Connecting past to present

Our fast-paced, ever-changing, high-tech lifestyle challenges personal interaction. Can you make eye contact through a monitor? Do keyboard characters express sentiment? Will team members from different generations find benefits or barriers?

In one powerful afternoon this summer, I experienced a building, nurturing, and reconnecting of relationships across generations, genders, and other demographics—the very things businesses strive to achieve every day with their customers.

The last weekend of June, the tiny town of Earlville, Illinois celebrated its 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial. Earlville is not just where I grew up, but where it all began for me. “It” is my entrepreneurial spirit—my respect for small businesses and my appreciation for the impact of relationships on every facet of business.

Earlville is where my grandfather started his business, first on foot, then by carriage, then in his first storefront in 1939. My grandfather’s hard work, quality service, and ability to connect with people brought a thriving business to Earlville—and an enterprise that has carried on in my family for generations. (Later, my grandfather turned the business over to my father, who in turn passed it down to my brother.)

kaleel-earlville-paradePart of Earlville’s sesquicentennial celebration was a parade. My two uncles—the only two living from the original family—rode in a horse and carriage, honoring how the business began so many years ago.

I was proud to be among 40 family members who gathered in matching tee shirts to celebrate our family’s legacy and enjoy a reunion after the parade. We came from near and far, representing all living generations. We met and connected with family members we hardly knew.

All afternoon, I watched the interactions and listened to the laughter and conversations. Not once did I see anyone reach for a cell phone, steal away with a computer, or even glance at a watch.

And that’s not even the best part.

The most memorable moment came when all of us merged into one building: the former hardware store that had closed along with several other businesses in this once-active community. Earlier this year, this building reopened as the Earlville Museum. And on this Sunday afternoon, the place was alive again. People milled about, taking in their history, hearing stories, recreating memories they once knew. Strangers met. New friends visited with old friends. The occupants of yesterday met those of today. Children talked to adults. Teenagers asked questions of their parents.

And in the corner, a video played. The entire family congregated around a tiny monitor, straining to see and hear. The recording was an interview with my 99-year-old grandfather, Nemer Kaleel. He was discussing our family’s business, just six months before his death in 1987. We listened to how he answered the questions. We watched his mannerisms. This was the first time my own children ever heard their great grandfather’s voice. And to me that voice carried his vision. He used his voice to share his mission, to connect with people way back when … and even now.

I thought to myself, “This is what companies strive to do—to engage generations, to build relationships, and to connect with people in a way that carries vision and mission into the current moment.”

What kind of business are you in? No matter what it is, isn’t this precisely what you are after? How do you engage customers in your vision and mission?

Teaching & leading from the heart

TKFay founder Tamara K. Fay inspires clients to maximize strengths and overcome challenges. Her passion to help people stems from a family legacy of building a business with quality, service, and hard work.

Tamara’s grandfather immigrated to the United States in 1905, carrying all his belongings in a single suitcase. Determined to make a life for his family and a name for himself, this man turned that suitcase into a mobile business by developing a portable inventory of useful goods to sell. As the personable Grandpa Kaleel routinely turned chance meetings into business transactions—and even into lasting friendships—his business grew.

In time, Tamara’s grandfather and his business took root in a rural community in Illinois. He continuously improved the enterprise: first walking from farm to farm, then investing in a horse and buggy, then opening a storefront in town. Tamara’s grandmother minded the store (and the house and children) while Grandpa continued the “field sales” efforts. Their clothing, shoes, linens, and other household items satisfied a growing community.

Tamara’s father assumed responsibility for the operation in the 1940s. Today, Tamara’s brother and sister continue to run the family business in Oswego, Illinois.

For more than 100 years, this family business has provided quality products and personal service to loyal customers. All her life, Tamara worked and watched.

“From the time I was six or seven, I worked the store. We all did. We walked to town, and my dad put us to work. When I was very young, I dusted the patent leather shoes and broke down boxes from the latest shipments. As I got into my teenage years, I had the coolest job: My dad gave me free reign to do all the merchandising. I was very involved at school, but we all had to work the store. Grandpa died at 99, so he worked right alongside me.”


Tamara even returned to the store as an adult, in one of the most significant career transitions of her life.

“I was home raising the kids and wanted to reinvent myself. So I worked for my sister and brother as they set up a new segment in their business: The Prom Shoppe. With the money I earned helping them, I bought my first computer to start my own training and development company. Now, that business has evolved into TKFay Consulting LLC.”

Observing her entrepreneurial family in action, Tamara saw the hard work it takes to achieve success. She saw problems transformed into opportunities. She learned to treat all people with the same respect, regardless of their positions or situations in life.

“My dad never met a stranger. No matter if they scrubbed the streets or were top executives, he would talk to them. I remember one time I opened the back door to a man begging for money. Dad didn’t turn him away. He invited that man in and took him right through the store to the restaurant in front, where he bought him a full meal and something to go.”

Most important, Tamara experienced how an enterprise can generate far more than income; by providing goods and services, a successful businessperson can evolve strong relationships and improve people’s lives.

Today, Tamara carries these principles forward in her own business: TKFay Consulting. (The K stands for Kaleel, as in Grandpa Kaleel.) Better yet, through her workshops, coaching, consulting and other client interactions, Tamara is sharing her family’s values with a broader circle of businesspeople.

Achieving professionalism & TRUE results

Employees at all levels benefit from TKFay’s practical, actionable instruction. All our programs are based on achieving TRUE results through Trust, Respect, Understanding and Empathy.

TRUE is not just an acronym; it’s a principled way of building and improving business relationships. Effective leaders, managers and employees incorporate TRUE principles to build and maintain productive relationships with colleagues and customers. Here’s a peek at what we mean …

Trust is the foundation of any relationship. It’s required to foster strong business relationships, internally and externally. We evaluate trust based not on words, but on displays of honesty, ethics and follow-through. If you say the report will be done by 3:00 pm, then you must complete and deliver the work on time. That’s how you earn trust. Without trust, how can you build—let alone maintain or grow—a relationship that strengthens your business?

Respect means valuing the strengths each person brings to a business situation. We are working in the most diverse work environment in this nation’s history. Age, gender, ethnicity, culture. Although you may not always agree with or even like what others say or do, you must regard them with respect. In the workplace, we demonstrate respect by our work choices as well as our actions.

Understanding others means accepting their unique qualities, rather than imposing our own preferences and styles on them. The opposite—misunderstanding—causes interpersonal conflicts that get in the way of progress. TKFay uses tools such as the DiSC™ assessment to build awareness of behavioral styles. By understanding our own ways of working and appreciating how others work differently, we can learn to flex and adapt to one another in order to achieve strong results together.

Empathy is essential to build quality relationships. Through empathy, you put yourself in another person’s place, viewing a situation from his or her perspective. This calls for skills such as active listening, observation of body language and ability to ask clarifying questions. With a strong grasp on communication skills like these, you are better equipped to solve problems and handle conflict, as well as influence, persuade and negotiate.

TRUE results improve efficiency and reduce expenses while people establish and sustain strong relationships internally and externally. And all this comes with no increase in operating costs, no cash outlay for additional equipment, and no investment in additional resources. That’s good business.