Wednesday, February 07, 2001

Consensus: Key to progress

Retiring chamber president says pushing area forward is team job

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        John Williams' major lesson learned after 16 years? You can't do it all yourself.

        Mr. Williams will retire later this month as president of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        Now just a week short of his 60th birthday, he started at the chamber in 1984 after earning a partnership at Cincinnati's Taft, Stettinius and Hollister.

[photo] John Williams will step down this month as president of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        Since then, the Princeton University graduate and former Marine has played a part in promoting nearly every major civic project, including the sales-tax increase to fund two new stadiums in 1996 and the charter-reform measure that will result in the direct election of Cincinnati's mayor this fall.

        Unlike the 1990s when he and several other power brokers were able to push decisions through, those decisions need more cooperation from more people now, Mr. Williams said.

        “If you want to get something done now, you've got to figure out who's going to help you,” he said. “You need collaborative leadership.”

        Two days before being honored at the chamber's annual dinner Friday night, Mr. Williams sat down with the Enquirer's Cliff Peale.

        Q: Do you think your tenure here has helped reshape the role of a Chamber of Commerce president?

        A: I've grown as the job has grown. I think the chamber president here, it's accepted that he's a community player.

        In the last 16-plus years, we've evolved to the point where no single person can make something happen, but a single person can stop something from happening. ... If you're going to be successful, you have to build coalitions. You have to work with other people.

        One of the things I'm most proud of is the charter change for the directly elected mayor (of Cincinnati). It was very different than what I had originally wanted. But it allowed a lot of people to have a voice. ... I think that's more how things are going to get done in the future.

        When I took this job, it was a top-down kind of style I was used to. But I've grown over the years.

        Q: Do you have a favorite project?

        A: Yes, absolutely. Passing the sales tax for the stadiums and the riverfront. Up until that time, this community was starting to spiral downward.

        Although the cost overruns on the football stadium and the performance of the Bengals have hurt the community's confidence, that was a very historic moment that will, long-term, make a significant difference in the riverfront and how we look at ourselves.

        Q: With you leaving, does the community have the strong leadership it needs to make those kinds of decisions?

        A: Sure, we can still make decisions. There are new people everywhere. My hope and expectation is those people will build the relationships some of us have had.

        Q: Lately, we hear a lot of talk about regionalism and regional cooperation. Is regionalism real?

        A: Yes it is. Is it easy? No, because it means sharing. You have to learn that you get more by sharing than just by going at it on your own. ... Clearly, there's more working to get together now. We talk much more. We don't always agree, but we communicate more than we ever did.


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