Business leaders can inspire greatness in their communities, whether it’s by committing time to civic causes, educating others about the importance of
giving back, supporting solid candidates, or running for office themselves. I was privileged to serve the residents and businesses of Dania Beach for nearly seven years as an elected official, including a two-year term as mayor. My public service helped me gain a much better understanding of how the business sector and government fit together, and the importance of a common vision that is necessary for a community or region to thrive.
My service also allowed me to learn the importance of coordination between private interests and governmental and quasi-governmental entities, as well as nonprofits. It reinforced my gratitude to the scores of community volunteers who are engaged in their neighborhoods and do great things every day to help their fellow man. It has shown me the importance of arts and culture to a community, and the positive impact that our elected leaders’ good financial decisions have on the success of
communities. Conversely, it taught me the severe and lasting consequences of bad financial decisions, which can negatively impact a region or a city for decades or longer.
Business leaders have the ability to educate government entities and advise them regarding best practices. In Dania Beach, we were able to save millions of dollars in residential waste hauling costs by aligning ourselves with local business leaders who are experts in that field. Also, I was able to use my business expertise and experience to help guide the city through the Great Recession and turn certain assets from financial disasters to revenue-producing amenities that benefit taxpayers and visitors such as our pier restaurant and municipal marina. Elected office is not for everyone.
Before considering a run for office, business leaders need to ask themselves some important questions:
• Can I commit the time, not only to serve, but to campaign?
• Do I have thick skin? Candidates and elected officials are subject to criticism – some topics rational, others irrational.
• Can I raise the money necessary to run an effective campaign?
•Will holding office negatively impact my business, and how will family, friends, and employees be affected?
• Will clients think less of me or view me as not being as available because of the time commitment to public service?
• Am I mentally prepared to immerse myself in public service and live in a fishbowl? Those who run for office and serves also have to be prepared todo a lot of public speaking, which includes mornings, nights, and weekends.
Running a successful business has taught me how to work well with city staff to properly convey my vision for the organization, and to make certain we are on the same page about what we want to accomplish as a team. It has allowed me to properly analyze business and financial matters to make the best and most informed decisions for my constituents. It has also instilled a work ethic that provides a positive influence and model to government staff.
Local politics can be a bare-knuckle sport and, as such, government and public service have given me a much greater appreciation for the trust and respect that exist among co-workers, my clients and other business partners in my private-sector world. It has taught me to be more patient, and that there are many more perspectives on a given issue than I ever thought there could be. I also have a greater understanding of how rewarding it is to help others in the community and serve constituents.
I know running a business is different than running a city, but there are many facets of the job for which business skills are useful and may benefit constituents. I encourage business leaders to consider running for office – as long as they ask themselves pointed questions to determine if it’s a good fit.
Walter B. Duke III serves as the President of Walter Duke + Partners celebrating its 45th year on business in Broward County. He is also the former Mayor of Dania Beach. www.walterdukeandpartners.com.