Fourth, the reward system must be fair and as generous as possible. Fifth, Management must be open and accessible and participative. Sixth, Fun, Fun, Fun!! Develop and live this attitude in all seasons.