Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a star of the corporate consulting world, advising major companies on managing international commerce on the verge of the 21st century. One measure of the respect accorded her thinking: She has been awarded 18 doctoral degrees.
She is a prolific author, with titles including Men and Women of the Corporation (1977) and The Change Masters: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the American Corporation (1983).
Kanter grew up in Cleveland and proudly used the city as a model for urban renaissance in her 12th book, a 1995 business bestseller titled World Class: Thriving Locally in the Global Economy.
SBN spoke with Kanter about the citys renaissance and its future.
Q: Where did you grow up and what are some key memories?
A: I grew up in University Heights and Cleveland Heights and graduated from Cleveland Heights High School. My father was an attorney downtown. Downtown had a comfortable feeling and I liked to walk around there. The city had a small-town feeling, but the cultural parts were fabulous. But everything was a little oasis surrounded by difficult areas. I went to the art museum a lot, but nothing felt safe beyond the oasis.
Q: What got you interested in the world of high-level business and international trade?
A: When I was growing up, my parents friends were professional people, so I had little contact with the corporate world. I was interested in leadership, people, and organizations, and the business world was a very interesting place to look at the impact on people and society .... I only became a business strategist later because I was interested in the things that were most important in shaping American society.
Q: Give us the basic message of World Class with regard to what companies and communities must do to compete in the new global market?
A: It has become vital to become part of a network outside the local area because the advantages due to being nearby are being rapidly reduced. Even smaller companies need to be connected to bigger entities and need to have something distinctive and world-class to offer. They need to be innovative, to be good at execution, to be able to perform at high world standards and they need to have partners that can help them get access to the best ideas and technologies or markets outside their local area.
This means regions have to raise standards and think about how to keep and attract businesses.
Q: When you were doing research for your book in 93 and 94before most of the world knew about Clevelands comebackwhat caught your attention about Cleveland?
A: What especially impressed me were the people I knew who had this great civic spirit and I noted the collaboration that helped the manufacturing renaissance. ... When I went to do the book, I was looking for a place that would illustrate one kind of positioning in the global economymanufacturingand I thought of Cleveland.
I was aware of the level of collaboration there had been among business leaders. Cleveland CEOs put an incredible level of explicit attention into this, reflected in the formation of Cleveland Tomorrow.
Some of the comeback was simply tied to the overall manufacturing recovery in most of the Midwest, while the Northeast was still suffering because of the decline of computer hardware manufacturing. The Midwest companies had become more competitive and solved the problems they had in the early 80s. They had raised quality, developed a new bargain with the work force, modernized facilities and were using new production methods.
Ohio became a center with excellent political leadership from George Voinovich and Richard Celeste and Clevelands leadership built up the spirit of the city through big projects.
Q: How have things progressed since you did your initial research?
A: I have only watched from afar, but ... it seems to me that the Cleveland renaissance could be somewhat stalled.
Q: What should be done about that?
A: The civic leadership initially focused on the big, physical projectsrevitalizing downtown, encouraging development of the Flats, the Lakefront development, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, all of which are important [for] bringing in tourists and building pride.
There are areas I could never venture into when I was growing up which are now clean and well lit. The fact that there is a nightlife in downtown is just amazing. And there were some really wonderful things to get the revitalization going in the neighborhoods like Bicentennial Village. But these are all brick and mortar projects. Whats a lot harder is to fix the human infrastructure and to move into new industries of the future. It hasnt done as well there.
Q: Such as with the schools?
A: Right. Some of that has been due to the flight to the suburbs and the results of years of neglect and segregation. Leadership Cleveland has tried to reach out across ethnic groupsgetting blacks and whites to meet and work togetherand I think its been very effective. The keys to improvement are strong standards set at the top, school-based decentralized management and very strong support from the business community [by] investing in new kinds of education as partners, like the Finance Academy the banks put together. In Boston, we have school-to-work programs that have been valuable.
People and companies in the suburbs should offer to help fix the problems of the central city or you will continue to have serious weakness. School problems are a lot more complex, they dont lend themselves to the same kind of easy investment project that a Terminal Tower does.
Even at the higher education level, the universities are very good, but to get to the world-class level, one needs to build institutions that become major research centers. Obviously, in the medical field, that is already the case. If you provide positions at universities that draw the best talent, they will come and want to stay and they will draw others so that you build a critical mass.
Q: What else would help?
A: To attract and incubate the industries of the future, Cleveland needs several other things. One is that it should put in a greater communications structure for information technology. Also, consider the airport. Why is Atlanta an international airport hub? How did Singapore get to be a hub? There has been some international emphasis in Cleveland with this marketing campaign about the North Coast, but that was too much about image. The World Trade Center is important. You want to make this a crossroads place where you have easy access to anywherea place you have to be to do business.
Q: Yet, when you mention it to people on the coasts, even after all the promotion about the comeback, they still think its a rustbelt.
A: Exactly. The true image hasnt reached most of the people that you want to attract. I was just speaking with some people from Detroit and they said they always prided themselves on being Not Cleveland.
Q: In your book, you report the business climate in Spartanburg-Greenville, S.C., received a 69 percent approval rating, while Seattle only got 11 percent. Boston, Miami, and Cleveland were stuck around 25 percent. How can there be such a disparity and such low scores on something so fundamental to a healthy economy?
A: Spartanburgs government did everything it could to help business and the rating was whether people regarded city officials as being very helpful. Seattle has succeeded in spite of its government, which residents feel has not solved the traffic problems, business complains about too much regulation and so forth.
The companies actively thought about their international ties much earlier than Cleveland. The large numbers of young people, the entrepreneurial spirit, a great climate and being a high-tech center make it a hip place to be. Cleveland has to become a cool place for young entrepreneurs to grow a young company.
Scott S. Smith is an independent writer from Los Angeles. His work appears in Entrepreneur and Nations Business, among other national publications. To comment on this article, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.