Standing alone in the corner at a bustling community event, many do not feel comfortable. But imagine a bright smile coming toward you—a vibrant woman who does not know you but will give you such a generous reception, you’ll wonder if you’re already friends. That sort of greeting is just what Judy Braatz is known for.
Reputation for relationships
Braatz (pronounced “like the grilling kind”) is the business development representative at Think Bank in Rochester. She is cheerful and grateful to work at a company that admires her hospitality and the relationships she’s made. “Two days after leaving the Chamber of Commerce,” Braatz explains, “I got the call that Think Bank wanted me to work for them. After 24 years at the Chamber—I was 61—I felt so blessed!”
“I told them I would cold call, I’d do sales—anything to open doors because I’d pretty much done it all.” Braatz jokes that once the position began, she felt like she had been “punked” because it was so tailored to her. She adds, “To have been given another opportunity to work in a career that allowed me to be very visible in our community and to build wonderful relationships with businesses and individuals . . . I love it.”
Braatz’s resume is filled with customer service, sales, relationship-building and public speaking. She considers herself not a born host but a learned one. “I’ve always been pretty outgoing, but I remember as a child—a middle child—watching my dad. He was talkative and friendly. I would see how people smiled when he walked up to them; how comfortable they were.” Conversely, Braatz considers her mother reserved and quiet and adds with a laugh, “We need introverts! Otherwise, us extroverts would go crazy!”
At age 19, Braatz held a position with the YMCA selling memberships under Chuck Hazama before he was mayor of Rochester. Hazama passed away in 2021. She recalls him fondly. “I remember watching in awe as a member would come in furious because membership rates increased. They would yell, and Chuck would invite them into his office. Ten minutes would pass, and the door would open, and the member would have his arm around Chuck’s shoulder, and they would be laughing together! I asked him what he said in there. He said, ‘Judy, I’m listening and empathizing with them. People just want to be heard.’ I learned so much about working with people from that man,” she recalls.
Networking is not a bad word
Braatz quickly lists her personal definition of hospitality: being friendly, welcoming and sociable and smiling. “I want people to feel comfortable around me,” she adds. Braatz doesn’t want the idea of networking events to intimidate people. She offers suggestions. “When someone is nervous to attend an event, I ask them if they can find just one person they recognize. Or I just tell them to come find me!” she laughs. “Having someone to walk in with makes all the difference. And there are usually food and name tags—those are easy places to look for a friendly face. I tell people to look for the person smiling or who looks at you when you walk in.” Braatz admits she always walks up to those standing alone and introduces herself.
After decades of networking events, charity functions and even being on the radio and doing stand-up comedy, Braatz has advice. “There are traits to work on,” she begins. “Small networking groups can teach some of those skills.” Braatz recommends signing up for a local chapter of BNI (Business Network International) to help connect with leads and perfect that elevator pitch. Master Networks has meet-ups, events and classes available. For making small talk and ice breaking easier, Braatz advises joining committees or Chamber mixers. Service clubs and volunteer work also top her list of honing those social skills.
Braatz lives a life full of warm receptions. Her resume of volunteer work is impressive, including highlights such as RochesterFest chair, emcee of the Red Drop Resources Gala, currently board member of the Women’s Shelter, 125 Live, Jeremiah Program, committee member and emcee for several fundraisers and nonprofits. Braatz generously shares her gifts with the community.
Today, her influential father and mother live at the Homestead of Rochester. Her family celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary and 95th birthdays with a party this past summer.
Braatz lights up when talking about her family. “I would not have gotten through some challenging times without them—especially my two daughters,” she explains. “I am so proud of them. Lindsay lives in Holmen, Wisconsin, with her partner, Max, where she is a sales manager. She built a new home, and we have fun family gatherings there. Kelsey and her husband, Cole, live in Eyota with my two precious granddaughters, Reya (3) and Ruby (7 months). Kelsey is an RN at Methodist Hospital.” Braatz relays how much she loves spending time with family and how fortunate she is to see her granddaughters several times a week. She adds, “We have a weekend planned to go to Lindsay’s to watch the Viking’s game together. I always teased my girls that the one thing they shouldn’t do was bring home a Packer fan. Well, Max is a Packer fan! Luckily, he’s a nice Packer fan, and I appreciate that.” ::
Ice Breakers with Judy Braatz
Sports team: Minnesota Vikings!
Influential person: My dad and mom; John Wade, chamber president while I was there; and Chuck Hazama, executive director of the YMCA & former mayor.
Ever unsure to meet someone: The only time I might feel that way is on a blind date or the first time I meet a man from a dating site. Oh, do I have some crazy stories from some of my first dates.
TV show: I am a huge fan of “Survivor” and have watched every season. It was really fun watching John Wade’s daughter, Sarah, on the last season. I wish she would have won!