Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk
by Tom Hastings
There’s a challenge before Columbus area business leaders today. How can you demonstrate true commitment to the betterment of the business community without reaching down to help young people climb up?
This was one of the broader themes that came out of the Columbus Partnership retreat I attended at Harvard University a few months back. I was there with about 30 other chief executives and founders from Columbus to meet with public officials, distinguished fellows and professors, and to exchange ideas and talk about business development.
Although we touched on many innovative and stimulating subjects, one idea resonated throughout the gathering: strengthen our schools to strengthen our businesses.
I reflected on what that meant for Columbus and the greater Central Ohio business community. I see two major opportunities for us. Columbus should join the growing number of major cities that place responsibility for the school systems under the purview of the mayor.
But, beyond creating a formal pipeline to introduce young professionals into the Columbus economy, I think another challenge is getting involved personally. How much time have any of us given back, so that Columbus-area students benefit from the wealth of knowledge we have in the business community?
So here’s how I see it. Our police department, fire, and most city services ultimately fall under the auspices of the mayor. Why not education? The schooling of our young people makes a difference in the quality of leadership we will have in the public and private sector. So instead of having an elected board, we should have in the mayor, a single point of authority — and accountability — for the success or failure of our schools.
Mayors are a lot like chief executives. They have to have strong managerial skills. They have to know how to efficiently coordinate limited resources. They have the most power in terms of summoning more attention and resources where needed. Like they respond to the needs of all citizens, mayors can and should be called upon to respond to the needs of students and us, the employers who want to invest in our future workforce.
We’d be joining about a dozen other major cities around the nation, including New York, Boston, and Chicago which now, well into their new structure, are seeing improved test scores, fewer teacher strikes and superintendents who stick around longer without the political in-fighting typical of elected boards. Moreover, struggling schools no longer have to clamor for services and fight for funding when it’s the mayor’s responsibility to meet those needs.
Business community leaders must work with government leaders as part of this process. We must define the kind of skills and assets we need our students to have to compete in our increasingly competitive and global marketplace.
If this sounds a bit highbrow, that’s because it is. I’m not unaware of the great amount of effort and political will that must be channeled into making this vision a reality.
In the meantime, I’m challenging myself and I’m challenging you to join me in giving more of yourself to Columbus youth. A role model from the business community may be the only positive image some see, and it could spark their desire to achieve more.
I’m inspired by members of the Columbus Partnership, who, for example visit schools and read to elementary school students once each month. I think meeting with high school juniors and seniors, who are contemplating college, can be beneficial as well. The gift of time and experience is what business owners have to give. Let’s walk the walk and talk the talk. Do more than pay lip service to these issues.
I’m starting by looking for opportunities to invest and pour into Ohio students. And next, I want to lay down the gauntlet by carving out time for my employees to do the same. The challenge is before you. Are you in?