“I guess I’m pretty old for this position — but I’m still having a good time.”
So says Michael E. “Mickey” Herbert, the 73-year-old president and CEO of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council (BRBC).
A longtime health care industry entrepreneur, the former president and CEO of ConnectiCare and a former owner of the Bridgeport Bluefish minor league baseball club, Herbert took the reins at the regional business group in November 2016, His “good time” there is due at least in part to the BRBC’s agreeing to let him shake things up at the once-staid 145-year-old organization. “I spent a lot of 2017 trying to transform the BRBC into a more modern business association that people can be excited about,” he said.
Most of those moves were internal and sound fairly mundane: upgrading its audiovisual capabilities, restructuring its human resources processes, and revising its marketing and membership materials. It’s only when Herbert starts discussing the details that it becomes clear just what a major undertaking that was.
“We had no capability for doing a PowerPoint presentation, if you can believe that,” he said. Now both his office and the conference room at 10 Middle St. are equipped with large-screen TVs and “first-rate, state-of-the-art” equipment.
As for HR, Herbert said he was stunned to find that performance reviews and even job descriptions were almost foreign concepts. “We had to update our HR manual so we could abide by the laws that had been passed in that area over the past 20 years,” he said.
Last summer, the BRBC unveiled a new logo and new marketing and membership materials, courtesy of Susan Katz, assistant professor of mass communications at the University of Bridgeport, who phoned Herbert “out of the blue” shortly after he took over. Her offer to have her public relations and advertising students do the design work, with plenty of input from Herbert and other BRBC staff, was too good to refuse, Herbert said.
“They did it for free,” he said with a laugh.
The council also jettisoned its CFO position and outsourced what Herbert called “a wholly inadequate financial accounting system” to Finance Office Partners. It has proven more cost-effective than having a salaried employee in that role, said Herbert. “It’s way better than it used to be.”
Herbert has also stepped up the BRBC’s communications efforts, led by his weekly “Mickey’s Mail” e-newsletter, whose breezy wit goes some distance in disguising that it’s “really a commercial for the BRBC,” he said.
With these changes, Herbert said, “There’s a real buzz about us now and we’re starting to see more excitement about what we’re doing.”
The council recorded the largest single-event attendance in its history at its annual dinner last December, when MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO James Murren gave the keynote address. “We had about 425 people, and we kept negotiating with the Trumbull Marriott for more tables right up to the day of the event,” Herbert said. “A lot of that had to do with the speaker, but that’s helping us build buzz.”
Monthly “Coffee, Contacts & Conversation” events have grown from “three or four people attending to 35 to 40,” he said, while special economic development briefings featuring area developers like Steve Tyliszczak — development administrator of Bridgeport Landing Development, which is developing the 2 million-square-foot waterfront project Steelpointe Harbor — and Brett Wilderman, principal and co-founder of Forstone Capital, have also proven popular.
“It’s things like these that enable us to disprove the rumor that ‘nothing good ever happens in Bridgeport’,” Herbert said.
Earlier this month 48 people — including a fair share of the BRBC’s 60-member board — attended a day-and-a-half strategic planning session at the Madison Beach Hotel in Madison. The group’s first such powwow in five years, Herbert said that the BRBC is “still taking in ideas” and will appoint a strategic planning committee shortly to develop a three-year plan.
“They used to be five-year plans, but things move a lot more quickly these days,” he said.
The organization will also meet with MGM executives over the next few days to more fully discuss that company’s proposed casino in downtown Bridgeport. “That’s our next big issue,” Herbert said. The BRBC board is expected to make its position known on the topic soon; Herbert said he’s personally in favor of it.
Herbert said he was looking forward to working with newly elected board chairman Kate Hampford Donahue and growing membership. “She’s what I call an activist chairman — she has all 10 toes in, and I do too,” he said.
The regional council numbers about 730 members. “We had a year of growth last year and I anticipate another this year,” Herbert said.
He admitted that losing the minor-league baseball team the Bridgeport Bluefish last year still hurt. Herbert was a co-founder and majority owner for some nine years of the club, which upon losing its Bridgeport lease is relocating to High Point, North Carolina. The former Ballpark at Harbor Yard is in the midst of a $15 million renovation to turn it into a music amphitheater.
“I was, and still am, sorry to see it go,” he said. “But I’m still wearing a Bluefish tie!”