hich consumer news market gave the most coverage to the intended acquisition of Rosenbluth International by American Express?

Not Rosenbluth's headquarters city of Philadelphia. Not Amex's hometown, New York -- The Wall Street Journal didn't even mention the deal on the day after the announcement. The answer: Bismarck, N.D.

Do a Google news search on Rosenbluth and you'll see coverage from North Dakota media dominating the results. TV stations like KFYR and KXMC. The Bismarck Tribune.

If you've had a conversation with Hal Rosenbluth recently, you'll understand why. When he and I spoke toward the end of last year, all he wanted to talk about was his ranch near Linton, N.D. I wanted to discuss airlines, he wanted to talk about cattle. We talked about cattle.

So I wasn't surprised that, as soon as the press conference announcing the deal had ended, he flew off to Linton to meet with the 145 Rosenbluth employees at a call center there. He would be telling them that the center was guaranteed to be open for a minimum of four years, and that no positions would be cut in that time period. It was, he said, the only office in the world that he insisted stay open, because "there's a shortage of jobs in that town."

Rosenbluth literally has written books about the importance of maintaining great management/employee relations, and how it's the key to exceptional customer service and growth. His company (as well as Amex) is consistently listed as one of Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work for in America."

His philosophy regarding employee relationships often surfaced when he analyzed industry segments that affected corporate travel. Hal is known for issuing white papers that, a year after they're issued, seem prophetic. In "A Fare Plan for Airline Recovery," which he submitted as an exhibit when he testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last September, he identifies logical airline mergers, and can't help but note that if Northwest were to join with Continental and Alaska, it would "prosper from ... the many employee-friendly policies" of the other two carriers.

Investing in employee morale always has meant more than benign paternalism to Rosenbluth. He built a management retreat, The Rivery, in North Dakota, and held training sessions there. The food was gourmet, but the activities were challenging, both mentally and physically. The ultimate lessons taught there were that teamwork and communication -- not top-down directives -- are key to building strong companies.

Because Rosenbluth International has been family-owned for 111 years, one might assume that Hal walked into an executive position in a successful company, and could afford to manage it using idealistic principles. But note: When he joined the company in 1974, it had $20 million in sales. Today its sales are in excess of $5 billion.

I suspect that whatever profit comes his way in the Amex deal, equally valuable to him will be the sentiment reflected in the July 17 Bismarck Tribune editorial praising -- with Midwestern economy -- his virtues as an employer: "What a guy."


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