How can we rebound? To go from a booming economy and record sales to a sudden, unexpected stop has caused businesses, and the people they employ, to suffer. Mike Whalen is Founder, President, and CEO of The Heart of America Group, a large hospitality,...
How can we rebound? To go from a booming economy and record sales to a sudden, unexpected stop has caused businesses, and the people they employ, to suffer. Mike
Whalen is Founder, President, and CEO of The Heart of America Group, a large hospitality, retail, and development company with restaurants, hotels, and shops throughout the Midwest.
The Machine Shed, Thunder Bay Grille, and Wildwood Lodge are just a few of their well-known brands.
Listen as Mike shares his thoughts on rebounding after the COVID-19 pandemic, and on how to help people thrive with profitable businesses, sound constitutional policies, and
improved employer to employee communication. America is strong. Let’s rebound!
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Linda: Thank you for joining us today. I have with me today, Michael Whalen. Mr. Whalen is the founder of Heart of America Group and has served as President and CEO since 1978. Through Mr. Whalen’s entrepreneur leadership and vision, the company has grown from a single restaurant operation to a profitable and growing real estate development and hospitality enterprise. Mike Whalen received his bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Illinois in 1975, receiving the distinction of Bronze Tablet scholar, and his law degree from Harvard Law School with honors in 1978. He has received many awards and honors for his achievements, including Humanitarian of the Year by the National Restaurant Association, Entrepreneur of the Year from Inc. Magazine, and the BBB Integrity Award among others. The Heart of America group started with one 100-seat restaurant in 1978. It has now grown to include a portfolio of award-winning owned and operated restaurants, hotels, and commercial developments. Noteworthy brands developed and operated by the Heart of America Group include the Machine Shed Restaurant, Johnny's Italian Steakhouse, The Republic on Grand. Hotel Renovo, Wildwood Lodge, Thunder Bay Grill, and the J Bar. They pride themselves on building long-lasting properties that bring value to the consumer and to the communities in which they build. So, with that introduction, I'd like to welcome to our listeners, Michael Whalen.
Michael: Thank you, Linda. Appreciate that.
Linda: Well, thank you for being here today. You have long been in the hospitality industry. And as we look at the COVID-19 crisis that has come upon us in this year, the hospitality industry has been, I think, one of the hardest-hit. Before we started recording, you were telling me how you were having just amazing results with your business and then it just stopped. Can you tell us a little bit about what that was like for you?
Michael: It was surreal. Obviously, it was like a movie that you were caught into and you didn't know whether it was real or not. We had a record-breaking January, a record-breaking February by far. Based on our projections in March, we were going to have another record-breaking March. And the year look fabulous. Literally, I came back from our home in Florida the first week of March, pumped up, ready to go. Lo and behold, in three days, all of that happened. Boom.
Michael: Yeah, it wasn't like two weeks or three weeks, it was like three days. [chuckles]
Linda: Yeah, it's like the world changed.
Michael: It did.
Linda: And so now that was March, we're recording this in May of 2020. Can you tell us how this has affected your business and what your hopes are as we move forward? Obviously, you hope for a quick rebound, obviously, but do you have recommendations for other hospitality companies? Just tell me your thoughts as you move forward.
Michael: Well, we literally had a drop in revenues of 99% in 72 hours, and that meant we furloughed or laid off basically 99% of our workforce. We did get some PPP funds, but the rules were designed is if you are open-- we're still unable to open in about half the states we're in. So, hopefully they'll change that around and make it more amenable, but it's distinctly different depending on who's running the state. Some states are almost fully open like Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. And then you've got-- we're also in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota with almost a day and night posture. So, we're just opening day by day, inch by inch.
Linda: Could you tell the listeners what states you have properties in?
Michael: People's Republic of Minnesota, Wisconsin, formerly called Illinois, I guess it's now the state of Chicago because it seems to dictate what the rest of the state’s doing. Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and then we have franchise restaurants that are in another four or five states. We're the heart of America.
Linda: Yeah, you are the heart of America and you are not short on opinions about how things are governed, which I appreciate about you. It's interesting, our background just for the sake of the listeners, I'll share a little bit about how we first came to know each other years ago. I was a state leader for Team NCPA, it was the National Center for Policy Analysis. We were doing a program to promote the need for Social Security reform. That's how I originally met you. Can you tell us basically what drove you into being involved at all politically and involved in policy issues?
Michael: Policy counts, and policy dictates a lot of what happens in the world. I think people don't realize that unless you fight to keep freedom, the inevitable inertia of institutions is to take it away. I think that's been the history of this country is the need for people, particularly in the private sector, they need to step up and fight the erosion of those liberties that gave us unparalleled freedom and prosperity. I used to draw a line when I would talk to college and high school kids, a long flatline along the chalkboard, and then a sharp incline straight up, and they said, that's mostly human history, misery, starvation, disease, and short lifespan. And then all of a sudden, what happened? Humans didn't get smarter. They just got freer. When people are allowed to be free, great things happen.
Linda: It does. It really is, and we can see it in countries across the globe right now. When we look at countries that have a lack of freedom-- the human heart yearns for freedom. I always say to that when citizens get dependent on government to provide for their basic needs and then government can no longer afford to do so because there's more people depending on the government than there are working to support and fund the government, rebellion and chaos happens. It's my hope that we can always stay ahead of that here in the United States. But now with the COVID crisis, I know even some employers are having trouble getting their employees to come back to work, because the unemployment benefits and some of the stimulus checks that are coming in are paying the employees more than they were making at work. Have you had that problem, too?
Michael: Absolutely. We had that problem. Yes, it was a real problem. I understand they were trying to do something fast in the heated panic of those days in March when we were told that we're going to have 2.8 million deaths and 3% to 5% mortality and you can catch it by walking into somebody's air 72 hours later because it can linger, and all this zombie apocalypse nonsense that have been proven to be not scientifically based at all. So now, we do have people that are like, “Might not come back, but do you really need me yet?” [laughs] Now they're about a bonus to come back to work paid by the federal government, so the absurdity continues.
Linda: Yeah, it does. We think of all these different things-- I want to make sure that in each episode, when we talk about getting the economy back going and we talk about businesses getting back, we in no way want to put people at risk. We certainly acknowledge and pay tribute to those who have lost their lives and to those who have risked their lives during this crisis. But as you just alluded to, the information we got at the beginning of this was incorrect. I don't blame the government. I don't blame the federal government or the states for shutting things down because the initial prognosis of what was to come was really dire. So, once we stop and get our arms around what's actually happening, then it's time to reopen. As you've mentioned, different states that have had different leadership, have had different policies about reopening and that will really have a huge impact for years to come in those states and for the country.
Michael: Yes, and I'm not pooh-poohing the fact that this virus can kill some people as other viruses have.
Michael: But it's time to pivot now that we have the information, we have a lot more science, including the German study over in Heinsberg. Professor Hendrik Streeck, the University of Bonn, some of these other major studies that indicate the mortality rate, the transmission rate are really much closer to the flu. It's kind of the flu with some additional complications. It's slightly worse than the flu. But they need to back off the fear because some people are still operating. I remember when they talked about it being able to pick it up on surfaces and now basically the CDC, largely based on the German study, is saying it's virtually impossible-- not impossible, you can't ever say anything impossible, but pretty much impossible. Good news.
Linda: Yeah. That's very good news.
Michael: Good news, especially for our business.
Linda: Yes, definitely. Speaking of your business, we've talked now about how this pandemic has affected it some but I'd like you to tell us how you got into the hospitality industry. I'd like our listeners to get to know you as a person, and then you know what led to you starting your first restaurant and how did they grow from there? Your restaurants are amazing. If the listeners have not been to them, I highly advise them to go, tell them that you listen to this podcast and you're in there as-- [crosstalk]
Linda: Yeah, no, they're great, and the beautiful hotels and properties that you have. Over the years as I've known you, I've just watched this grow. It's been exciting. How did you first get into the hospitality industry?
Michael: When I was finishing up at Harvard, I had a summertime internship in a major firm in LA. The first day, they handed me a timesheet that said you had to write down what you're doing every six minutes. And I'm like, “I don't work that way. I don't think that way”. I then realize that studying law, which I loved, and practicing law, were two radically different things. So, I had an existential crisis. My dad was a lawyer here in Iowa and had, for some reason, owned this restaurant building that went out of business, and he couldn't rerun it. And so, I was dumb enough at 23 and I say, “Dad, I'll start a restaurant and get it going and then I'll go decide what I'm going to do.” That was the summer of ‘78, a little 100-seat restaurant called the Iowa Machine Shed, dedicated to the Iowa farmer. That was the winter where it snowed like 145 inches, barely made it through the winter. And then in March of ‘79, we made a little profit, and I started to understand it and I'm like, “I like this. I really enjoy this business and I'll stick with it a little bit longer.” That was 42 years ago. [laughter]
Linda: That how it happens.
Michael: That’s how it happened.
Linda: Well, in the hospitality industry, having been in the restaurant business myself, my family owned restaurants up in the Minneapolis, St. Paul area, and they're still famous to this day, even though it was many, many years ago that they were sold and turned into something else. The hospitality industry really gets in your blood. It's like politics actually. It gets in your blood. Because it's people, we care about people. I've also worked in the hotel industry, you eventually merged into the hotel industry as well. Can you tell us how that started?
Michael: Well, yeah, it is. I say the restaurant industry is, I call it the sickness.
Michael: There is a certain sickness in only somebody that's ever really enjoyed running restaurants. People always say, “Mike, that's one of the hardest, if not the hardest business there is.” And I'm like, “Well, lucky for me, I was 23. I lost--”
Linda: You didn’t know any better.
Michael: Didn’t know any better. [laughs] But no, there was a little motel next door to our original Machine Shed, and it was turning into-- let's just say every human vice was being practiced on a daily basis at the place. I just said, “I have to buy it and clean it up because this has just gotten out of control.” I called the bank, found out who owned it because it was in foreclosure. My banker said, “Well, what do you know about the hotel business?” And I said, “Jim, what the hell did I know about the restaurant business and I do it pretty good.” He goes, “Good point. What do you need?” [laughter]
Linda: So that began that.
Michael: We found that it's another sickness of hospitality-- [crosstalk]
Linda: Right, yeah.
Michael: --I’ve always enjoyed it.
Linda: But it's great. One of my favorite quotes, and one that applies to my life a lot is, “Sometimes, you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down.” And I found that so often when I've looked at a new opportunity, it's like, “Okay, I'm off the cliff now and I'm flying. I guess I'm going to have to learn how to fly.” I think that's what you did with your restaurants and your hotels. That's amazing. Now, you've built it into this fantastic Heart of America Group. You own other types of properties. Tell the listeners a little bit about how you invest in the communities. I know even in an area near me, there's two of your restaurants and a hotel right at a major intersection. It's just great because that whole area has been elevated into a very higher-end property in a higher-end destination for people in the area. So, the way you invest in communities is also really admirable.
Michael: What we found, I guess, by the 20th year into the 42 years was, you really need to preserve your culture. One of the things that-- the famous saying was is, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I think that's true. In order to keep your culture, you really need to geographically cluster as close as you can to keep that culture alive. So, we decided that if we go into a community, we wanted to do more than one or two things, so that we can build a Heart of America culture within that community, and still keep it within the company as a whole. That's really worked good because the challenge really isn't strategy and it hasn't been execution as much. Execution follows culture. I know that sounds cliché, but it does. What I find, as an entrepreneur, is I'm not worried about trying to make my company more structured and institutionalized, my fight is to keep it entrepreneurial at heart.
Linda: Yeah. Well, and you have done that. You have truly an amazing culture in every business. I've been in, I think, almost all of them. The people are just so genuine, Midwestern nice I would say but the Heart of America truly. Your properties, you have restaurants, you have hotels, you have retail because-- I know especially in the Machine Shed restaurants, you have a whole retail gift shop area. So, you have retail. You have gotten into franchising which I'd like to touch on that, like how you got into that and then into development. You're looking at taking a barren piece of land and developing it into an emerging commerce location. Those are things where you have bumped up against tax policies, regulatory policies, EPA, DNR, every acronym of the federal government and the state governments you can probably imagine. Can you tell us a little bit about that because each facet of your business has an entirely different set of rules, regulations, policies, everything that you must be on top of to operate successfully?
Michael: One of the advantages that we have today is, we've grown to a big enough size that we can afford to know what we need to do and what we don't. I can't imagine trying to start a business from scratch like I did with virtually no support, and try to navigate through that regulatory environment as it's done today. My favorite story was when we were looking at starting a 200-acre development that was in the outskirts of Des Moines in Altoona, Iowa and one of the things-- one of the many regulatory hurdles we had to do was go and meet with the Army Corps of Engineers. After excoriating me for a building on raw ground, about a half-hour diatribe about what an evil developer I was, they started to look at the topographical map and they started to say, “Well, that's a trip.” And the guy goes, “Yeah, that's definitely a trip.” And he goes, “Well, I think this is a trip too.” And I sit and going, “What?” And then all of a sudden, it hit me. They're saying it's a tributary. As a forerunner of the Waters of the US, it's some rivulet that only was wet during rainstorms. Arguably was a tributary to a little creek. The creek was a tributary to a little river and the river eventually flowed to a navigable waterway, which was under the federal government's jurisdiction under the Constitution. And at that point, I realized it's called bootstrapping in the law. I was absolutely amazed how they were sitting there looking at some little rivulet that was wet during downpours as giving them jurisdiction over the land planning on our site. And that's indicative, I think, of the way that government tends to work when they're unchecked.
Linda: Very good point. And that Waters of the USA regulatory policy, I know-- I actually in some of my regulatory reform work, we were really trying to alert people of the reach that had, that it was really too far into the reach of Landowner Rights and things. It was beyond what was reasonable.
Michael: Well, it sounded so benign.
Linda: It sounds so benign like a lot of things do.
Michael: Yeah. Who doesn’t need clean water and there definitely is a need to address agricultural runoff in a constructive manner and I think everybody understands that, but they were basically backdooring through that, taking over and federalizing all land planning in the entire country.
Linda: They were.
Linda: Yeah. And that's an example of policy, I say, gone amok. Sometimes, we can look and see when there is a power-grabbing going on. It would have affected backyard fishponds, it just would have affected everything. People had no idea-- in general, most people had no idea, the overwhelming control that that regulatory advancing would have done. When people look at reducing regulations to help people, it's not always a bad thing. Sometimes, people think, “Oh, the Waters of the USA, we should have that.” But when they read the fine print, they realize we can protect our water, we can protect our land, and we can do so in a way that also protects the rights of the landowners and the businesses. Most landowners and business owners want to make sure they're doing things properly because they want to keep succeeding and they don't want to do something that's going to destroy their livelihood.
Michael: I think overwhelmingly, the bulk of people I know in business are eager to do the right thing. Linda: They are.
Michael: An overwhelming percentage would do the right thing without being told. And I think that's probably inverse of a lot of times what people in government think, which is that we wouldn't do the right thing if we weren't told. And not only do I find that condescending and insulting, but it's not true.
Linda: It's not true. That's correct. You have brought up these regulatory policies that have affected you even obviously before the COVID crisis and things, but as you have thought about the minimum wage mandates, the healthcare policies that have come through-- you've been in business quite a long time, so you have endured several administrations, federal administrations as well as state administrations, over the years. Tell us a little bit about how healthcare policy or minimum wage mandates, all these different things affect your business and therefore, the paychecks of the people you employ.
Michael: Well, interesting. When I ran for Congress, I understood pretty quickly that the reason minimum wage keeps being brought up is that it polls very strongly in favor of people-- even among Republicans, the vast majority think, well, then people should have a living wage. And so, it's a canard they bring out to pound on people. The reality of it was is that even when I ran for Congress, I actually-- back when newspapers actually hit classified sections, and I was being interviewed by the Des Moines Register, which was, let's just say, when I walked in, it looked like their dogs had all been run over that morning, because there was not one person that was going to be friendly to me. And they said, “Well, what about the minimum wage?” And I said, “Well, let's get your paper from today.” This was back in 2006. Got the classifieds and I said, “I'll tell you what, I'll circle every job over $50,000 a year and you circle every job that's to the minimum wage, and I will bet you that I will have 10 times more circles than you.” And they of looked at me. I said, “It's just people don't stay at the minimum wage very long if they're good. You keep them--” in fact, back in February, our biggest problem was finding good people and even 16-year-olds were being brought in above the state minimum wage. So, there's nothing that can supplant a healthy economy for rising all tides. That's really the best way to create-- you want to get a real minimum wage? Make the economy grow at 3%. And then nobody will be talking about the minimum wage. That’s the reality of it.
Linda: Right. Exactly, because wages will be growing. Wages will be growing, tips will be higher for tip staff. Yes, I totally understand. Before we were recording too, you were talking about how you were on a panel several years ago, and they were basically telling you, we had to adjust to these lower standards of economic growth in our nation. And your response to that-- I'd like you to share a little bit about that because most people did not believe we could have the economic growth that we have had under the Trump administration. And it's been amazing. I personally believe that those policies and the people who helped make them will help steer us out of this crisis too, because our economy was not in a good place and it has really rebounded. And now with the COVID crisis, we need to obviously rebound again. But I'd really love your input on that. And what you said to that panel as well.
Michael: Well, the title of the panel was, it was a construction industry, both commercial and residential, was “How is your company adjusting to the new normal?” because part of Heart of America, we have a construction division, we have a design division, we have five full-time architects on staff and a construction division. It went around the room, everybody's like, “Well, this is what we're doing. This what we're doing.” It finally got to me and I said, there is no new normal. 1.5% growth, 1.4% growth is the normal if you're running a quasi-socialistic federal government. Part of acceptance of that heavy regulatory footprint was convincing you that this lower growth rate was somehow baked into the structure of the modern American economy. And frankly, it was a lot of crap. And I said if Trump won, I said, you're going to see 3% growth, because the biggest thing that I think impacts growth is the-- I guess, just the confidence and optimism of the people that are willing to invest capital. When you're optimistic and you're excited, you do things that you don't do when you're not optimistic, and you feel beaten down. The single biggest thing that government can do is give people hope and optimism about why they should go and take their capital and put it at risk. 2021, the balance of the year of 2021 is going to be rocking and rolling, as long as we don't have a regime change because this economy wasn't fundamentally damaged. It was just shut down on whole. So, excited about that. I'm looking forward to it.
Linda: Yeah, there's a lot of optimism, and it's great. When we looked at in the months leading up even before COVID, all of the records-- with the stock market and everything, the records that were being broken consistently, time and time and time again, and you just looked at the optimism and the upward movement of our economy. It was booming. I truly believe as well that we can be booming again. As we go forward, what would you recommend to the policymakers in Washington DC and in the States as a business owner? What would be most helpful for them to do to make sure you can run a successful business?
Michael: Well, right now in the short term, it would be for them to pivot, the talking heads. Of course, we're all used to-- each of the governors' there for hour, hour and a half, and of course, the Birx and Fauci in that little group and being on for a couple hours every day. At this point, we have the science, a lot more. There's still a lot to be learned, but we've learned a lot. We learned a lot about how it's transmitted. We've learned a lot about how contagious this is. We've learned a lot about the mortality rate. All of which while it's still somewhat of a concern, don't warrant the kind of draconian approach that we have. I really would hope that they in the short term would pivot and start telling people and talking to them like adults and telling them the truth about what we've learned, and why they should feel less anxious. Like I say, [unintelligible [00:31:17] and let the economy kick back in. And then I guess the number one thing would be to get back to where we were and the same kind of mentality we were in this year earlier.
Linda: Right. We need to obviously protect the vulnerable. But as we move forward, we can do that. We've done it with other illnesses. We've done it with other diseases over time, so we can do that again. We can do both. We can rebuild the economy and we can protect our citizens.
Michael: I’ve written some country songs, actually just came out of the studio. I'm writing one now about--
Linda: I didn’t know that. I would have asked you before.
Michael: I’m writing right now one about the rebirth. I'll kick it into gear and one line is, In the country normally new, we go to work and we protect the few. And that's what we got to do, is we got to get back to work and protect the few. I think one of the criminal things that’s almost going to come out of this, is someday, history is not going to look back at the public policy reaction with much kindness and warmth as to what happened. When last week 81.7% of the deaths in Minnesota were nursing homes and assisted care centers, that doesn't even cover long-term injury centers or VAs or other places which could put it over 90%. The real shame of this thing was that we didn't protect all of them.
Linda: Exactly. When I've looked at the different states that are there and you look at where the greatest amount of deaths have been, in what cities or what counties, I would like history to take that deeper dive and say, “Well, what were the policies leading up to that? And how did those leaders in those areas handle the situation?” Because we can see many things that happened that put lives at risk. And that should be something we take to the future so this never ever happens again.
Michael: I think a good place to start would be telling nursing homes in your state that you had to take infected people back into your nursing homes. You have a navy hospital ship with 1000 beds sitting empty in your harbor. [laughs] That’s a good place to start.
Linda: Yes. Sometimes common sense is-- like the rest of us around the country can look at that and go, “What?” And unfortunately, there are so many grieving families as a result of that irresponsible decision. But there again-- now this leads into-- what I love to do with Prosperity 101™ is help people connect the dots that ideas have consequences. Like you said at the beginning of the interview, policy matters. And policy matters to paychecks, and so it matters who's elected. We were talking before about how people go into the voting booth, and will often vote for people who will vote away their rights. They don't care about the Constitution. They don't care about your industry, potentially. They might not know anything about your industry, these elected leaders. They will vote you out of business. But sometimes uninformed voters, they may be your employees, they may be other employees and other businesses, uninformed voters will go and vote themselves out of a job and out of freedom. I know we were talking before we recorded about the importance of constitutional awareness and education, and you have some opinions on that as well, I'd love for you to share.
Michael: Well, the one thing that I really did enjoy when I was back in law school, and I was really enamored with the beauty of our constitutional law. We were the first country to really say that you could be free people, free of the sovereign telling you what to do, which was a radical thought at the time. That's something that-- as Benjamin Franklin said, “You have a republic if you can keep it.” I think his words resonate more in 2020 than they did back at the time the Constitution because I think it's more precarious right now when people are generally ignorant of the importance of that document in keeping us prosperous and free. One of the things that I started and I need to finish is a book called The Care and Feeding of Gazelles, which is a term for economists use for fast-growing companies, they create the majority of jobs. I know that people say small business growing up creates virtually all of the jobs in a modern economy, big companies don't tend to create more jobs. It's the startups growing, like the Googles and the Amazons, but the small minority of startups and small business erupt into these. Once we've learned, and I think economists have learned and public policy people have learned, that there's a very delicate system of being able to get access to main street capital, and eventually higher level of capital and the ease of doing an IPO-- and some of those things that sound really boring, like how hard is it to take your company public? How expensive is it, how much regulation is involved in that, but the reality of it is, that's how 70, 80% of the jobs in a modern economy are created.
Linda: Interesting. You mentioned the constitution-- that you loved the constitution when you were in law school. One of my previous podcast guests is Dr. Michael Farris, who heads up the Alliance Defending Freedom organization, and he founded Patrick Henry College and Home School Legal Defense Association. He told me in that interview that at Harvard Law School now, the study of the Constitution is not required. They do not require constitutional law to graduate from Harvard Law anymore. That's a travesty.
Michael: It's a travesty. I don't want to say that. It's like saying graduate from medical school and not study--
Linda: The human body. [chuckles]
Michael: --germ theory. [chuckles] Yeah, or the body. [laughs] I didn't know that and that's a shame.
Linda: It is a shame. I feel this is just so important for us to promote and defend the Constitution because it is the framework of our government. It really sets us apart from every other country. This is why people come here seeking freedom. They come here seeking liberty. People risk their lives to come to America, so there's really something special about our Constitution. And I truly believe that employers, such as yourself, who have come up, built their business through the American Dream, in a sense through hard work, honesty, integrity, caring about their employees, caring about the families of their employees, and the communities in which they operate, I just feel you are the heart of America in a sense. You and other employers like you are the ones basically the last line of defense for our country. So, I thank you for that.
Michael: Well, I agree with that. I think that I've asked other businesspeople that are friends of mine, I said, “Do you discuss things about public policy and the impact of regulatory policy upon your business and therefore their livelihood?” And somehow, they've been led to believe that they’ll maybe get in trouble or overstep a line. And yes, [unintelligible [00:39:32] you can overstep the line, but when you're taking the effort to explain to people, what regulatory policy does impact a business and therefore their chance to earn a livelihood and maybe grow obviously and grow in their jobs, that's not overstepping the line.
Michael: That's an obligation. I say, “Quit being scared about it, just go out and advocate,” not necessarily vote for this person or that person. They can conclude their own way once they understand the impact of policy.
Linda: Right. So, could you give a few tips? You just brought up a few tips for communicating with employees, or maybe even a few reasons why. know Herman Cain has always said, “It'll bring a better ROI.” Basically, what he says is like, “When you have employees that understand the impact of policies on your business, they will become more engaged.” I truly believe that with programs such as Prosperity 101™, the things I try to do with this, when employers educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs, it leads to greater employee engagement, loyalty, and retention, because those employees then understand that you care about them and you're trying to help them understand what you're doing to protect their jobs. Could you share any other advantages for employers or any other tips that you have for other employers?
Michael: Well, there was a [unintelligible [00:41:17] I’m blanking, he's the CEO of Gallup, famous polling company, but they do a lot more with Gallup, wrote a book about seven, eight years ago called The Coming Jobs War. And he talked about their extensive polling about the level of engagement of an employee, and basically that the most important asset a business is an engaged employee and the most detrimental liability is unengaged employees, and about half of American employees are relatively disengaged. One of the things that I found that you can do is talk to people that work for you about things that are just necessarily outside their day-to-day activities. When you do, they become engaged. When they're engaged, yes, it impacts the business in a positive way because they like being respected enough that you would bother to take the time to communicate with them. I've seen this during this COVID-19 thing. I regularly send out, “Folks, here's what I'm working on. Here's the letters I'm writing to the governors and legislature. Here's the science that’s coming out, we're going to keep fighting.” And I was amazed at how many people would write me letters thanking me for that. It's tough to deal with right now when I think about, but lots of people within this company thank me for communicating with them and fighting for them.
Linda: That's really a great example. Just simply, that was a perfect example of how you share with your employees. You shared letters that you've sent to elected officials regarding what your business needs. That's a simple way, you're not asking them to agree with you or to vote a certain way. You're just sharing what you have done and what the letter was that you sent. So, that's a great way to communicate and so I hope that other employers who are listening might follow in that lead.
Michael: Yeah, not everybody's going to read it. But I was really shocked at how many people would read it. Sometimes if I attached, like the German study that I thought was radically cutting edge, people would read the highlights of it and walk away with it. Yeah, you never are hurt by educating the people that work for you. People know inherently that if you didn't respect them, you wouldn't take your time to try to teach them something. You don't try to teach somebody something that you don't respect.
Linda: Right. And that engagement that you talk about, I would say that any time I've been in one of your businesses, there is such a family atmosphere. There is such a-- the Heart of America, I know it's just a perfect name for your company, but the culture there is such that you can tell people respect you. They respect your family-run business. They respect the leaders that you've chosen to be in charge of different areas. It's really a testament to your leadership and your commitment to your employees. So, thank you. Thank you for-- [crosstalk]
Michael: There's one good thing other than maybe people wash their hands more regularly. [laughter] And maybe it will impact the flu rates next season, is the wonderful response I had from people that work for me, encouraging me and my wife and my family, “Semper fi and hang in there.” That's heartwarming.
Linda: Yeah. It truly is. Well, with that, I think our time is come to a close. But do you have any closing thoughts that you'd like to share with our listeners today?
Michael: Yeah. We’re also surrounding right now this whole thing about what China's involvement was with the virus. I think that probably one good thing that will come out of this is maybe a recognition that the leadership of China is not benign. They don’t really want to be a member of the world community. They really did want to become the dominant world power. I think there's a lot of people that now are starting to understand that. I will be 66 tomorrow. Every day of my life that I woke up, we were the number one country in the world and we are a force for good. We can't take that for granted. Maybe people will start to recognize that we're not always right, but we've been the most right of any country in the world.
Linda: That's a great point. And happy birthday tomorrow.
Michael: Thank you.
Linda: That's great. Now if people would like to frequent at your businesses, could you please share your website so they can find all your locations?
Michael: Well, if you’re dumb like me, you just google Heart of American Group, and the first thing that will pop up is our website on the page, Heart of America Group.
Linda: Heart of America Group. Okay, that's great. Well, thank you so much for joining with us today and we're just so grateful and wish you a happy birthday tomorrow. I hope that all of our listeners will go to one of your restaurants, your hotels. Don't be afraid to go back and frequent their places of business. They're taking all the proper precautions and they care about their employees, they care about their customers, and they are waiting to see you. Google Heart of America Group, but if you want the website, it's hoari.com. You can go to that and find which location is closest to you. So, thank you again for listening and we'll sign off for right now.
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