Civil War strategy draws Mich. CEOs

Published 12:44 am Saturday, October 8, 2011

Vicksburg’s Civil War history has lured business executives from two Michigan cities to the area this week.

They weren’t here just for the sights. The group aimed to learn how war strategy can help them in the business world.

Seven people from the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and two from the Lansing-based Small Business Association of Michigan made the trip, said Doug Luciani, Chamber president.

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“We made a conscious decision to come here based on a number of factors,” said Luciani, who has family in Natchez, “including clear lessons available to learn and the familiarity of our faculty with the battlefields.”

The trip, called the Vicksburg Staff Ride, was a recommendation of Grace Strategic Services Inc., a Leavenworth, Kan.-based business consulting firm traveling with the group, said Luciani.

Leading the history rides, which ran Tuesday through Friday, were Tom Chychota and Ed Kennedy, both retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonels and instructors at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth.

“The Vicksburg Campaign is the most important campaign, probably, in all of American history — with the exception of the Normandy Campaign in World War II,” Chychota said. “This is the finest example in how to conduct a campaign.”

While in Vicksburg on Thursday, the group visited the Vicksburg National Military Park. They also visited the Champion Hill battlefield in Raymond and Grand Gulf Military Park in Claiborne County.

Skills the group aimed to learn were decision-making, communication, problem-solving, politics and relationship-building.

“There are clear lessons from studying the battles that we’re going to be able to take back to our business,” said Bob Fish, owner and CEO of Biggby Coffee, a coffee shop chain. “All throughout this battle in Vicksburg, there are turning points that we’ve been able to examine and glean something from.”

Rob Fowler, president of the Michigan SBA and a first-time visitor to Mississippi, said, “Usually, we use chess as an analogy for business strategies. But nobody is better at strategy than the military.”

The Vicksburg Campaign began in December 1862 and ended in July 1863 with the surrender of the city to Union troops after 47-day siege. The battles of Champion Hill and Grand Gulf were part of the effort to take the River City.