Featuring Holly Krebsbach, Staff Member of MetroNorth

After I walked in to the Caribou on Snelling on 36 and Roseville I found Holly Krebsbach had arrived only moments before I did. Her short curly blonde hair hung perfectly around her face as she waited patiently in line. We had met once before so she immediately knew who I was as I stepped up to shake hands. “What do you think about that table?” she asked, gesturing toward a high, out-of-the-way table not too far from where we were standing. It seemed like the perfect spot so I walked over and set my stuff down.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Holly and I have similar dispositions. Both of us are introverted, but we still really enjoy the company others. After we grabbed our coffee and sat down she said, “So, you’re going to ask me the questions right?” I nodded. “Oh good. I do this quite a bit, so I look forward to being in the passenger’s seat.”

To kick things off I asked Holly tell me a little about her herself and tell me what she studied in college. “Criminal Justice,” she replied with a knowing smile. I returned her grin, because I also studied something in college that is radically different from my present employment. “It was good though. While in college I had the opportunity to study in Sweden for a month and afterward I traveled all over Europe. I went to Crete, Athens, Italy, Paris, Switzerland and went to Germany.”

I asked Holly to tell me her favorite memory from her trip. “I have a piece of the Berlin Wall,” she said. My face must have betrayed my astonishment because she quickly followed up with, “I wasn’t there, but someone gave me a piece of it.” In my mind this was no less amazing, so I asked her how this came about exactly. “Oh I met someone on a train. We got to talking and they gave it to me,” she shrugged nonchalantly, almost as if it were an everyday occurrence that people gave other people pieces of history on trains.

“Traveling was a very important time in my life,” she said. “And to this day it molds who I am and my curiosity. I’ve never worked in the Criminal Justice Field because it’s just not who I am. I’ve always been in sales.”

As we continued our conversation I learned Holly had worked for Minnesota Monthly Magazine in marketing and advertising. When they decided to downsize her position someone had suggested working for the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce, knowing Holly needed to be out in the community. “It will be going on five years and I love it. Our chamber is the fourth largest in the Twin Cities with 701 chamber members,” she nodded when my eyebrows lifted.  “We’re very active. There are four of us on staff and I handle the membership and advertising. What’s so wonderful about my role is I get to meet with individual businesses, larger businesses, big box stores and entrepreneurs. Everybody has a story so I get to find out what people need for their business, and when they make those connections, it’s a great thing.”

What Holly said really resonated with me as she talked about listening to people’s stories, and again noticed the similarity between the two of us.

“It’s important to be able to listen to a person’s concerns because you can’t help anybody if you don’t listen to them.”

“I consider myself as more of a consultant,” Holly continued, “because people don’t want to be sold. It’s important to be able to listen to a person’s concerns because you can’t help anybody if you don’t listen to them.” I nodded in agreement again, thinking that statement should be on a bumper sticker or motivational poster.

I asked Holly to tell me a little more about her process of recruiting people into the chamber. She said, “If I have an appointment in a certain area and I know the business next store is not a chamber member I will certainly walk in and set an appointment. Soliciting has gone by the wayside, but if you do it in a way where you’re not asking for something it works. When you show respect it comes back to you, and referrals are huge for us.”

As Holly talked about recruiting for the chamber and how she goes about her day I wondered if the other people who have spent time with her noticed all of these little nuggets of wisdom. For Holly, her ability to relate to others is an intuitive skill and therefore doesn’t deserve recognition. However, many in the business world (and in general) have to work hard to cultivate skills like active listening. For them, learning to empathize with others is something of a goal to achieve. I understood what Holly meant earlier by saying her time traveling continues to mold her. Listening and asking questions is the first step in understanding a culture different from one’s own. Perhaps this is her defining skill, the ability to treat every encounter with a stranger as a miniature cross culture experience.

“When you show respect it comes back to you.”

“When I meet with someone, I don’t want to overwhelm them. I try to ask them what they’d like to get out of the chamber. Everyone has a different reason for joining but you don’t know that until you ask the question,” she told me. I asked Holly to tell me what sorts of programs the chamber offers. I figured there would be a lot considering the number of active members, but I still wasn’t fully prepared.

“Our programs are second to none,” she said proudly. “If we don’t have any members we don’t have a chamber. We’re a non-profit so that word of mouth is crucial. We get a lot of buzz because people find belonging to the chamber is good for their business. We have three networking groups, two sunrise breakfasts, a golf club, wine club, a gala committee and we have a fabulous line up of speakers.” I asked Holly to tell me some of them. “Well, we’ve had Holly Robinson who was on Survivor, Rob Hubbard from broadcasting, Kierran Follier (the guy with all those Irish pubs) and the CEO of UnitedHealth Care.” I internally acquiesced to Holly’s earlier statement. That really was a fabulous line up of speakers.

While events are important, I knew the chamber had a lot more going for it than just excellent programming. The people who attend MetroNorth seemed different and Holly knew exactly what I meant. “Over my career I’ve been involved in many chambers across the Twin Cities, but none are quite like MetroNorth. You can walk into a room and you are immediately welcomed and you don’t feel like you’re intruding. People are friendly and welcoming.”

To elaborate Holly told me about their Working with Women group. I learned there were women in the chamber who wanted to form relationships and not focus so much on selling. These women meet once a month and have about fifty people who attend the educational meeting. Attendees get opportunities to learn and practice speaking. Holly said, “There’s been a lot of friendships formed and then business comes. Once you step back from trying to sell your product and be who you are, everything falls into place. Men love it. They come too,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

The Chamber also does a lot in terms of advocacy for the businesses behind the scenes. Holly explained to me that if their members are concerned about taxes or are worried their trucks might not get in and out of their store, the Chamber represents them. “We also have a Workforce Development Foundation that we just started so we can apply for grants and take donations. What that means is we want Anoka County to be strong. We also connect manufacturing with Stem programs. David Law is a superintendent and he’s on our board. If education is strong, then jobs are strong.” This gave me pause. I commented to Holly that this seemed out of the ordinary for a Chamber of Commerce. She nodded. MetroNorth, I told Holly, has a more holistic approach to business. While serving businesses is the top priority, the chamber also recognizes a lot more goes into a strong local economy. “Holistic approach,” she said nodding. “I think that’s true. We do a lot of community events because we know it’s important.”

“Once you step back from trying to sell your product and be who you are, everything falls into place.”

As Holly and I wrapped up our time together she looked at me and gave me a small smile. “Think you have enough to write about?”  I gave her a hug and reminded her that just like everyone she talks to on behalf of the chamber, she also has a story. A story filled with wonderful advice from a woman with quiet self-confidence genuinely looking to make an impact for the businesses she serves.

LwRs086If you’d like to learn more about the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce please visit their website by clicking here or email Holly Krebsbach at holly@metronorthchamber.org.