Home History Culture Lawrence Welk

A Family Plan for Business

Welk, Lawrence. "A Family Plan for Business." Christian Economics, n.d.


When the newest member of our musical organization, young Mary Lou Metzger, steps into the spotlight to sing “No, No, Nanette” on one of our recent weekly telecasts, it was more than just a regular production number. If you had been in the studio that evening, you would have seen why. Every other singer and performer in our company was crowded into the wings, watching proudly as she sang, and they burst into delighted applause when she finished. Jim Hobson, our producer, George Cates, our musical director, and every member of the band were beaming broadly, too. So was I.

Mary Lou’s performance that night was the culmination of the year-long training and encouragement she had received from every member in our group. Her triumph was our triumph, too. It was a dramatic demonstration of the effectiveness of our training and development program... a system which has worked remarkably well for us over the years. We have developed through our program such closeness and affection that, when our show was dropped by the ABC network after a 16 year run, it served only to bring us even closer together. It provided the inspiration for us to move confidently ahead into the much wider field of syndicated television.

The men and women in our musical family have learned – through this unique work-program of ours – how to utilize their talents to the fullest. They give every ounce of themselves to every performance, and they back up their talent with solid character.

Sharing

The Bible says, “Give, and it shall be given unto you.” This statement expresses a basic law of life – what is given out returns in kind. It is upon this precept that our entire training and development program has been built. It is based primarily on the concept of sharing not only in the accepted economic sense, but also in the broader sense of sharing one’s self, his talents, knowledge, his care and concern. I can best explain how our system works by using Mary Lou as an example, since her experience so closely parallels that of all our other performers.

A year ago this pretty youngster came to audition for us. She was very young, just 17, and her voice had not been developed properly, but I recognized a basic quality immediately and I was impressed with her freshness and enthusiasm. Also, I realized after talking with her, that she came from a family which had given her sound moral training. We discussed her dreams of a musical career, and I finally told her she could work with us as an apprentice, appearing in group numbers and learning as much as she could from practical experience. “But I can’t promise you any solos,” I told her. “We’ll have to wait and see how things work out for you.”

Mary Lou eagerly agreed, and she enrolled immediately in our training program. Jack Imel, our choreographer and assistant producer, began to work with her on stage techniques. He reported that she was naturally talented. Our arrangers Curt Ramsey, S. K. Grundy, and Joe Rizzo, along with musical director George Cates, worked to help her find her range and the type of songs she could do best. The wardrobe and makeup people also helped Mary Lou develop her own eye as to what looked best on her. I had her sing for our audience at the Palladium where I could watch her performance closely, and then I advised her on technique and phrasing and the best way to present her songs.

The heart of our training program made itself felt most importantly in her relationship with the other girls on the show. Far from resenting her or feeling any professional jealousy, they undertook to show all the tricks of the trade. Her immediate predecessor on the show, Gail Farrell, helped her in every way possible. Gail showed her around the studio, introducing her to all the wonderful technical people backstage, chatting with her during lunch breaks, drawing her ever closer into the “family,” just as Ralna English had done for Gail herself a few months earlier, and as Tanya Falan, Cissy King, Sandi and Salli and Norma Simmer had done, in turn, as each one of them had done on the show.

The Family Plan
We have deliberately cultivated this “family” concept in our organization. All of us understand that the better we work together, the better the show–and the better it is for each one of us. The goal is always of paramount importance and, although sharing for that reason is simply a practical necessity, it tends to develop our spiritual sense of sharing also. The result is that the character traits of unselfishness and consideration of the other person are nurtured and refined to a high degree. Within this framework of mutual consideration and friendliness, each of our members feels free to offer suggestions and criticisms, and each is recognized for what he is–a human being whose own essential dignity is beyond value. As Mary Lou continued her training, we began to put her in group numbers. As she gained poise and assurance, we assigned her one or two solo lines.

Everything came into focus a few months later when I was participating in a golf tournament in Phoenix and I received a phone call from Irving Berlin in New York. “Lawrence,” he said, “there’s a revival of ‘No, No, Nanette’ on Broadway right now and it’s a tremendous hit. The music would be perfect for you. Make an album right away.”

When I got back to Los Angeles I called Randy Wood, my record producer only to find he had the score ready. He was most anxious for me to make the album, too! We went right to work.

I decided to see if Mary Lou could handle the lead song of Nanette. She took the song and worked very hard at home. With the confidence and professional skill born of her months of training and encouragement, she came into the recoding studio and sang the song exactly right! Her rendition in the album was such a hit that we were forced to release a single record. That year of concentration, training, development and self-discipline had paid off. Mary Lou was finally able to appear in a full-fledged production number on national television, singing with the sparkle for a nationwide audience. She had made the grade. It was a source of deep satisfaction to us all.


How It Works
As you can see from this account, the basis of our development program is an apprentice-training system. This is not a new idea in itself, but one which we have embellished and expanded in two very significant ways. First, we have deliberately fostered a spirit of mutual affection and concern as we work together to achieve a goal beneficial to all of us. Second, we all share financially in the success of our efforts.

Years ago we established a profit-sharing plan for everyone who works in Teleklew. (Teleklew is the corporate name for all our enterprises.) We considered several different plans, but finally adopted the one we felt offered the most to our employees. At the end of every fiscal year, Ted Lennon, uncle of the Lennon Sisters and one of my chief business advisors, oversees the investment of up to 15 percent of our total yearly payroll. This money is turned over to financial experts who see that it is invested to the best possible advantage. The employees contribute no money at all, but they share in the distribution of the returns according to their length of employment and job status. They become, in effect, part-owners of the company without any investment. This is a powerful incentive because the more successful the company, the more successful they each become.

The Key
It is the combination of these various factors which is the key to the success of this plan. First, the training which develops the talents and character of both trainee and teacher. Second, the team spirit which grows as employers and employees strive to reach a mutually rewarding goal. And third, the sharing of profits as we successfully achieve each of our goals. This is a system which stresses the positive rather than the negative. It encourages and rewards excellence of achievement. It had filled all of us with such dedication and spirit that it has literally changed our lives!

What This Plan Can Do For You
If you are an employer I cannot urge you to strongly enough to give our proven system a fair trial. You’ll find your employees will work with you at their top potential. You will observe a new enthusiasm among your people. If you hesitate because you wonder about sharing profits, I can only tell you that your profits will increase. You will make far more from the efforts of a group of dedicated employees who care than you will from people who are working for a pay check only. You will find that not only will your profits rise, but your own spirits and those of everyone else in your organization will rise, too.

If you are a prospective employee, profit sharing will be great for you, too. You’ll get a share in the profits. I have noticed the self-confidence and quiet inner assurance which this plan develops in our people. You and your employer will both experience a wonderful feeling of cooperation and friendship which will replace the traditional gaps of antagonism and suspicion.

The consumer benefits, too. We feel that the quality of the service we produce by this method is higher. The consumer gets more for his money.

Most important of all, the entire nation benefits because our program tends to develop the highest potential, character, and sense of responsibility of every participant. The stronger each one of us becomes, the stronger, and better our nation becomes.

The Quality of Life
I believe in this plan with my heart, not only because I know from experiences what it can do, but because is it rooted in God’s laws. After 47 years in the world of entertainment, I know that the moral truths revealed to us in the Bible are as true and valid today as they were centuries ago. They work just as well in business as they do in our personal life.

That is the real value of our teaching and sharing system. It springs from a spiritual source, and thus adds to the total quality of our lives. It brings a full measure of compassion and hope, feelings of usefulness and faith in the future, and the joy and serenity that come from building a solid character. It helps to build worthwhile lives. And I know by now that earning a living is never enough. But enriching a life is.

Reprinted with the permission of Christian Economics.

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