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An equation for successful leadership
Episode 312th January 2022 • Leadership Forum: The Podcast • John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University
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At the Volcker Alliance, Tom Ross works to support current and aspiring public servants. Throughout his career, he has led with empathy, understanding that each of his decisions impact people and their lives. In this episode, he shares his equation for successful leadership: Be honest, gather feedback, know yourself, embrace diversity, and empower the talent around you. 

Transcripts

Trevor Brown 0:13

Welcome to the podcast Leadership Forum conversation with leaders who serve the public good. My name is Trevor Brown, and I'm privileged to serve as Dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, where we aspire to fulfill a simple phrase that Senator John Glenn used to describe what we do, inspire citizenship and develop leadership. I also have the honor of serving as the host of this conversation series. So welcome to a thoughtful and reflective conversation about leadership in the public sector. I'm joined today by Thomas Ross, CEO and President of the Volcker Alliance. Tom is a serial public leader. He's risen to leadership roles, time and time again across a variety of sectors. After launching his career as an attorney, and then serving as Chief of Staff for a member of the US House of Representatives. For the next two decades, he served as a judge in the North Carolina Superior Court, eventually taking on the role of director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. Then, he took a tour as executive director of the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation, a North Carolina grant making Foundation, before entering the world of higher education leadership, as the President of Davidson College, private liberal arts college, where he did his undergraduate degree. And then as the president of the University of North Carolina system, one of the largest public university systems in the country. Just over five years ago, he became president of the Volcker Alliance, a private foundation devoted to promoting public service to address today's pressing challenges. Tom, welcome to our podcast. And thank you for joining me for conversation about leadership and public service.

Tom Ross 1:55

Thank you, Dean, really appreciate the opportunity to be here. And should just let your audience know how highly, I regard you in the work you do at The Ohio State University at the Glenn school and how fortunate we've been to work together. So thank you for having.

Trevor Brown 2:11

Well, it's a pleasure. And I'm looking forward to this conversation. And I know, we'll eventually get to a sort of general set of lessons about leadership that I know you've, you've crafted over the years, but I want to just dive in by starting about one of your most formative roles as judge and talking about decision making. How do judges make decisions? And what's the most difficult case slash decision you've ever had to decide?

Tom Ross 2:40

Well, I think if judges do it the right way they do it alone, first of all, that is they're not supposed to, ethically to talk with anybody. So it's, it is a, you know, an immediate way, you know, you're sort of thrown into the fire of decision making, if you've never had to make a decision before you become a judge, boy, you're going to make them every day, hundreds of them. And as I say you do it in isolation. But I think you do it based on the facts before you and based on the law, and you don't allow yourself to be influenced by public opinion or swayed by emotions or, you know, any of the things that might might improperly affect the outcome of a particular decision in a case. So that's the ideal, you know, I can give you I have lots of cases that I would classify as the most difficult, but I know there can only be one. But you know, I would pick a case partially because it was early in my career, but partially because of the, the, you know, the sadness and the trauma of the whole event. So this is a case that happened in rural North Carolina where there was a guy who was very poor and his job was driving a logging truck. He had a wife and two kids and the before this are when this accident happened, there was no law in North Carolina requiring lights on the sides of trailers. And so he had gone to Virginia and filled his truck with with logs and it brought him back to the sawmill in a county in North Carolina. And it was, you know, dusk, late afternoon and he, he backed, he was backing his trailer into the sawmill and on a two lane road and of course, when he got it sort of jackknifed across the road, his his headlights were still in the lane in which he had been driving. And were shining down the road and coming the other direction. Were four young, young people 16 17 18 years old who had been to a church event. And you know by this point, it was it was about dark and they did not see the trailer across the highway. And so they hit it full speed, and it severed the top of the car killed all four the kids. So very tragic, tragic circumstance. And the driver was charged with four counts of felony death by vehicle. And without getting into too much detail about the law, one tough decision in the case for me was whether or not to let the felony charges go to the jury. And, and but I should have to before I talk about the decision itself, I should set the stage a little bit because on one side of the courtroom are the parents and family and friends and high school classmates of these four young people who were all outstanding young people in the community and that side of the courtroom was full. On the other side of the courtroom was the wife and two young children of the truck driver and his employer, who was there not to support him, but to be sure that he didn't plead guilty, because in North Carolina, if you plead guilty, that can count as an admission against the owner of the truck for liability purposes. So he wanted to be sure he didn't plead guilty. So in any event that, you know, it was a very emotional courtroom eventually did not let the felony murder charges go to the jury, but did allow misdemeanor death by vehicle to go which was punishable up to two years in prison for each offense. And he was found guilty. And so the difficulty I had, perhaps more than anything was, you know, do you send this person who it was an accident, in my view the trailer, clearly it was negligent not to have lights on the trailer, but there was no law requiring it. And that was not really the drivers fault, it was the owners fault. But at the same time four young, bright lives were snuffed out by this. And so, you know, the families and everybody wanted him to go to prison. You know, it was a very, it was a very difficult decision to face. And, you know, I think for me, as a young Judge, I didn't, you know, I had to, I had to do a little thinking and praying about how to handle it, you know, and I finally came to the conclusion, and I think this is a really important lesson I learnedwas not only to make a decision, but to be transparent in explaining why I made that decision, which was really difficult in this circumstance, but very important. And so I chose to explain it by helping the families understand that I knew what it meant to lose somebody because my oldest brother had died at age 13. And I've seen what he had done to my family and to my father and mother and, and so it was helpful to be able to explain that to create some context that I had at least some empathy with, with what they were facing. And and I think I tried to help them understand that there was nothing I could do as a human being acting in the role of a judge to ease their pain or bring their children back and that no matter what I did to this defendant, that wasn't going to change. And, and I think, and I tried to explain why I was about to do what I did, and I did, you know, end up giving him some active time because it was negligence to park the truck across the highway quite like that. And also, you know, the human life is worth something. And so I had to balance that as well. And so I had to make a tough legal decision. And then I had to make a tough sentencing decision in the same case, and I was pretty young about it. But I think the thing I learned the most was the importance of transparency and honesty and explanation around any decision you make, because even when people were unhappy, if they understand you and understand what you're doing, it's more acceptable.

Trevor Brown 8:50

Sothanks for sharing that story. What a traumatic set of events and and thanks for being candid and open about your role and having to make that decision. I'm intrigued by the part, you said that you were young, and in your role as judge. What do you think prepared you that that was a very mature response to a really, really challenging set of circumstances? And I'm sure you had other hard cases before that, and certainly hard ones after it. But did you feel like you were ready to make that kind of decision and what prepared you for that?

Tom Ross 9:29

And I don't I don't know if I have a good answer for that. You know, I was young, I started on the bench at 33. I was the youngest judge in the state at the time and actually youngest ever at that point. And so I wasn't young for the role for sure. I think you know, I have a close friend who I've relied on for advice over the years and he actually worked at the School of Government with me and was responsible for you know, for for Helping judges. You know, he did the training for judges and all that sort of thing. So he worked with judges all the time. So when I first was considering trying to get appointed as a judge, I called him and asked me if I could do the job. And he said, he gave some great advice, which was oh, yeah, you'll be you'll be good at it. But it'll take you two years before you get that. Yeah, yeah, I think that was another great lesson for me that I've always remembered, which is, you know, you can go into any job thinking you've got what it takes. But it's going to take you a couple of years to learn the job to learn the people to learn the processes and all that. And I think part of the problem I faced was, I just didn't have a lot of experience yet as a judge, but I had been a trial lawyer, I watched judges, I think, you know, but But more than anything, I think it was my life experience, you know, my own personal experience with my family. And, you know, I think my, my, I guess, you know, my faith and my rule, you know, what I had observed in this is a man who was charged and his family and I think just learning how to absorb all that. And, and, and then to try to set the emotions aside and focus on what I had to do. And it wasn't easy, I confess, and I'm not sure I did it perfectly that day or many other days. But you know, I think all you can do is try your hardest to make the best decision on every occasion.

Trevor Brown:

Yep. Let's let's fast forward now to when you were a leader in a different role and say, as President of Davidson College, which happened right, in the midst of the 2008 2009 financial crisis, did your approach to decision making change? Or did you carry the lessons you just shared forward to that role?

Tom Ross:

Well, I hope I carried the lessons forward, particularly those about transparency and honesty and helping explaining decisions. But my decision making process definitely changed. Because as a judge, as I said earlier, you are really in isolation, you're not supposed to talk to anybody about your decisions. And I think when you're when you're running an institution, you know, like a college, you make a huge mistake to make decisions in isolation. It's actually opposite, you know, what you should be doing is trying to understand other people's points of views and to try to figure out how your decision will affect every different constituency. Within you have to deal. So you want to know, what's the impact on students? What's the impact on staff, what's the impact on faculty and alumni and on the community, all those things are, you know, your responsibility to understand before you ever make a decision, and the only way you're really going to be able to get a handle on that is to get get, you know, feedback and information from people beyond yourself, so that you have as much information as possible to make the best decision.

Trevor Brown:

So tell us about a tough decision you had to make during your presidency at Davidson.

Tom Ross:

The one about letting Steph Curry go to the finals and sweet 16? I think the difficulty the hardest decision I think I had to face obviously, was was caused by the recession, which was how do we how do we proceed to balance the budget? How do we keep the college financially sound and at the same time, live up to what had always been our, you know, our culture and sort of our mantra, which is, you know, we're a family and how do you be, how are your family if you're throwing people out in order to save money? And so I think the toughest decision I faced was trying to figure out how could we save enough money to withstand the recession, but not not have to lay off any of our staff. And then I think the other piece of that was, you know, a college experiences only happens once in somebody's life, right? I mean, you hope, you know, and, and you want it to be the best possible it can be. And students, it's not their fault that they they go to college during, you know, a recession or a pandemic or something. It's just their time. And as when you're trying to run an institution like that, you want to make the experience that your students have as close to perfect as you can, no matter what the timing is. And so in a recession, you don't want them to have to suffer with fewer classes or with fewer amenities or anything else you want him to have the same experience. They would have had, in a boom booming economic time. That's been harder with the pandemic and that's been a real challenge. I know for college administrators. Just to try to figure out how do you make that experience as meaningful, as it would be if it were on campus. But so I wanted to try to balance those factors of being sure my students didn't lose anything, and that they had a great experience at Davidson. And despite the recession in it, my faculty and staff kept their jobs. And that that was a real challenge to balance and hard to do. But again, I think being transparent and honest with everybody about it, and telling them up front, these are our goals. These are our two goals, and we're going to meet them, you got to help me figure out how and, you know, we're together, we were able to figure it out, and we made it through.

Trevor Brown:

So you there have just shared some general leadership lessons about decision making. There lots of other functions of leadership, share for us some other general lessons that you've acquired over the years, what's the Tom Ross leadership framework?

Tom Ross:

Yeah, um, you know, I think they're, these aren't going to be the normal ones you hear sometimes, you know, and some of them are, but I think, for me, what's been most important, and maybe what I learned that day, when I had that case, as a judge was, I need to know who I am, I need to know myself. So I need to understand my own strengths and weaknesses. And it's hard for us to do an honest evaluation of ourselves. But I think that's, that's really important for people to do is to really understand who they are. And, and I think that's a constant struggle too, I think it's something you're you shouldn't be doing all the time. And part of the way you do it is not only self reflection, but you should be getting feedback from others. And and I think the other thing to do is, is to sort of analyze your behavior and, and really understand how you perform and how you behave at certain times, I think it's important to understand what your passions are what really drives you, and makes you who you are, and want to accomplish, what you're trying to accomplish. And I just think all those things are really important, because that's number one is the way you improve and get better at your job. But I think you can't be comfortable in making decisions unless you really know who you are. So that's the first thing I would say. And I think, also really important, I believe in good in good leadership is good communications. Because again, I think you need to be able to communicate why you're doing what you're doing, and in a clear, concise, understandable way, and hopefully a way that it presents a better balance and presents reality and the facts and doesn't try to mislead anybody or take them down the wrong path. And so that requires, I think, both good oral communication skills, but also written communication skills. And I think as much as anything before you can communicate well, you have to listen well. So you have to hear what people are thinking and where they are, and get their advice before you can try to then explain why you're making a decision you're making in a way that they'll understand because you have to kind of know your audience. And you can't really do that unless you unless you've listened, I think carefully. And respectfully, I think that's another important piece of it. So you know, finding that context within which you're communicating, but also, you know, doing your communication, when you're writing, do it, you know, logically, forcefully, clearly, in the same when you're speaking. Third thing, I think, is one that some people may don't maybe don't think about enough, I'm one of those people that doesn't think about it enough. But it's, it's taking care of yourself. Because again, if you're not well centered, and healthy and feeling you know, at your best, then you won't make the best decisions, you'll make the quickest decision or the you will make one this blurred by things that shouldn't be blurred by. So I think that's really important. And that means you got to have a balance in your life, you got to be willing to spend some time exercising both your body and your mind, you got to have some leisure time, and you got to feel good about your life outside of the place where you're making decisions. So be sure you're being attended to family and all those kinds of things. And that's, to me, that's a real key to being an effective leader is having, you know, having yourself in the right spot. I think a fourth thing I've always tried to think about is being sure I'm clear about what my values are, because I think decisions, all decisions are based to a certain extent in values and, you know, it's you got to know your own values. And I think it's important that you, you name them and call them out so that you know, they don't unduly influence decision making, right? I mean, you want to be centered and know what your values are, but you don't want to unduly influence your decision making? So best to know them and, and clarify them for yourself. And, you know, so for me, you know, those values have to include integrity, and ethics and honor. And, you know, however you want to phrase it, I mean, I think you have to be always doing to not only doing the right thing, but you have to be doing the right thing for the institution you're leading or for the person, you're whose life you're affecting, or whatever the whoever's is feeling the outcome of this decision, you need to be sure they're at the center of what you're thinking, and your values are reflected in that decision. And I think that also means if you don't really have a clear sense of your values, and really are driven by those values, and make decisions by those values, you will not keep credibility for the long term. And part of what lets leaders be successful is credibility. They have to people have to trust him, right. I mean, ultimately, that's what it comes down to you, you have to make enough decisions in front of people that are, that are clear and are based on facts. And that, you know, some of them may be wrong, but they're all explainable and rational and thoughtful. And if you do enough of that, then people trust your leadership, and they quit asking a lot of questions and you move ahead, but you have to earn that trust, it doesn't happen. And it can be lost faster than any other single thing. If you don't, if you don't live it every day. So and then I think another piece that that I would say is, for me has always been really important is not just to appreciate and tolerate diversity, but to embrace it, because, you know, differences brought to the table from people with different backgrounds, whether it's ethnic, or experiential, or educational, or the role they play or whatever those different viewpoints brought to the table, enlighten decision makers in really important ways and help them understand the context in which they're making a decision. So I think you have to respect people, and you have to cherish those differences and, and bring in support to bringing them out and bringing them up onto the table where they can be fully understood. And then that also helps you develop common goals and objectives when you when you can do that and again not easy to do. But I think, important. And then I guess the kind of the last big piece for me is I've always, and I know people say this all time. But in my case, it's absolutely true that almost all the people I work around and have worked around in my career have been smarter than I am, I don't know that they're all as savvy sometimes or is, you know, is careful, or lots of other things. But they're smarter, usually, because I'm not that smart. So therefore, it's easy for 'em to be smarter. But what that teaches you is you need 'em. And so you need to involve talented people, you gotta SEEK Talent, you got to be willing to, you know, to bring talent into your into your decision making process, even if they disagree with what you think is right. Because oftentimes, they'll change your mind. And, you know, the best leaders are leaders that want to want to bring in this talent and let it flourish. Even if it overwhelms them, even if it if it, you know, it should in some many instances, they should be the ones getting the credit, because they're the ones that gave you that idea. So but I think being surrounded by talent's really important, and that's that has to be intentional, you have to go find it and be sure it's around you. So I guess there's one other one that I just have to mention. And that is, you know, you got to be willing to take risk. And you got to have courage enough to take a risk. Because really, in some ways every decision is a risk. It's a question of how big the risk is, and how big the reward is. But there are times when taking a more significant risk is worth it. It provides sometimes a challenge to the norm or an ability to produce important results that might not have not might not have happened if it weren't for your willingness to take a risk. So that's a really long answer, Trevor, but I think oh, that's a great leadership's hard, you know, it doesn't come easy. So you gotta, you gotta kind of keep learning as you go along. And that's what I've been trying to do.

Trevor Brown:

Well, that that's a that's a good lead into my my follow up question, which is just listening to your great list. And thank you for sharing that. I'm struck by how many of them are sort of self referential, and how you know, you sort of start with the Platonic Know thyself. Maxim, start start by knowing who you are and then your values and then I heard in there your deficits. And I'm wondering, I'm just thinking about the very I can imagine as a judge, there's a lot of thinking Time, you know, we have this notion of the judge in his or her chambers being cerebral and reflecting on things and weighing evidence, you have that alone time. But then as a leader in a in an organization where as you were describing, like Davidson or others, you got all these people around you. And there's just a, especially in times of crisis, there's all these decisions that have to be made. How do you create that space? To you mentioned, take care of yourself leisure, but I'm interested in how do you create that space to be able to reflect on who you are? And and you know, create that? Am I good at this? Am I you know, am I am? Who do I need around me at this moment? How do you create that, that little space to be able to do that?

Tom Ross:

Well, I think experience helps you do it. I mean, because it, you know, when when I think the more experience you have, the calmer you are is in a crisis, I hope I mean, if you're if you're good leader, you're you get calmer as time goes along. And you. But I think also this is a place where talent really matters. You know, I've always tried to have sort of the key confidant, whether you call them chief of staff or whatever, around me that that I can sit down with and say, Okay, help me think through what do we what do we need here? How are we going to approach this? You know, what's going to be important? What are the what are the, you know, the canyons, that we're going to have to jump and run over and not fall in? And, you know, who's it going to take to help us do that? I mean, I think you've got to have somebody to bounce all that off of you can do it yourself. But it's always helpful to have an ear. And, you know, some ideas coming from elsewhere. But I think at the core, it is remaining calm, thinking logically about sort of step by step. And then I think one of the great things you learn in a school, like the Glenn school is how to identify problems and see them around the corner before they get here.

Trevor Brown:

Yep.

Tom Ross:

And that is so important to a leader to be able to sit down and think about, okay, I got this crisis. If I do this, what's going to happen? What's the outcome? If I do this? What's the outcome? And what are my choices? What are what's realistic, what isn't? What are the problems I'm going to face? You know, what are the barriers? Who do I need to help me break through those barriers? I mean, I think you've got to think through all that and have a plan.

Trevor Brown:

Yeah.

Tom Ross:

And sometimes you got to do it really quickly, because the crisis is on, you know. So I think remaining calm and, and thinking logically about what you're facing, is, is really the key. And I think the other thing is who's being affected?

Trevor Brown:

Yeah.

Tom Ross:

Like I remember when I was leaving the court system and Hurricane Floyd hit, and, you know, a lot of the state was flooded, I wasn't smart enough to know what to do. But I had a, again, a key staff person who said, you know, you really should call all the courthouses and be sure everybody's okay. You know, pretty simple thing to think of, I should have thought of it. I didn't, on my own right away, I might have at some point. But that was the first thought in their mind, sort of, let's find out if everybody's okay, and what the situation is before we try to act. And I think that's pretty good advice in every situation.

Trevor Brown:

Well, I'm glad you finished your good thoughts there with the confidant who had the power to be able to give you a piece of advice, I find myself often trying to do everything you're describing, see around the corner, prepare for the unknowns and and create that space for calmness, as you're describing, but also found the need to empower some people around me to be able to tell me, Hey, now's the time to slow down. Because, you know, sometimes as leaders, you have the sense of well, well, I can go ask those people. But sometimes you need them to tell you before you ask, because you're just in the thick of the decision. And that's a great example of somebody who you clearly empowered to be able to say, Hey, Tom, hit the pause button for a moment, we need to we need to reflect here on on who we are, who we serve.

Tom Ross:

Yeah. And I think, you know, if you've got the right team around you, one of the things you have to say to him is and this is why getting talent around you so important. You have to say to him upfront, look, I'm not perfect. I'm going to make mistakes. And you know, what would be great is if you keep me from making them, you know, if you jump in there and tell me I'm about to make a mistake and convince me not to do it. That's I would appreciate that a whole lot more than you would then I would if you're just being nice to me. I don't need you to be nice. I need you to be honest, and to tell me straightforward. And I think if you if you empower people and help them understand that they're part of the decision making you know it, the buck will stop on me for sure. And I'll be the one to pay the price probably in the press, but that's not the concern. The concern is we got to get the decision right so that there's nobody hurt and nobody affected adversely and that's on you too, you know, and I think if you help your your team know that they will step up. If you have talented people it will save you many many, many times. One quick example. I know we don't have a lot of time. But when I was first the judge, he has a rule against the the bailiff, who you know is your security in the courtroom. And he usually works with juries, there's a rule against him going into the jury room, once deliberation start because the theory being they might try to influence the jury. And I was trying to jury a case and had gone for a couple of days and we were getting ready, the jury was going out into bailiff went to the door, the jury went in the door closed in, he opened it again, because I think somebody had left something out. And he started to walk in. And the clerk said to me, you can't let him walk in there. And I either no one had ever told me that this was a rule, or I didn't really understand it, or whatever. She saved me, you know. And so when I used to teach judges, I would always tell them, You better be nice to the clerks. Because if you're if you're not nice to them, and you're about to make mistake, they won't help you. But if you're nice to him and treat him with respect, they'll help you. And it's an important lesson. Yeah.

Trevor Brown:

Great lesson. So you've had a lot of different roles. And particularly in the last several decades, you've been in leadership roles repeatedly, but in different sectors. Talk a little bit about that journey and how you knew it was time to move from from one role to another? And and how you had the confidence to say, Okay, I'm no longer a judge, I'm not going to do something totally different. Where'd that come from?

Tom Ross:

Well, I think you have an assumption in the question, you know, that assumes facts, not in evidence, and that he said that I was smart enough to really have that confidence, because I wasn't. You know, I think it every one of the decisions, it was different. So, you know, moving to the court system, from being a judge. And, you know, was was really at the request of a dear friend who, you know, was North Carolina's first African American Chief Justice and had been a really good friend of mine back in the years I practice law, probably 20 years before that. And when he became Chief Justice, he asked me to come around the court system. And, you know, I was his friend, and I was loyal to him, and I want him to be successful. So I said, Yes, you know, I didn't know any what I was getting into. And, you know, I learned a lot, which was, which was good. When I left there to go to the foundation. You know, I had I, when I've been practicing law, I've done a lot of sentencing reform. And so I'd salt money from the foundation to start various alternatives to incarceration. And so I knew the foundation pretty well. And I knew what they did. And the person who had been in charge of it, had worked for my worked at Congress for my childhood mentor. And so I always had great regard for him and thought, you know, I want his job. So when the chance came, I jumped at it, you know, without really knowing what I was doing. But I think I had a good sense on that occasion, what the opportunity was, and it was a rich opportunity to help people in North Carolina, anyone I went today, to tell you the truth, I had no confidence. And I had no idea why I was doing it, except the board wanted me and I'd been on the board. But I didn't really I had not been in higher education, I had no clue that I had what it would take to be a college president. And but I took the leap. This is one of those times I just took the risk because it was my alma mater. And I thought, you know, this, what greater honor could be paid and, and I remembered some things that had been there when I was a student that I thought need to be changed. And that may have driven a little bit of it. But and I did have an awful lot to learn. But again, I think being open and honest and transparent with people and letting them know what I knew. And what I didn't know, I remember my first commencement speech was entitled, the value of knowing what you don't know. You know, because it's the probably the most important thing you can know is what you don't know. Right? So that that was, but I think leaving there to go to UNC was the hardest thing I've ever done in my whole life. You know, because this is a very special place. It's it was my Almada. You know, I got to interact with students. It was just, you know, as an idyllic world of private education as opposed to the rough and tumble political world of public education. And yet, I think they're what drove me there was, you know, the fact that liberal arts colleges graduate 2% of college graduates in America and public universities is where the scale is, and it's where the opportunity is for students that come from disadvantaged backgrounds and you know, it's it's just a different world and and, you know, I was being I don't want to say pressured but encouraged by, you know, former governors from both parties and you know, political leaders and others in the state, higher education leaders who thought this is really important to the state and so I guess for me, it was more of a calling to public service at that point and, but extremely difficult decision. I've never looked back, you know, but I still believe in my heart did what I was supposed to do, maybe not what I wanted to do, but what I was supposed to do.

Trevor Brown:

So tell us about your most recent role. And I'd be remiss if not celebrate the namesake of the Volcker Alliance. Former Chairman.

Tom Ross:

Mr. Volker is you know, Mr. Volker? Paul Volcker was chairman, the Federal Reserve Bank under Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. To be one of the greatest public servants of all time, one of the most courageous public servants of all time, I'm sure people listening know that. Because there's a lot of talk now about inflation. Well, you know, we had double digit inflation, you know, back in the early 70s, and gas lines and all sorts of other issues. And when Mr. Volker took over the Federal Reserve, he, before he was hired, in his interview with President Carter, he told President Carter, if I come in, I'm going to raise interest rates really high, because that's the only way we're going to break the back of inflation. And he was really the founder of the use of monetary policy as a way to keep a handle on inflation. And until just recently, we really haven't had much inflation. Since then, he did raise interest rates up to as high as 22%. And he was vilified and hung and effigy and all sorts of things. But he was right. He knew he was right in his heart. And in he had the courage to do what was right. And I've always admired that about him. So when I had the chance to go to work for him, you know, he's just one of the things you can't say no to first of all, he's six, seven, he was a lot bigger than I was then. But he also loved his law case, like I did. And you know, we just got along really well. And it was an honor to work for him. He's one of the great Americans I think they'd have ever lived. So, you know, the opportunity work for him is what drew me there. But I think the mission, also, because he was more concerned about public service, then he was financial regulation, I can assure you public service was at the heart of who he was and what he believed in. And so he created the Alliance to enhance the public service to empower public servants to really face the challenges by working with schools like yours and others around the country to produce the best and the brightest that can help us solve the challenges we're facing. But also the to improve the talent pipeline to be sure students understand the possibilities that exist in government to make a difference. And so that's what we're trying to do every day. And thankfully, we get a word for it with the Glenn college and others around the country, it make our job a lot easier, but there's still a lot to be done.

Trevor Brown:

So as we pull this conversation to close, let's let's finish on that theme, as you think about audience members listening who are young and thinking about embarking on a career in public service. And it's a challenging field, you've, you've lived it. And I think there's the sense always that the time we're in now is the most challenging COVID and racial justice concerns and integrity of democracy and all sorts of sort of factors in the environment. But it's we just listen to you. There's been a lot of stuff over the course of the last decades. what's your what's your inspiring guidance to young people considering a life of public service? And why why is it such a magnetic calling for you?

Tom Ross:

Yeah, well, I don't know. I mean, I think when I go back, the times now, we're certainly not what we would like them to be. But, you know, when I was in high school in college, you know, we were in the middle of Vietnam War, we had a president that was impeached and would have been removed from office that had he not resigned first. We had, before that we had a president who was assassinated, we had a great civil rights leader who was assassinated. We had riots in the streets, we had, you know, burnings in cities all over everywhere. We had shootings, by police and fire hosing of people by police. I mean, we had it all, you know. And I think part of that's what what inspired me through to public service was because what mattered, you know, it was we recovered from the assassination of a president because we had a democracy that was strong and had had, you know, a succession plan. That was clear. We we got out of the war in Vietnam and large measure because it was the public will, the public will was heard some of it through protests other ways. But you know, and we we survived the impeachment of a president and the illegality that occurred that led to that again, because people in both parties stood up to do the right thing. And I think that's all those things were inspiring to me and also know that that government, you know, we can we can complain about government, and we all do. Some of us want big government, some of us want small government. But if we're smart we want government that works. We want government that makes a difference because it affects every little piece of our life. You know, it affects whether the drug We have to take if we're sick, or our have been tested and are purified and are good for us, you know, it affects the water we drink the air we breathe, the energy we use, it affects the economy that we live within. I mean, it touches every piece of our life, our healthcare, I can go on and on. And the people that make it work are the are really the best and the brightest of public servants who work hard every day. And, and I think right now, for young people, you have an aging workforce, and you have a government that has not been successful in attracting young people. So there's this gap that's going to be there over the next 15 or 20 years. So people who come into government now, they're going to have a really great opportunity to advance quickly, and they're gonna have a great opportunity to innovate. Because like the rest of the world government is innovating, and they're innovating sometimes faster than the private sector, we don't always see that, but they often are. So I don't think the time to be in government has been any better or any more important. I think our democracy is challenged in many ways and the way it will survive again, just you know, as it did, when I was growing up, and before that, is because people care enough to be involved in serving the public.

Trevor Brown:

Tom, I want to thank you for joining me today for this conversation. But more importantly, I want to thank you for the many roles you've played in serving the public. And it is, it's people like you that serve as the inspirations for that next generation, that's gonna come along and help move this country and this nation forward.

Tom Ross:

We really kind of say that, all I can say is I have had more honors, of opportunity than I deserve. And I've loved every single one of them in different ways. And mainly because I always felt like that what I was doing, the mission that was involved was an important mission that actually helped people and helped make my country better and my state better so I've been very fortunate and I hope other people have the same good fortune out there.

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