Les Wexner and the Columbus Partnership transform the region

Columbus must continue to stretch and look for best-in-class examples.

“The challenge will be, could we grow robustly and actually improve quality of life?” Wexner says. “I think there are lessons around the world where communities have done that.”

Wexner also wants to see more collaboration — in a community known for collaboration — to better leverage relationships. Outside institutions such as Harvard University do case studies on Columbus; rather than exporting that knowledge, people should be coming to Columbus to learn about economic development, public-private partnership, etc.

Battelle and Ohio State should be more connected to each other and the community, at large like Harvard and MIT, he says. Local colleges and universities also should know more about smart technology than anyone else, as the city deploys Smart Columbus initiatives.

“We’re playing on that national stage, but we’re playing without the full support of our universities,” Wexner says.

But even with the challenges, now that the community has some foundational elements and experiences, he believes it’s time to accelerate and ascend to new heights.

“You can be one of the great cities of the world, and still have that Mayberry character of cooperation, of citizenship, of collaboration, of civility,” Wexner says. “We can do all that.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Don’t fall in love with the problem.
  • Set ambitious, measurable and focused goals.
  • Stay curious; avoid complacency.

 

Living right

When Les Wexner was in his late mid-30s, he got a call from his banker, John G. McCoy, who led City National Bank and Trust. McCoy asked him to come to his office. It was a tough year, and Wexner thought his loan was being pulled.

Instead, McCoy wanted Wexner to start thinking about how he would contribute to the community. McCoy shared advice from his father: Think of it in terms of tithing — give 10 percent of your time, 10 percent of your resources.

“That was one of the most important conversations that I’ve had in my life. I processed it over a period of years, maybe even a decade,” Wexner says.

When you look into the mirror, do you see someone you want to meet?

“When I asked myself that question the first time, I said no. This guy’s boring. He’s just a workaholic,” he says.

You want to meet people who have more balance in their lives and who think more broadly about responsibility.

“When I hear people saying, ‘When I retire, I’m going to do all these things for society.’ It’s like, well, if you’re lucky,” Wexner says. “But why do you postpone that good thing about yourself for a year or 10 or 20 or 30? Start doing it now, in whatever means you can.”

 

What’s next?

As Columbus 2020 builds its plan for the next decade, President and Chief Economic Officer Kenny McDonald shared some emerging trends.

Disruption is here. The region has unrealized innovation capacity. Connectivity, which includes community engagement with all groups of people, needs to increase. Momentum needs to be sustained. However, growth is still the goal.

“We’re still ambitious. It isn’t just job and investment growth. It might also be foreign direct investment growth. It might mean minority business growth,” he says.

The region needs to attract more impact investment, such as venture capital.

“We want to measure innovation, and we’re going to get very tactical about that. We’re not going to hope for innovation,” McDonald says.

Other goals will relate to maximizing individual opportunity and helping communities succeed and prepare for growth.

“While everybody is focused on the next 10 minutes, we’re going to be focused on the next 10 years. What we’ve learned time and time again is every time we think long term, we get better short-term results. It’s true in business and it’s also true in communities,” he says.