Filling a void in Corridor leadership

CBJ Editorial

Next month we will publish the CBJ’s annual list of the most influential people in the region. This well-read list is something that we have been publishing for the past 15 years.

What stands out this year, unfortunately, is a pronounced lack of diversity on the list and the stark void in local leadership by some of the region’s largest public companies.

Since this is reader-generated and we don’t modify it, this list underlines the diversity challenges in the leadership of our region and state.

For most of the first dozen years we published the Most Influential list, we had recognizable names from some of the region’s largest public companies like Pat Baird from Aegon, Tom Aller from Alliant Energy and Clay Jones from Rockwell Collins. That is no longer the case.

Of course, we still have strong corporate leaders on the list, as you will read, from United Fire Group, CRST International, and True North Companies, but something has changed over the past few years:  Alliant, Aegon/Transamerica and now Collins Aerospace have lost much of their regional leadership visibility and impact.

In fact, the new president of Interstate Power & Light Co., a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, is no longer even located in Cedar Rapids, but rather in Dubuque. That would have been difficult to envision just a few years ago under the strong, and omnipresent leadership of Mr. Aller.

It is tempting to speculate on the cause of this dearth in regional leadership involvement from the public company C-suite. The headquarters of Rockwell Collins is no longer in the Corridor, for instance, after it was acquired by United Technologies and folded into its Collins Aerospace business. The strong local leadership at Interstate Power & Light that matriculated under its predecessor company, Iowa Electric, may now be past retirement age.

We suspect that the causes behind the void are not so simply defined, or even narrowed. Corporate leadership, structure and governance is constantly changing. Different corporations have different expectations about how their leadership interacts with their host communities.

One thing we do know, however, is the importance of having leadership from our area’s top companies. We need regional leaders with the clout, skills and backing of the C-suite to come to bat, particularly at times when we need the full attention of state and federal leaders on issues such as workforce and flood control.

True, there are smaller publicly held companies in the area with leadership that could step in. There are also many private companies in the area with strong leadership that want to demonstrate their commitment and connection to the Corridor. However even those who equal the strategic thinking and communication skills of a large public company leader can’t quite bring the symbolic importance of representing a Fortune 500 or Fortune 1000 company with their vast resources and name recognition.

Quick fixes for these issues are unlikely, but let’s not assume it’s the new normal. Let’s all be fostering and welcoming the capable leaders of tomorrow, with the idea of reflecting the region we want to be.