When Harry S. Dennis III walked into the room, more often than not, he was the smartest guy in that room.
So it is with great sadness and a profound sense of loss that I inform BizTimes readers that Harry passed away on Sunday, April 27, from complications of pulmonary fibrosis.
One of Harry’s greatest loves and the legacy he leaves behind is TEC –The Executive Committee. Harry was hired as a TEC chairman in 1974 by TEC’s founder, Bob Nourse. It was then that Harry formed his first TEC Group – TEC IV – which remains in existence 40 years later.
“Harry was best known for his intellectual brilliance and superb business savvy. All of us…TEC staff and chairmen…loved Harry for his unwavering adherence to TEC’s values, his absolute fairness and his huge heart. He always treated us like family,” said Priscilla Kemp, who has succeeded Harry as president and chief executive officer of TEC.
Harry began writing business insight columns for BizTimes Milwaukee and its predecessor, Small Business Times, long before I joined the company in 2002. Harry was a significant element of our company’s brand. I cannot count the number of times over the years that readers remarked to me about how much they learned from and respected Harry.
Once a year, Harry booked a prominent guest author or consultant to come to Milwaukee to share his or her wisdom and knowledge about business or leadership. However, I always learned more during the dinner with Harry on the night before than from any of the so-called hot shot experts he brought to town.
Soft spoken and humble, Harry tended to let others hold the spotlight. Over the years, he declined many offers to be THE keynote speaker at various events.
When Harry wasn’t building TEC or sharing his wisdom with other CEOs, he could often be found flying his twin-engine Beechcraft Duke. Harry served in the Vietnam War, where he often flew bodies out of battlefields.
“He was a scrapper who backed down to no one. He affected so many – so much more than he ever realized. He related equally as well to the high-powered CEO as to the ordinary Joe,” Kemp recalled. “He was a straight shooter. He said what he thought.”
BizTimes can never repay Harry for his assistance in helping us build our company. I can, however, recount one of Harry’s shining moments along the way.
Last year, for our annual Economic Trends special report, BizTimes needed a voice of authority to help us tell the cover story, which was headlined, “The show must go on.” The essence of the story was that the Great Recession was over, and that businesses needed a clarion call to rise out of their bunkers, shake off their doldrums about uncertainties and resume their missions of growing their companies. In other words, we were calling for intestinal fortitude.
It was one thing for me to make that call to action. I needed a higher authority. I needed Harry. So, I asked Harry to share with our readers his perspectives as an executive who had weathered many economic cycles – good and bad – over the decades.
Harry’s response came in an email about 20 minutes later:
“Someone said the Mayan calendar predicted that the world was going to fall into ‘hell in a handbasket’ on Dec. 21, 2012. Well, we all know what happened…NOTHING. Many so-called experts are predicting ‘doom and gloom’ for 2013. Some management consultants can’t wait for their phones to start ringing off the hooks.
“If our 800 TEC members in Wisconsin and Michigan are any ‘clue’ of what 2013 holds for us, then disregard every single word in the last paragraph. Will 2013 be tough? Yes. Was 2012 tough? Yes. When do you remember it not being tough in the world of business? I don’t.
“Since 1973, I’ve witnessed at least nine different recessions, each one with different names and presumed causes. In more recent times, even the horrible word ‘depression’ has been used. But you know what? Over all these years, small business has found a way to survive and grow for another tomorrow. Obamacare and tax hikes will not change that in 2013. The will, the way, the experience and the knowledge of small business people will demonstrate that we will make it, just as we have in the past, in spite of the pundits.
“Come on. New year, new challenges and new opportunities. Be bold, be brave, be strong and move forward! I hope that all of us will show the leadership to take our companies to new highs, and at the end of the year to be proud of our achievements.
“By the way, all of TEC’s economic gurus say that while the GDP as a whole will be frail in 2013, it will still be uphill, thanks largely to the work of 80 percent of our economy. Who? Us, small business. Have a super 2013.”
Thanks again, my friend.
You will be missed.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.