Lonnie Hunt: Chairman of First Impressions

When the Leadership Team did our Mission to Mars exercise to identify our core values, we had to think about our highest performers. One name that quickly came forward was Lonnie Hunt, who mans the front reception desk for United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

When Lonnie first took on his role, he wasn’t an employee of United Way; he worked for a security service we used that also covered the front desk. I often felt a little like I was in the Murphy Brown TV series where every time she went to the office there was a new assistant – 93 over the entire program. We’d had steady turnover in one of our most critical positions. Lonnie changed the position forever and set a new standard of excellence. He actively greeted new guests, quickly remembered names, found a way to smile during every interaction, and always looked to learn something new about the organization.

Every time I would greet Lonnie in the morning he would say, “Good morning, Mr. President!”

I would reply, “Lonnie, you can call me Mike.”

He would say, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

This went on for months, without much headway. Recognizing the impact that first encounter with the organization makes, I came in one day and said to our Human Resources Director, “I just changed Lonnie’s title. From now on, his title is Chairman of First Impressions.”

I recently asked Lonnie a few questions about his role at UWSEM that could provide a model for what we want our culture to be. I asked him what the most important thing a Chairman of First Impressions must do.

He said, “He must prove his title by good works. I equate the title with the importance of the United Way’s brand identity. If my first impression is a positive first impression, then most likely [visitors to the office] will relate it to United Way in some form. Sadly, the same can be said if my first impression on people is NOT a positive one.”

“What do you enjoy most about your role?” I asked.

“Helping people, be it directing people to the welcome center, giving out directions, or connecting our guests with the UWSEM host they are visiting. Making people feel welcome and comfortable is a joy to me,” he replied.

People by the hundreds flow through United Way and interact with Lonnie. I hear from others all the time about what an impression Lonnie made during their visit. Many don’t always get the chance to learn more about him. For example, I often see Lonnie pacing behind the front desk talking to himself with expressive hand motions. “Lonnie, what world problem are you solving right now?” I might ask.

He replies, “Oh, Mr. President, I have an exam coming up and I am just trying to memorize the information.” Lonnie is studying theology at Rochester College and will earn his bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies (with honors) this summer. He hopes to be accepted this fall into Rochester’s Master of Divinity for Missional Leadership program.

When I asked him what he would want others to know about him he said, “I would want others to know my authentic agape love I have for mankind. When people come to UWSEM they come expecting help, not hassle. I try to show my love for people by helping each person the best way I can.”

That is why Lonnie has the title he does. So now when I see Lonnie in the morning he greets me in the usual way, “Good morning, Mr. President.”

I reply, “Good morning, Mr. Chairman.”

8 thoughts

  1. Right on! Lonnie is so unique, professional, kind, and attentive. The perfect person to be in this position as he projects positive energy to guests entering UWSEM.

  2. I’d like to meet Lonnie one day. He sounds like a great human being and a perfect first impression for United Way.

  3. I remember my first encounter with the Chairman in 2007 – I was blown away. He welcomed us like we were long lost family. And every subsequent visit was exactly the same. We have shared his story (and the need for a position like his) with so many other clients – inside and outside the UW system. Lonnie sets a very high bar for what a first impression should be about. The world would be a better place if we all approached our jobs AND lives the way Lonnie approaches his.

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