I attended the California Economic Summit in Santa Clara last week. I was impressed by the ideas produced in workshop sessions, and by the smart thinking about how to build the state’s very distinct economic regions (both by reinforcing their differences and by linking them).
But I also was very impressed by George Shultz.
Shultz turns 92 at the end of this year, but you wouldn’t have known it to watch or listen to him. He gave the most dynamic, energetic speech of the event, a broad call for smart thinking and action on a variety of issues – from K-12 schools to community colleges to energy to infrastructure to regulation. It was broad and open, and not the least bitdoctrinaire. It’s easy to dismiss someone who served President Reagan, and has advised and prepared Republican politicians since, as a partisan. But Shultz was anything but.
Shultz did a one-man standing ovation when the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman commented that the presidential election wasn’t tackling serious issues and was utterly boring. You could feel his frustration, impatience and energy just in the way he stood.
After opening the meeting, Shultz might have been expected to head home or disappear to his office at nearby Stanford, leaving the work of the summit to the assembled mortals. But he didn’t. He stuck around and participated in workshops like everyone else, chatting with seven other Californians from the Bay Area gathered around a table, including regional economic development officials, small business owners, and a student. I listened in, and he sounded like just one of the gang, mostly asking questions and telling stories. Like everyone else, he put post-it notes of ideas on a big chart.
The next time you’re feeling self-important, think of Shultz.