I was invited to apply to the Inaugural Class of Leadership Tallahassee in 1983. At the time Florida TaxWatch was called the Citizens Council of Budget Research and later developed into the Florida Tax Watch we know and love today. Participating in the first-ever class of Leadership Tallahassee brought with it the benefit of participating with established and distinguished Tallahassee families. The inaugural leadership class taught me about the Tallahassee area. It gave me an intimate appreciation of the legacies and histories of this wonderful city and the key leaders who helped shepherd Tallahassee’s growth from a sleepy and charming southern town to the vital, diverse, and entrepreneurial community that it is today.
The inaugural leadership class was a fortuitous gathering of like-minded and inspired leaders, but it had practical impacts on the community as well. Shortly after our Class finished, Tallahassee was devastated by Hurricane Kate as a category 2 hurricane. In the midst of the destruction, the leadership and connections established by Leadership Tallahassee’s Inaugural Class helped connect and mend the community. At the time the hurricane had knocked out the Tallahassee Democrat production capabilities. Citizens heavily relied on the printed press for vital information. Two of our Class I alumni – Fred Mott General Manager Tallahassee Democrat and Lawton Langford with Municipal Code Corp worked together to help publish a limited edition of the Tallahassee Democrat. This sort of novel emergency partnership might not have been possible without the relationships forged through the Inaugural Class of Leadership Tallahassee.
The importance of the relationships developed by a program like Leadership Tallahassee cannot be overstated. Participation with the program developed the necessary reputation and insight on how pivotal of a location Tallahassee is within the state, and how important it is to all the people of Florida. Many successful businesswomen and men had their beginnings or were nurtured early in their careers through Leadership Tallahassee.
I cannot state this enough: the networking opportunities of Leadership Tallahassee were so necessary especially for this earlier time: there wasn’t social media, and even personal computers were not yet widely in use, nor were cellphones. Fax machines were just becoming commonly used. In a real sense Leadership Tallahassee provided critical connections that otherwise might not have been made and helped develop public institutions throughout Tallahassee including various nonprofits and important businesses as well as an incredible entrepreneurial environment. Many formative institutions in Tallahassee can connect their existence and development to the innovation, and relationships established within the Tallahassee community itself, and their roots can be found in the footprint of Leadership Tallahassee.
Two years after participating in Leadership Tallahassee, I was fortunate enough to be part of Class IV of Leadership Florida, the statewide leadership program. Today I remain an active member of the Board of Directors and an officer of Leadership Florida. I am such a fervent believer in Leadership Tallahassee that I was one of the first alumnus to become a lifetime member. I am but one example of how local leadership programs feed into the leadership programs of our great state. To this day I remain friends and business partners with many of my original classmates which is quite remarkable during these nearly four decades.
As the saying goes all roads lead to Rome, and in Florida all roads lead to Tallahassee: the center of government and higher education, the 3rd largest state in the nation, and the 15th largest economy in the world if Florida were a country. Leadership Tallahassee not only fosters a better understanding of the unique position of Tallahassee to the betterment of our government leaders, community leaders, and industry leaders but it also provides pivotal opportunities to develop business and personal relationships that have, and continue to have, a profound impact on the Capital City of our Sunshine State’s $1 trillion economy.