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Humor is a business advantage

If you’re feeling low and need a quick pick-me-up, call Chris Pennewill.

He’s sure to hit your funny bone within seconds.

Everyone at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce knows that when Pennewill, a banker with Whitney Bank, is around, there will be humor somewhere.

Like at Tuesday night’s annual chamber dinner. With 600 people in the ballroom of the Polo Grill, Pennewill -- outgoing chamber chairman -- couldn’t let the opportunity go by without cracking a few deadpan jokes.

“If you hugged a banker last year, thank you,” he told the group. “We needed it.”

When handing over the reins to Jim Vett, incoming 2011 chairman, he gave a little advice, “Just enjoy it, it’s a well-run organization -- don’t mess it up.”

Pennewill says his humor -- he was a class clown as a kid whose report card often said, “socializes too much” -- has helped his career.

“I tend to make light of things, especially things like road blocks in organizations and at work,” he said. “I use humor to make situations palatable, or I joke about the absurdity of a situation.”

His boss, Tramm Hudson, area president at Whitney, would love to clone him.

“It took me four months to recruit him,” Hudson said. “He’s a breath of fresh air, he’s got an upbeat personality, a dry wit, he’s smart, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

One of Pennewill’s biggest advantages is that he knows when and how to use humor to his advantage.

Like at a banker’s meeting last week during a question-and-answer session with a director from the FDIC.

“There were all these blue suits in the room listening attentively to him opine,” Hudson said. When Pennewill got up to ask a question, he managed to allude to the apparent communication disconnect between FDIC higher-ups and their bank examiners by quietly asking, “Do you think that might be a bubble?” which drew laughter and a few snickers from bankers who have been accused of helping create a “housing bubble” in recent years.

He was thanked afterwards by colleagues who wanted to address the communication problem, but didn’t know how to go about it.

“He’s not a gregarious, hail-fellow, well-met person and he’s certainly not the clown,” Hudson said. “He only injects (humor) at appropriate times, and he pulls it off with a lot of grace and style and with a certain presence.”

Bob Bartz, president of the chamber, says Pennewill’s sense of humor makes him a delight to work with.

“People like to be around him,” Bartz said. “He’s very bright and serious, but he knows how to have fun and bring levity to the situation.”

Pennewill had joked with Bartz that he might rap his speech at the annual meeting. “I told him to do it,” Bartz laughed.

Businessman John Rice thinks Pennewill’s well-timed sense of humor “takes the edge off the situation. Business is tough enough as it is, you can’t take everything so seriously,” he said.

And although Rice thinks Pennewill is “very funny,” he quickly counters, “He’s not as funny as I am.” And he doesn’t plan to let his friend speak at Rice’s annual pig roast fund-raiser.

“There’s no equal time at the pig roast -- after all, it’s at my home,” Rice laughed.