The 58th mayor of the city of Atlanta began her public life as the commissioner of cultural affairs under then-Mayor Maynard Jackson. That was the beginning of an education process that would continue under the leadership of Andrew Young, who named Franklin chief administrative officer and city manager and made her responsible for the day-to-day operations of Atlanta, a city with a $1 billion budget and nearly 8,000 employees.
"With Andy, I would come in with a list of issues to brief him on," Franklin says. "If I could not discuss those issues in a conversational way -- if I wasn't familiar with the facts, if I wasn't familiar with the circumstances versus handing him voluminous memos - then he was never persuaded.
"He thought that I needed to know the information; that I had thought about it, not just have facts and figures at my fingertips all the time. Many people are surprised by that. We could cover 20 issues in an hour-and-a-half because we could talk about it."
It's a lesson Franklin took to heart and incorporates in her own administration.
"I engage in dialogue about public policy," she says. "I am interested in probing the issues. It has to make sense to me; the pieces have to fit together. You can't gloss over the facts and you can't gloss over the interrelationships between one issue and another. And you can't forget the history. You lead in the moment that you are leading. You're not leading in the previous moment. And you're not leading in the future.
"You lead in the historical moment. At this time, there are certain things that people are concerned about that are different than they were 10 years ago or are likely to be different 10 years from now."
Smart Business spoke with Mayor Franklin to learn how she runs the city in the present and prepares it for the future.
What was it like working in the administrations of mayors Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young?
Those were great experiences. It was like reading a leadership book every day. It gave me the opportunity that was completely focused on making Atlanta the best place that it could be. Their leadership styles are very different, so I had that opportunity, too.
They are mentors of mine; they helped me develop self-confidence, they helped me hone my skills. They ensured that I had experience in public administration. It was like a double master's degree and a Ph.D.
What did you learn from them?
The work that I did with Andy Young was basically running the day-to-day operations of the city and having a chance to interact with him on literally hundreds of different initiatives. I had the advantage of his world perspective, combined with his love of this city.
Andy encouraged me during my service to the city, in that eight-year period, to lead a balanced life, to stay connected with my family and friends and community, not to be so consumed with my work that I, myself, lose my values, lose my interests.
I understood what it was like to be a soccer mom. I understood what it was like to grapple with family problems. I understood traffic from the perspective of someone using the roadways with my children. He would encourage me to take time off, to take vacations.
The other thing was that he encouraged daydreaming and blue-skying, as he used to call it. (He was) not satisfied with people who were so mired in the details that they couldn't see the bigger picture.
Brilliant leaders like Andy and Maynard and (William B.) Hartsfield and others can project 10 and 20 years from the present on what life might be. That is the hardest thing I have to do. It's not just to project what decisions I have to make for today based on everything that you know, but how those decisions are going to play out and what opportunities or advantages the community will have or the city will have or the people will have 10 or 20 years (from now) because of a decision today.
Maynard foresaw an international city when Atlanta was not viewed as an international city. That was 30 years ago. His slogan for Atlanta 30 years ago was, 'The next great international city.' Andy foresaw how to do that. Both could see beyond the here and now and pushed themselves to do it. I push myself to do the same thing. I'm not brilliant like they are.
How did running the daily operations of the city help shape your views of business and entrepreneurship?
I viewed this city as a public enterprise, and I learned very quickly the role of the team in accomplishing your goals, whatever they are. It requires everyone at every stage of that process in order to be successful. Declaring it so from the mayor's office wasn't going to get it done.
The value of teamwork and leadership within the team and rotating roles of leadership are among the things that I learned. I also learned to appreciate the value of debate and dialogue and clear communication. The larger and more complex the organization, the clearer the communication has to be both up and down the ladder.
That communication is not just one-sided. It's not just what the mayor or the chief executive officer or the COO has to say. It is also having avenues for people at all stages, at all levels of the organization, to communicate their opinions, their advice and counsel. The person who is actually performing the function knows more about how to do it better than anyone else does.
Do you think that experience of running the city's daily operations puts you more in tune with the business community today?
It's shaped by views, but I think those principles play out in business as well. Being successful in business embraces all of the stakeholders, including employees and the people on the front line, and recognizes the people on the front line are the only ones that most people see.
I'm in tune with them because I listen to them and I value their role in making this city successful. I could have been in tune with them in 1980 and out of step with them now if I were not open to hearing their issues and seeking their advice. I learned that from Andy.
Andy believed, and to this day believes, that government has a very specific role in the delivery of municipal services and supporting business. I concur with that. The success of the city is as much dependent on the success of business as it is on any mayor.
What role should the government play in business?
There is a legislative role in terms of regulations so that there is fair competition. I think we also provide support services through zoning and the building permit process. There are certain legal requirements that are passed to cities from state or federal government.
Our role clearly is in the public infrastructure arena. The important role the city has played in the development and the expansion of the airport; the important role we play in ensuring there is clean water. Those are all services that are provided by the public sector. It is half of the puzzle.
The other half is business. I view my role as mayor as being an advocate for business, not just being supportive, but being an advocate because the majority of people who move to Atlanta and the region move here to go to school or for a job. And many of them then find themselves starting a business. We are a community of entrepreneurs.
Is there a single initiative of which you are most proud?
The initiative that I'm most proud of is not a single initiative. Balancing the city's budget in a very difficult economy -- operating the city in the black -- certainly is something I'm proud of. But the way we have gone about the initiatives is what I'm most proud of.
We build consensus. We seek expertise -- external and internal expertise. And I put a process in place for decision-making that is fact based, research based and where we can be is visionary in its goals.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Tackling the water and sewer issues, and financing $3 billion in water and sewer improvements that should have been done over the last 40 years. It's been the biggest challenge because the number is so big and the time is so short, and it's not a sexy issue.
They are absolutely important and you cannot do it without public health. You cannot do business without water -- quantity of water, quality of water accessibility of water, affordability of water. That has been the toughest issue because it hadn't been tackled comprehensively before.
The public, the business community especially, but the public understands that the city has to tackle this issue. We spent two years in public education and outreach, so people know that this is an issue that we have to tackle. They no longer glaze over when I'm talking about it.
This is not an issue that ever gets done. We're catching up on work that should have been done over several decades. We won't be finished with this issue. We have to have continual investment and reinvestment in clean water that's going to be for the foreseeable future.
What does the future hold for Atlanta?
We are developing a comprehensive economic development plan. It's the first one, we believe, that has been developed by the city, and we are engaging the private sector through a group called the Atlanta Committee for Progress, which is represented by CEO-level and executive-level leadership, as well as our economic development agency.
We are following the lead -- Boston has done similar work; Minneapolis has done similar work; Baltimore has done similar work. It is based on strengthening the growth industries in your community and then finding those opportunities for expansion of those industries. For us it would be logistics and hospitality, banking and financial services. It's also the music industry.
What legacy do you want to leave the city and business communities?
I want the city to be healthier. I want it to be safe. I want it to be economically strong and viable. And I want all people -- poor people, rich people, affluent people, business people and government to buy into a vision of a great community.
I want them to remember that my administration was honest and it was hardworking and that we do what we say we can do. In other words, we are willing to take bold steps and we are willing to do the hard work that accomplishes those. Atlanta is business-friendly. I hope that we would be viewed as business-friendly.
In my heart, I want people to know that Atlanta is the city that cares. We care about the people who live here, the people who work here, the people who invest here, and that we do something about that.
HOW TO REACH: City of Atlanta Mayors office, www.atlantaga.gov or (404) 330-6000