Once your childhood dreams come true, what do you do next?
Get a job planning incentive conferences.
“I always say I’ve had the two greatest careers ever,” says Chuck Lane, who realized his dream to join the world of pro football when he spent 13 seasons as PR director for the Green Bay Packers, including working for Vince Lombardi and being present at the first two Super Bowl contests (not to mention the legendary “Ice Bowl” in 1967).
“It’s tough for your experiences after that to stand on their own merit, up against working for Lombardi and the championship Packers,” says Lane, in his characteristic matter-of-fact tone. “But I haven’t been cheated.”
When Business Was a Pleasure
It’s hard to say which of Chuck Lane’s qualities makes him most suited to planning incentive programs. Could be the work ethic (top of the list when you ask what he learned from Lombardi), the toughness (37 years of competitive rugby!), the humility (unless you happen to notice his Super Bowl ring, you’d probably never know about his past), or the loyalty (many meeting suppliers he’s worked with over the years have become good friends).
Also important for the profession, though, is compassion and a desire to take care of folks, which is also characteristic Lane, a lifelong animal lover who has raised abandoned raccoon babies and opened his home to stray cats (even a feral nemesis that he “deported” who returned and became a docile lap cat loved by Lane’s own mother).
Of course, he’d raise an eyebrow at all of the above and say the most important thing he brings to incentive conference planning is knowing how to have a darn good time.
He can be eloquent on the topic of how the good times experienced during incentive conferences are directly tied to a company’s business goals. During his 29 years planning programs for Humana (and its predecessor companies), two-thirds of Leaders Club attendees—independent agents who could qualify for other companies’ conferences instead—returned year after year.
“They can control where they qualify,” he says. “They love the trips and the relationship with us and with agents in the same business. They love sitting at the bar and chatting about best practices. That has value. Yes, we have a helluva good time, go to exotic places, and give them experiences to brag about. But these are not boondoggles. They are legitimately business-related opportunities.”
And a company’s conference staff often represents the critical continuity that keeps those opportunities flowing. In fact, when Lane was brought on stage during this year’s Leaders Club conference in Portugal for his “official” farewell, the 250 qualifiers and executives in attendance were reminded that he is the single person who has been involved in every program in the history of Humana incentives.
“Lana [Frank, his planning colleague] and I were always the two most visible people at the conferences,” he remembers. “We had long-term relationships with the qualifiers. That’s the strength of Humana programs. Sales execs turn over but we remain, the first people they see in the morning and the last ones they see at night.”
But on stage in Portugal, he deflected praise. “I thanked everyone in the room who made my career possible. The team is stronger than the individual. Without them, I’m not here.”
Lane started his career at Humana (then Fireman’s Fund), in public relations, being put through sales training in order to learn the insurance business. The position morphed into employee recognition, where his efforts helped to foster a corporate culture of friendliness and service: They treated their employees well, he says, because in a service business in those days, everything hinged on how those employees treated customers. “We had a program called Great Performers where employees would nominate their peers for going above and beyond the call of duty. I’d host them for two or three nights for a fishing or golfing getaway with spouses. It kept morale extremely positive.”
This led him into creating the company’s first-ever incentive program for independent agents, held in 1990 in Maui. In 2000, for the 10th anniversary of the program, the group traveled to Hawaii, then those who had qualified for all 10 years continued on to Sydney, Australia.
There haven’t been any disasters, but, Lane says, “we’ve had some poor timing.” There were trips planned, for example, right after events such as the Balkan Wars and bombings in Ireland. “There have been numerous times that people were hesitant to travel, where we’ve had to canceland rebook.” In those cases, he says, “our relationships have been very valuable,” in particular with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.
The power of loyalty was brought home to him early in his planning career when he arrived for a program at the Renaissance Esmeralda only to find that a tennisin house at the time had been forced into an extra day. “The people wouldn't leave the hotel,” Lane says, “and there we were.” His relationship with the sales director, Scott Flexman, saved the day, as the hotel walked others to accommodate Humana. Flexman is among many in the industry to have become longtime friends.