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Leading by example Featured

10:50am EDT November 22, 2004
Dick Pogue might be Cleveland's No. 1 fan.

Pogue, the one-time managing partner of the law firm Jones Day and former senior adviser at the public relations firm Dix & Eaton, has seen Cleveland in good times and in bad.

He says the difference between good times and bad often boils down to leadership in both the public and private sectors of Northeast Ohio. When there isn't strong leadership, the region suffers. When strong leadership is in place, the region prospers through a spirit of cooperation and getting people involved.

Pogue knows about both leadership and being involved in the community.

As managing partner, he led the Cleveland-based Jones Day (then known as Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue) from 335 lawyers in five domestic offices to 1,225 lawyers and 20 offices worldwide between 1984 and 1992. His six-page bio has four-and-a-half pages that list contributions as chairman or trustee to practically every major charity, foundation, university and civic organization in Northeast Ohio. He's helped raise millions of dollars for needy causes and energized people to get involved.

Pogue left Jones Day in 1994 to join Dix & Eaton, where he continued his civic and philanthropic leadership in the region.

Last January, he rejoined Jones Day with the simple title of adviser. He's utilizing his expertise and contacts to improve client relations and serve as a general troubleshooter.

Cleveland has fallen on hard times again, and Pogue, who turns 76 in April, would like to see it make another comeback.

Smart Business sat down with Pogue to talk about Cleveland and what it will take to create another renaissance for the city.

What does Cleveland need to do to make it a better place for business?

I think the best way to deal with that question is to look at history. In 1978, Cleveland was in far worse shape than it is today. It was really down. There had been two decades of decline, from 1950 to 1960 and through the '70s -- so 30 years really.

The '70s is when it got really bad. (Dennis) Kucinich became mayor, and for his own political reasons decided to put the city in default, and that created worldwide opprobrium. We were just laughed at.

That, I think, was the best thing that ever happened to the city. It really energized the business community to get involved. We had some strong business leaders at the time, and they decided the way to try to turn this whole thing around was to elect a mayor who understood economic development.

You had a series of populist mayors in the '70s, and they just had no understanding of business or job creation. So they (the business leadership) decided to ask (George) Voinovich, who had been a business-deal lawyer before he entered politics. He was then lieutenant governor, so he was in great shape to be the next governor.

They went down to him and appealed to him to come back and save the city. He took it somewhat reluctantly, but he answered the call. So business and government worked together for the next 10 years as a public-private partnership that would probably be unrivaled in, certainly, modern American history.

What did it take to get that started?

It really took that business leadership to get us going and figure out how to make and justify investments and take risks...and not kowtow to every political wind that blew. I think that started the comeback (that lasted from) 1980 to 1996.

We had a fabulous period of investment downtown that was tremendous. Millions of dollars (were invested), and the city formed marketing partnerships with the county, the Growth Association, Cleveland Tomorrow, the Convention Bureau and the Roundtable. They put some money together and really started to promote, and that got us worldwide publicity.

It was a wonderful period to be involved. The key part was the public-partnership that was led by business.

Area government spends a lot of time trying to attract new businesses, while many local businesses say it should focus on efforts on developing what's already here. Who's right?

It's a combination of both retention and attraction. Certainly the retention activities here have been pathetic. I've talked to businesses here who have never talked to anybody from the city or the county government -- not that local government is the solution to the problem, but there needs to be some contact. There's no outreach.

I think a promising development is Team NEO (a private regional economic development organization). To me, the key to Cleveland's future is the regional approach to problems, particularly in the private sector.

This creation of Team NEO was not easy. There was tension between the areas in Northeast Ohio. Now in the private sector, that tension has been mitigated. Particularly the heads of the chambers in cities now know each other; they work with and trust each other.

Any other thoughts on Northeast Ohio?

I think that right now, people are kind of down and discouraged. I think the thing to always remember is that these things always go in cycles. If you have a good, strong business base, and with the resilience we have here in Northeast Ohio, you can be optimistic that things are going to get better.

Look at New York City. Twenty years ago, it was regarded as the worst part of the universe, and then a couple of strong leaders came along. Now it's booming and is the financial capital of the world.

I like to think that we have all the conditions here to re-emerge as a very dynamic part of the country. It depends and turns on affecting this public-private partnership again, which right now we don't have. I think that's the critical element of our success back in the 1980s.

We ought to get away from this worrying about the city of Cleveland all the time. If you drive into some outlying areas ... there is a lot of activity going on. We have lost some big business here. Others are coming along to replace them, like Invacare, Steris and RPM.

I hate the continuation of the "Quiet Crisis" series in The Plain Dealer. They always want to talk about the negative. Sure there are problems, but there are good things going on in Cleveland.

I think particularly from the regional point, if you emphasize the assets and strengths the area has and re-establish the public-private partnership, we have a great opportunity to come back in a strong way.

It's just that we aren't quite working all together. I'm looking to business leadership to take the lead here. We have strong, professional firms, large law firms and tremendous strengths here. You have to deal with problems, of course you do, but you don't have to overemphasize them. I think we are hurting ourselves by not talking about the strengths as well. How to reach: Jones Day, (216) 586-3939