Leaders must step up and vow Together We Will Prosper
Days after Hurricane Andrew crushed south Miami-Dade, high-powered business leaders spearheaded comprehensive economic recovery via We Will Rebuild. Where is today’s team?
What we need, right now, is a cluster of leaders with enough clout to announce that they are setting everything else aside to drive recovery and have a plan to do it. Just that headline will spur confidence and cooperation,
Many will play vital roles in recovery. But the right leadership is the make-or-break element of an economic drive that will take years.
When hurricane winds died in 1992 we had former Knight-Ridder Chairman Alvah Chapman, a community leader who could convene and direct a recovery with the military precision he was educated for. We all trusted him, his abilities and his motivation. He was powerful, practical and apolitical. Nobody in government or business dared say no as he asked for resources to speed recovery. With others joining in leadership, it was a tremendous success. Decades later, thank you to all!
Nobody had to elect or appoint Mr. Chapman to lead. He took the role by acclamation.
Unfortunately, they aren’t making any Alvah Chapmans to guide today’s recovery. He had run a Miami-based corporate giant. But Knight-Ridder and Mr. Chapman are long gone, and Miami has very few ex-corporate and community leaders to look to.
As well-meaning as current government officials are, they have neither the business experience nor the magnetism to command an all-hands-on-deck response to the economic shutdown. These vital players control needed resources for a recovery and will be welcome aboard ship, but they cannot pilot it – particularly in an election year when even the best motivations will be suspect.
When I asked one knowledgeable observer who could lead recovery as Mr. Chapman did 28 years ago, he listed 14 people who collectively have all the knowledge, respect, leadership ability and access to resources that Mr. Chapman had. It’s a great list.
However, the key word in my enthusiasm for these leaders is “collectively” – none of them can do it alone. They are former elected officials, former government professionals, educators, leaders of nonprofits and an especially healthy collection of active top executives. Great leaders collectively to steer a recovery that must ripple through every inch of Miami-Dade’s broad community.
I won’t quote the names – nobody has nominated them and none that I know of has offered to lead in the recovery – but if you’ve watched Miami a while your own list of potential recovery leaders will include many of them. You know who they are – and so do they.
They are certainly talking among themselves about the strong united effort needed to put our economy back together and plan its future in a post-shutdown world. Some can’t take the lead today, but some certainly could.
Nobody is going to “order” them to volunteer. These people can’t be ordered to do anything – that’s a qualification for leadership. If someone is appointing you, you’re not at the top.
But these people could step forward – you know who you are – and join in a triumvirate or cluster of five as a leadership council for virtually full-time involvement to bring back the small-business economy that is Miami’s backbone.
Business won’t rebound just because federal loans cover a couple of months of payroll. What happens after those two months? The economy won’t go from zero to 60 with one touch of the gas pedal.
Remember, we have few big corporations. Those in the cruise industry have been hammered mercilessly by the pandemic and will be hard-pressed to restore confidence. The corporate giants cannot lead recovery by restoring and creating jobs. And unemployment benefits are not forever.
Hopes for big job recovery must ride on small and mid-size businesses.
Miami-Dade commissioners would like to lead recovery. The county’s resources may be our biggest single asset in the comeback battle, but governments in an election year can’t target needs apolitically, and no government operates with the lack of red tape that will be vital to respond quickly and with massive firepower to a collapse that the pandemic-triggered response created.
Remember, the US response to the collapse of 1929 led to conflicting measures that sometimes made the economy sicker. It took World War II, more than a decade later, to get employment back to where it had been. Miami doesn’t have time for a decade of trial and error.
No, too many workers live paycheck to paycheck. Too many have no paychecks. And when the forced shutdown ends, nothing will automatically go back to business as usual. A focused team of leaders will have to target recovery sector by sector, area by area, with a paid staff and access to every resource government, the civic community and business itself can muster.
This is not a job for amateurs, hired hands, individual industries or governments on their own. We all know that.
What Miami needs is three to five well-known names who belong on that 14-person list to step forward together and say “we have a plan and together we are going to make it happen. Together We Will Prosper.”
We’re waiting for you.