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May 26, 2016 | Carol E. Barnwell

Guests' Experience Central to Vision

[Diolog Magazine Camp Allen June 2016] 

A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, George Dehan moved to Houston in 1978. He earned an MBA from the University of Arkansas and has been married to Carol for 46 years. Dehan became the first president of Camp Allen in 2001 after a 26-year career in the computer business. The Dehans are members of St. Martin’s, Houston, and have a very favored grandson, Charlie, who, fortuitously, lives nearby with his parents, Bryan and Julie Dehan. 


CEB:Who first influenced your faith?

GD:My mother had a great influence on my early Christian life with Bible bedtime stories and just little phrases that got my attention. If there was a storm, she would say: "Whenever I am afraid, I put my trust in Thee," and the fear will pass. I went to St. Mark's Church in Shreveport and attended kindergarten. They were building a beautiful cathedral next door to the school and we watched the artist installing the stained glass as our teacher explained the meaning of the window. 


CEB:What did you learn as a child that informed your “business” self?  What lessons/principles continued to influence how you did business?  

GD: My Dad and his brother ran a downtown restaurant for 50 years in Shreveport. Even as a young child, I was around food, customer service and greeting guests. The result of doing something extra for a guest and seeing a smile was always most rewarding. Some of the restaurant customers would say to me as a child: "You are sure friendlier than your Dad!" Later in life, I spent summers working in the restaurant and making suggestions to my Dad and his brother about the customer experience. That experience is certainly reflected with our staff at Camp Allen. 


CEB:Tell me a bit about your career after college. 

GD:I received an undergraduate degree in marketing from the University of Arkansas, married my wife Carol right after college and went on to get my MBA. I was in the computer marketing area for a national computer company, and after eight years, started my own computer software firm. That firm grew to about 60 people in Houston and other major cities. When the Camp Allen opportunity came along, Carol said, "I love camp and I hate computers." I had been in the computer field for about 26 years and had been involved with three start-up computer companies. My friend Charles Kraft first told me about the job at Camp Allen and I interviewed with Bishop Claude Payne. To make this career decision, I needed to sell the computer firm, which miraculously came about three weeks after talking to the Bishop. A somewhat stranger came up to me at Church and said, "I have a client coming from France and he wants to invest in a computer company in the U.S." That seemed a pretty clear indicator that I was making the right choice. 


CEB: How did you first experience Camp Allen? 

GD: I had been to Camp Allen on several retreats and when I served on the vestry at St. Martin's. I went to summer camp in Louisiana, but always loved the camp experience and the great outdoors. I also had encouraged our men's Bible study group to go to Camp Allen for a few weekends during the year.


CEB: How did you decide to make this big change in careers?

GD: Camp Allen seemed to have so much potential and was not very visible outside the Episcopal community. I felt the calling and the timing was right for a career change. I met with several Camp Allen board members about the opportunity and the vision. They told me: “Love our staff and don't go in there as a know-it-all." It was easy to love the staff and that was great advice. The first thing I did was select a longtime staffer, Gloria Clepper, as camp director. I have worked with Gloria for 16 years and we share this ministry and vision every step of the way. I cannot think of a cross word we have ever had. I look back and see that our clients appreciate more of what we do than any of my for for-profit clients in the computer business. Our guests expect to enjoy the experience at Camp Allen and they do. My computer clients hated the thought of a new computer system and they prepared themselves to grimace. Our Camp Allen clients seem to breathe easy when they arrive here. 


CEB: What was your vision for your tenure at Camp Allen? 

GD: The first thing that needed to happen at Camp Allen was to share the vision with the staff. That meant being transparent about the goals, the budget, the good and the bad. We have had weekly staff meetings where we prepare everyone with information about who is coming and why their presence is important to us. We also provided a public program that someone could attend without being invited by a group. We wanted to improve the facilities, which meant we needed to move beyond a typical camp setting, and we wanted to have our management staff be willing to happily welcome our guests seven days a week. Our vision begins and ends with a talented, well-informed and enthusiastic staff. 


CEB: Hospitality is a core value at Camp Allen and it’s the one thing guests highlight when speaking about their visit.

GD: We want hospitality to be the focus. We hire people who want to greet and take care of our guests. We survey our guest groups and we adjust accordingly. We want to under promise and over deliver. We want hospitality to be the total experience and what sets Camp Allen apart from a typical hotel experience. We are doing the same thing in our Summer Camp to make the registration process and the greeting families at the pavilion a pleasing experience.


CEB:What were some of your biggest challenges? What are some high points of your time at Camp Allen? 

GD:The challenges are really two-fold. Finding the right people who can relate to the hospitality experience in a rural area where there are not great hotels or restaurants from which to draw is one. Secondly, to keep our board members engaged in our growth and success. We want our board members' advice, counsel, support and time. The highlight of my job is mentoring and sharing the vision with our younger up-and-coming management staff. We want them to be prepared for what we see as an exciting decade ahead at Camp Allen. It has been amazing to see our facilities upgraded and overhauled as a result of our Centennial Capital Campaign, which continues. And we are looking forward to starting the most exciting part—Campsite 4. I hope the future holds a transformational experience for many additional guests, be they corporate or church related. This is a special place and we want to share it with as many people as possible.