Ruggers,Packers, andRaccoons Rugby is a tough-guy sport. Rugby players don't wear helmets. They don't wear pads. You've seen the bumper sticker, right? "Give blood, play rugby." Chuck Lane discovered the game in 1963 and he's been giving blood ever since.
"I've busted and broken everything on me," says Lane, assistant vice president, public relations, at Humana in Green Bay, Wis. But he's quick to point out that the game is more than just a bunch of guys beating each other up. "For all its thuggery, it's a thinking man's game. It's a high-speed chess match."
And Lane is without a doubt the thinking man's rugby player. "It's a much more creative sport than football. You can improvise. There is an atmosphere and a mystique to rugby," he says. That doesn't mean he doesn't also relish the game's "elegant violence." Indeed. "We had a guy refuse to hit. Well, that's guy I don't want to drink beer with. I hang around with the guys who are the warriors--they're tough, they're intelligent, and they're fun." However dedicated a warrior he is on the field, the 56-year-old Lane is as loyal a friend off it. And the bonds between rugby teammates--and competitors--are an important part of the sport's pull.
Doing Things Right Likewise with meeting planning, Lane has discovered. He came to the career in a roundabout way. In 1985, he joined what was then Fireman's Fund Employers Health Insurance Company, primarily doing community relations in conjunction with the many runs, bike rides, golf tournaments, and other events the company sponsored. "With my visibility, that was the initial fit," Lane explains. (More on the visibility later.) Then he started doing employee recognition programs, eventually taking on all of the meeting planning for the company.
He gives each meeting his all just like each rugby match. But there's a difference--there's no winning or losing in negotiating a meeting, he believes. "It is a relationship business. A lot of people think you should be competing with hoteliers," he says. "Not at all. Our job is to make each other look good."
In Lane's book, that means thorough preparation. He's been called "over-organized," but he thinks there's no such thing. His attention to detail and his commitment to doing a job right spring from two sources: his mother and Vince Lombardi.
Lane grew up in Minneapolis (well, he'll admit to being "raised" there; he considers it debatable whether or not he "grew up"). His father passed away when Lane was hardly more than a toddler, leaving his mother to raise him and his older brother, Jim. Which she did impressively: Each excelled in athletics and academics, Jim attending Princeton on a full scholarship and Chuck earning his bachelor's degree in English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. (where he was also senior class president, president of his fraternity, captain of the baseball and football teams . . . ). "She's a remarkable human being," Lane says of his mother, now 91 and still living in Minneapolis with her dog. "When you grow up with a single parent, you're a lot closer." One Father's Day on a plane, Lane pulled out a pad and wrote her a letter about how much he appreciated her role in his life. She framed it and hung it in her kitchen.
The other great influence on Lane was the legendary Vince Lombardi. "They are two of the strongest individuals I've ever met," he says. "Neither one allowed you to fail." Lane met Lombardi in 1966, when he became the public relations director for Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. At age 23, Lane was the youngest PR guy the National Football League had ever seen. His first two years on the job also happened to be the first two years of the Super Bowl, which Green Bay won both times. (Lane still wears the ring from Super Bowl I.)
"The Green Bay Packers were the standard by which all others were judged, both in terms of their professional excellence on the field and their demeanor off." The reason? Coach Lombardi. "They were tremendously talented football players and also consummate gentlemen. Those were the standards Lombardi set. 'You don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.' "
Lane spent 14 seasons with the Packers, the first four with Lombardi, whose impact was profound. "There were a lot of us who absolutely revered him. He would get mad, but you never lost respect for him." At first, with all of his friends still in Minneapolis, Lane would travel the 300 miles from Green Bay on weekends to play rugby. "I'd come back all beat up. Lombardi would prohibit me from playing--but he loved it when I did."
Four-Legged Friends When he's not getting muddy and bloody on the rugby field, Lane is likely pursuing one of his other, gentler hobbies--reading history and raising raccoons.
Some 15 years ago, a friend found a baby raccoon abandoned in a ditch and called Lane to take care of it. "I rescued this little fellow," recalls Lane, who found it "so darn much fun" that he became a regularrehabilitator of orphaned and injured animals brought to the local wildlife society.
These are mainly raccoons, who take up residence every spring at Lane's log cabin, steps from the shore of Green Bay. "Some of them are so small their eyes aren't open," he says. He feeds the littlest ones with a bottle. "I've brought them to work when they needed multiple feedings during the day. I've always been nuts about animals. A lot of people would say I'm getting that parental thing out of my system, having never been married. And chances are I'm not going to have a child of my own."
But there will be plenty of critters. In addition to the raccoons and whatever else is passing through, there are three cats in residence--Zachary Taylor, Chester Nimitz, and Thomas Aurelius--all humane society alumni. "If I have a chance to help out a critter, I'm going to do it. There's an awful lot of reward to it."
Lane keeps the raccoons for a little more than two months, then releases them as far away from his house--and from roads--as possible. "They get attached to the person who feeds them," he says. "They know the timbre of your voice. I'll walk right up to them and scratch them behind the ears."
It's intriguing, to say the least, this combination of nurturer and warrior. Add to it a dose of Wisconsin frankness ("what you see is what you get") and fortitude (he moved into a falling-down, leaking log cabin and rebuilt it into a two-story showpiece) and you've got a guy you'd want on your team, a guy you'd want in your company, a guy you'd definitely want to have a beer with.
A Perfect Fit So perhaps it's not surprising that Lane fell into planning meetings. Think of that warrior/nurturer mix. It might not be too much of a stretch to argue that meeting planners need both those traits (though, granted, there probably aren't many who give them expression in quite the way Lane does). Your on-site office is called the "war room," right? And aren't you basically playing guardian to your qualifiers? Making sure their experience meets their expectations, focusing entirely on their needs?
"When you get a person with a chip on his shoulder, your job is to turn him around. I love to do that." Lane says. "Certain people are cut out to be in people businesses. Everything I've ever done has been extremely people-oriented."
And Lane believes another job of a meeting planner is to reflect the company--which in his case, after a number of changes, is now Humana. "There's a culture in Wisconsin--people enjoy other people. We have a good work ethic, no hidden agenda, we are who we are. That's what sets us apart. We're not real fancy, but we can show you a real good time."
He looks for meeting properties that give him the same feeling. "I try to detect a personality in a hotel and its staff. Are they fun? Are they service-oriented?"
With the number of meetings at Humana increasing, Lane expanded his department about a year ago, bringing on Connie Nau, meeting services coordinator. The two of them, along with Lana Frank, public relations coordinator, handle the company's 40 or so meetings every year.
"People ask me when I might like to retire. My answer is, 'Never.' I thought I had the best job in the world with the Packers. But this might be better. The Indians and Harry Chapin are right: All my life's a circle. If you stay at it long enough, good things happen."