Feb 13, 2015 - 6:00pm

The CEO As Urban Statesman


Salt Lake City Light Rail
Photo courtesy of Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce.

Our metro cities are driving our nation’s economy, and in about 10 years they will be home to 80 percent of our population. But these complex economic, social and political regions also struggle to address regional problems like infrastructure, health care, education and economic development.

In recent years, some cities have tapped the skills of CEOs to lead coalitions of cross-sector leaders to tackle these big issues.

In my book, The CEO As Urban Statesman, I recount how five cities have solved complex issues or captured opportunities with coalitions of leaders representing many viewpoints under the leadership of a highly respected CEO who has no personal gain from the outcome. These types of CEOs are all over the country and possess problem-solving skills and experience working with many groups who do not typically agree on issues.

CEOs generally don’t cross the line into urban statesmanship just because of a desire to “do good” in a general sense. Most of them have a passionate connection either to their community or to a particular issue. Companies are willing to have their CEOs become involved in their communities because they recognize that their long-term prosperity is tied to the prosperity of the community in which the business resides.

Urban statesmen from the business community seem to be particularly effective in situations that require cross-sector leadership that includes government and civic, faith, labor, environmental, academic and arts representation. They can be effective in boundary-bridging situations because they are NOT politicians, who have responsibilities to geographic or jurisdictionally bound constituencies. Not limited to representing the interests of a particular group, business-based statesmen are able to gather information and develop solutions to problems that reflect and balance the interests of all stakeholders.

The urban statesman is NEVER a Lone Ranger. Urban statesmen are acutely aware of this need for a combination of talents and eager to work with others to help their projects succeed. At the end of the day, one might hear, “We couldn’t have done it without the boss,” but never that the boss “did it alone.”

Part 1: How Three Unlikely Partners Brought Atlanta’s Grady Hospital Back to Life

Part 2: Road Warriors Tackle Salt Lake City Infrastructure

Part 3: After Ike: A Former Astronaut Dives Into Houston's Disaster Response

Part 4: Urban Statesman’s Vision for Columbus, Georgia: A River Runs Through It

Part 5: Eight Rules for Successful Urban Statesmanship

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About the Author

About the Author

At the helm of one of the nation’s most influential chambers of commerce, Sam A.