“Learning by Association” Benefits Everyone

By Larry Goldenberg

[The following article is based on a speech written by Larry Goldenberg and presented on his behalf by Stacy Polinsky at the 2005 ATSI Convention.]

Did you see the movie, The Cinderella Man?  It is the true story of Jim Braddock, a boxer who was on his way up in the 1920s. The stock market crash, injuries, and bad luck wiped him out, ruined his career, and reduced him to begging so he could feed his family. However, his ability, perseverance, and some well-timed serendipity helped turn his career around and he defeated Max Baer to become Heavy Weight Champion of the World. I feel that in some respects it is the story of modern day ATSI.

About five years ago, like Jim Braddock, ATSI was on the ropes. Membership was down; many members felt they were not getting any value from the association. Others felt the dues were too high. Our expenses were too high. Plus the growth and success of the user groups seemed to be making ATSI superfluous.

In an act of desperation, a decision was made to merge with another teleservices association. While waiting for their official approval, ATSI President Raymond Baggerly received, what at first, seemed like bad news. Because of some problems within the other organization, the merger was off. Raymond rallied the board and said we will make it on our own. The cancellation of the merger was indeed serendipity. We would have gotten swallowed up and lost inside this other organization. Shortly after that, Jeff Becket took over the helm of ATSI. One of Jeff’s first acts was to call a special meeting in Chicago of representatives from all of the user groups, regional affiliates, and representatives of the vendors.

It worked. Over four years, there has been a real sense of cooperation, with these groups getting stronger and more productive. Instead of infighting, there have been shared results like SNUG (Startel Network User Group) making available the Site Certification Program and the recently released training CDs. A further example of the new cooperative relationship that has developed between ATSI, the user groups, and the regional affiliates is the industry-wide hurricane relief effort developed by the NAEO (National Amtelco Equipment Owners).  [See, “NAEO Members Launch Hurricane Relief Efforts” on page 9.]

To solidify the gains, Darlene Campbell, the next ATSI President, restructured dues, leading to greater member retention and increased member growth. That was when the slogan, “Learning By Association, Sharing Ideas Is What We Are About” was introduced. This solidified the concept among members, that there was strength in numbers; that if we worked together and shared ideas, we would benefit as individuals as well as strengthen the organization.  Darlene visited every user group and regional affiliate, enthusiastically sharing the message of “Learning By Association.”

A year later, her successor, Ted Smith, led the association through one of the more frustrating but meaningful collaborations – the HIPAA BAA agreement. The task resulted in a valuable document that would have been difficult or at least very expensive for each member to put together on his or her own.

Steve Diels, ATSI’s President in 2003 to 2004, kept things moving forward. He introduced the Excellence Measured Survey, a tool that helped members individually but through sharing enabled the benchmarking individual call centers to other members.

In 2004/2005, ATSI President Gary Tedrick emphasized the importance of Legislative issues and worked with Ray Shaw to introduce ATSI’s Financial Benchmarking Program.  Lori Jenkins, the current ATSI President, has introduced a PBS public Awareness campaign.

Another bit of serendipity also helped: the explosion of the Internet and the list serve concept. The ATSI list serve has facilitated communication every day, instantly sharing ideas, offering solutions to problems, and asking for assistance. This has become a powerful communication tool to bring us closer to together as an association. In addition, Stacy Polinsky and her education committee have developed a number of valuable webinars. All of these communication tools have solidified the stature of some of our long time contributors and created some new superstars.

At the 2005 ATSI Convention, the LBA Sharing Ideas Award were inaugurated. Its purpose is to honor the concept of “Learning By Association, Sharing Ideas is What We Are All About.”

The first winner, a person who has become an ATSI legend, is Paula Ford. Paula is the person who fills us with words of wisdom that you would expect from an oracle and she does it with such good humor. The second winner is Brian Gilmore. We are in the teleservices business and Brian keeps us abreast of happenings in the rapidly changing world of telephones, more so then anyone in ATSI. The final winner for 2005 has been offering her insight for a long time; that person is Betty Porter, the sage of Massachusetts. There are many more members also deserving of this award and ATSI’s members will get to chose them next year and in future years after that.

Larry Goldenberg is a respected and long-standing industry member and twice an ATSI board member. He the visionary behind the slogan “Learning By Association, Sharing Ideas Is What We Are About” and the LBA Sharing Ideas Awards. Larry, along with his wife Ruth, have owned and operated Direct Line Tele Response in Berkeley, CA since 1979.

[From Connection Magazine November 2005]