Looking up Featured

9:47am EDT July 22, 2002

The rumpled old man, his long beard matted to the gray tattered blanket around him, almost blended into the doorway as I strolled casually past him on Forbes Avenue with my young son that Christmas Eve.

I hadn’t even noticed him or the cup of change in front of him.

It was my son’s first trip into Pittsburgh, and I wanted him to fully experience the blend of music, frigid air and the mad rush of last-minute shoppers like me running around like panicked elves. I dragged him by the hand up and down each street, showing him the holiday window displays.

I pointed out the landmarks and tall buildings, and I shared some history about the region. We rode the escalators and bought gifts. In all of this Christmasy excitement, I almost caught myself singing “Silver Bells” as we glided through this fair and festive city.

But I never saw that old man.

We rushed right past him and on down Forbes to Wood Street when my son finally tugged on my hand to stop me.

“Why is that man sitting there like that?” Adam asked, pointing to the weathered old man in the doorway, sitting hopelessly on a piece of cardboard. This was the first time he had ever seen a real beggar on the street.

“He has no place to live,” I told him matter-of-factly, “and he wants people to give him money.”

“But it’s Christmas,” Adam said. “You mean he doesn’t have anywhere to go on Christmas? No family of friends?”

“No,” I said. “He lives on the street.”

I pulled Adam forward. We had lots of shopping left to do, and we were running out of daylight. But he pulled me back and just stood there. Then he asked me the question of questions.

“Could we take him home with us tonight?” he asked. “Nobody should be alone like that on Christmas.”

I stood there speechless. He had just knocked the wind out of my pleasantly shallow Christmas experience. So I gave to Adam $5 to give to the man, and we went on our way.

I was too busy watching the sidewalk in front of me to look up long enough to notice this guy. I was too busy thinking about the experience I wanted to have and share with my son of downtown Pittsburgh, and of all the things I still had to do between then and Christmas Day.

My son got to experience Pittsburgh, alright, but not the Pittsburgh I wanted him to remember. But I was too focused and selfish to notice.

How many of us go through our business lives thinking about ourselves and the success of our companies, staying focused only on what remains in front of us? And we fail to look up long enough to see how we might contribute to the greater good.

Contributing to the economic vitality of this region certainly is part of it. But many people don’t bother. They figure someone else will reach out and mentor or invest or help set policy for the region’s economic future. They’re too busy managing their own companies, they say. They’ve got enough to do without worrying about getting involved in the region.

Those same people then grumble about how far behind this region is economically from similar cities. And they complain about the region’s shortcomings. In football, we call them armchair quarterbacks.

In this special issue, we have taken the time to identify 55 business, civic and government leaders, Pittsburgh’s Pacesetters, who are willing to give of their time, money and ideas to make Southwestern Pennsylvania a great place to live and do business. Many of them are doing it one person at a time. Some share their wisdom and experience with others. Some are using the wealth they have earned in this region to invest in the futures of other entrepreneurs. Still others are doing what they can to promote Pittsburgh to the region itself and to the rest of the world.

Then there are people like Jack Roseman, this month’s One On One interview, who offer up all of the above in a life dedicated to others in business. It took him a massive heart attack and doctors giving him one day to live to get the picture. But when he finally looked up from his life as a workaholic entrepreneur, he never looked back.

Twenty-seven years later, he’s still looking up, taking time to notice the people who need his help — and then helping them. That’s why I call him the Quintessential Pacesetter.

So what does it take to become a quintessential pacesetter? Wisdom that you’re willing to share, passion for life and for the region — and a compassion that forces you to take the time to look up and see who you can help today. But most of all it takes action. You can think about it all you want, but it’s your action that truly benefits the greater good.

In this issue, we’re talking about business and economic prosperity, but the same does apply for the greater good of humanity as well. If you make only one New Year’s resolution this year, make it this: To look up and contribute to the greater good of this region and its people.

It’s just a shame it took an innocent, compassionate 8-year-old to teach me that lesson. Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN magazine.