Given the resignation of Steve Dempsey from the Greater Halifax Partnership and the fact we have an acting DM at Business New Brunswick, I thought I would dust off and tweak my qualifications for running a large economic development organization.
#1 – Top Qualification – Uber sales guy/gal: The head of an ED organization should be a top salesperson. They need to be out front of all their staff like Mel Gibson’s William Wallace in Braveheart. First on the battlefield, the CEO of an economic development agency to spend much of his/her time on the big files working to attract firms here and helping our local firms land large contracts. If an NB firm is out pitching a multi-million contract, the CEO of the ED organization should be right there alongside – arm in arm – telling the prospective client that partnering with an NB company is partnering with the government of New Brunswick (or the City of Halifax or you fill in the blank). Kind of like that guy in the Verizon advertisments that has the thousands of people standing behind him.
#2 – Ability to lead public servants (or quasi-public servants): This is a different skillset – just as Eloi Duguay. It’s not about profits – it’s about the public good – a little harder concept to nail down. Leading public servants requires more carrots and less sticks than in the private sector. They are working for something greater and need to have that constantly reinforced. I believe that strong leadership skills and the ability to cast a vision is fundamental to the CEO of an ED organization (second only to sales skills).
#3 – Related to #2 – Typing skills: I’m not kidding. Back in the early 1990s someone asked Tom Peters (that former hot rod management consultant) what the top skill he would look for in a CEO and he responded “typing skills”. His point was that the modern CEO (circa 1995) needed to be constantly interacting with his/her troops providing motivation, encouragement, pointers, etc. This could be done, most effectively according to Peters, via this new ’email’ technology. Fast forward to 2009, the CEO of an ED organization should be Twittering, blogging, etc. – not just to be trendy but to cast a wide net. To engage a broad group of stakeholders into the vision and be constantly reinforcing this vision on a daily basis. I think that there are hundreds if not thousands of New Brunswickers (or you fill in the blank) that would follow a Twitter feed from the CEO of BNB if he/she was providing insightful content on the process of economic development. “Just met with the CEO of a large Korean manufacturing firm. Can’t tell you much more but it looks very good….”. “Grabbed the Premier and went with the CEO of company x to pitch a $30 million project for community y to a company in Mississippi. I believe we have a shot….”
#4 – Ability to cast bring the wide group of stakeholders to the table: Everyone knows that successful economic development is never about one single organization like the GHP or NSBI or BNB. It is about a network of stakeholders and resources pulled in as needed. The CEO of a large ED organization must be networked up the ying/yang with educational institutions, other government departments, local stakeholders, supply chains in growth industries, federal partners, industry associations – you get the picture. The ability to marshall these resources quickly as needed is a powerful ED tool.
Then there are all the other yadda yadda yadda skills. You hire someone with these four skillset and I’ll give you someone with the potential for real success (assuming the infrastructure and political/community support is in place).