Sunday, February 29, 2004

Janet Reid's speech

The following is an edited version of Janet Reid's remarks to the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce Thursday night. She is the first woman and African American to be named chair of the chamber since its founding in 1839. She is managing partner of Global Lead Management Consulting in Roselawn.. Her speech came at the event honoring "Great Living Cincinnatians."

I want to acknowledge - with heartfelt gratitude - that my being here is the culmination of the work of many leaders of many backgrounds who have been dedicated to building a positive future for this community and its institutions. Those being honored tonight and those previously honored as Great Living Cincinnatians are key members of the "CHANGE gang!"

As I begin my remarks, I would like to share a small personal reflection about my parents. Mom, Dad, thank you for raising me well. My parents' DNA is infused with the obligation to give back to community and country. I was told to always put my head, heart and hands into making the world a better place and that with God's grace and mercy, you can make a difference.

My father passed on, but my mother, who is 83, flew in this evening to be with all of us - my precious daughter, Amanda, is here, too, and my son, who is in London, is here in spirit. I am deeply grateful for the other four owners and partners of Global Lead - Vincent Brown, Samuel Lynch, Oris Stuart and John Peoples and all of the associates at Global Lead Management Consulting who have afforded me the opportunity to commit so much time to community service. Our firm is composed of 40 people who work with customers here and across the world. Each person is tasked to provide excellence in customer service and to "help change the world one person at a time."

I also want to thank our clients, many of whom are here, for doing business with us and making us a viable organization. We truly value your partnership. I also want to thank Kitty Strauss and Norman Bolds who introduced me to the Chamber and John Williams who asked me to join the board. All of you were responsible for starting me off on an incredible journey. Over the last week or so I have been asked countless times about how I view my race and gender with respect to this position. "What impact did they have in getting me here?" The real question is: Do you view yourself as a "black leader?" "Just a plain leader?" "A woman who is black and who is a leader?" "A colorless, genderless wonder?" What? Here is my answer for all who want to know how I see it:

I got here because I am in equal measure - a cup full of leadership, perseverance, intelligence, estrogen, melanin, fortitude, P&G brand training (maybe two cups of that), hard-nosed, capitalistic entrepreneur, mama and positive attitude.

The truth is that when at the chamber, I bring every one of those aspects to the task and they all work together to help me do the best I can in this role. I am also asked what will be my focus during my tenure as chairwoman. I like to think of it in terms of the chamber's legacy. Each of us who take this position is tasked to help shape the legacy of this, the fourth-largest chamber of commerce in America.

There are two key things that I will be focused upon. The first is robust economic development through "bi-ocular" vision." The second is to drive diversity and practice inclusion as a means to achieve the first. Robust economic development through bi-ocular vision means having one eye keenly focused upon the recruitment, retention and growth of big business in this region. The other should be equally focused upon the retention and growth of small- and mid-sized business because they account for the employment of hundreds of thousands of people in this region.

Focusing on one-size business without the other is economic ruin. My understanding is that only with two eyes can one have depth perception. Said differently, we will not be able to break the surface on substantially increasing the economy of our region and delve into what is rightfully ours - that is, being "one of the world's favorite business centers" unless we all widen the vision of what economic development should be.

This is why the Cincinnati USA Partnership is critical to the success of our region. At the Chamber of Commerce, 98 percent of our over 6,000 members are like me - small to midsize business enterprises, and we value each and every one of you! I encourage off of you small and midsize businesses...take advantage of the member benefits such as health care and work person's comp, but also look into the CEO roundtable, Strategic 8, networking opportunities, etc. The second area of focus for me is to drive diversity and practice inclusion. Some may ask, "What is the difference between the two?"

Diversity (at least one aspect of it) is what you see when you see me. Inclusion is that you see me at this podium tonight.

Bob Hoverson, Michael Fisher and others spoke of the Chamber's accomplishments in 2003. Those were achieved because we have a diverse and inclusive board. In 2004 we have a new set of internal goals. We also have the most diverse and inclusive board ever in order to accomplish them. Our board consists of:

• Large, midsize and small businesses that focus locally, nationally and internationally

• Not for profit social service agencies

• Four institutions of higher education

• The health care sector

• Race, ethnicity, gender and age differences, including a younger member who graduated from college in 2000 and founded an organization to help our region retain young, talented East Coast-educated professionals.

Also, as a board, we believe in collaboration as part of being inclusive. We will take a trip to Washington D.C. with the Young President's Organization in a few weeks to bring some of our region's business and community related concerns to our legislators. And, I am proud to say, we were one of the official conveners of the Tristate Chamber Collaborative, which is an organization consisting of a number of chambers in this region (including the Hispanic and African-American Chambers) which work to complete, not always compete, in serving businesses.

Diversity and inclusion only work when we can communicate effectively. Effective communication across differences is something that this region needs to do much better. We need to eradicate vicious, non-productive name-calling and personal degradation, or the flip of that, which is sometimes even more detrimental, and that is refusing to have a dialogue (and I emphasize dialogue) at all.

Clearly we have real issues pertaining to race, economic disparities, police community relationships, etc. and as a result, we have bruised our national and international reputation. As all of us in this room work on these issues together, let's not forget to also celebrate our successes and changes along the way!

I am very happy about the opening of the (Underground Railroad) Freedom Center. John Pepper and Ed Rigaud, my hat is off to you! Lisa Haller for bringing new conventions into the city. Congratulations. Marvin Lewis. I never watched a football game until you infused me with your spirit of collaboration and inclusion.

I caution us not to be satisfied with where we are but we have to keep a positive spirit as we all work like crazy to achieve the chamber's purpose of "growing our regional economy and community, stimulating opportunities for everyone." I can't help but wonder what would have been the reaction of those illustrious gentlemen who gathered in 1839 if they had been told to look across the river at those slaves because one of their ancestors - and a woman to boot - would one day be at the helm. And that the president and CEO would be a prominent Jew (Michael Fisher) who is married to a Hispanic and who was recruited by a white Protestant male (Tom Cody) who is a significant player in one of our largest corporations.

And if those "founding fathers" had been told that the black woman, the Jew and the white man are all here together this evening celebrating with hundreds of their $110-per-seat-paying closest friends - the great organization that they started 160 years ago. Wow!

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