Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Movers & Shakers 2008: Where have all the movers and shakers gone?

When picturing how important community deals were made in the old
days, some may imagine a small group of powerful business leaders with
a lot of resources coming together to get the job done.

When picturing how important community deals were made in the old days, some may imagine a small group of powerful business leaders with a lot of resources coming together to get the job done.

A school of thought exists today that says that group of influential leaders is no more – that today’s executives aren’t stepping up to the plate as community leaders.

Others feel that this group of strong leaders is simply much larger than it used to be, with executives sharing the load of being involved in community-service work.

Eric Menzer, senior vice president of York County-based Wagman Construction Inc. and a mover and shaker in the midstate community, took a few moments to share his thoughts on the matter with the Business Journal.

A handful of Menzer’s community efforts include serving as the board chairman of YorkCounts, board vice chairman of York County Community Foundation and board chairman of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania. He was also a key player in bringing baseball to York and launching Codo and other new residential projects downtown.

CPBJ: What are your thoughts on the opinion that today’s midstate business leaders aren’t stepping up as community leaders?
Menzer:
I think it would be presumptuous to sort of claim definitively that midstate business leaders aren’t stepping up as community leaders because, first of all, how could anybody claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of that? Second of all, how could anybody claim to have reached so definitive a conclusion on so complicated a subject? … I think it would also be presumptuous to assume that the nature of community leadership is not going to change, or is not changing or shouldn’t change.

CPBJ: Are there big businesses in the region whose leaders should be acting as community leaders but aren’t?
Menzer:
The best I can say on that is probably. I think it would be just as silly to say definitively ‘yes’ or definitively ‘no’ to that question. But I would say that I think the nature of what we call big business, period, in this region is changing. When I moved to York, which was 22 years ago at this point, our community had a very significant presence of closely held, multigeneration family-owned businesses that were very sizable and whose owners played a very significant role in leadership in the community. And even publicly held companies in many cases in our community and in our region were still locally based, publicly held companies. So even though they had shareholders, their corporate headquarters were here. Now what has happened, of course, is a good number of those closely held, private family-owned companies are no more. Either they’re gone altogether, or they’ve been broken up, or they have been sold to parent companies whose leadership is elsewhere. And a number of the public companies that had headquarters here still have a significant presence here, but they are now owned by a company that’s headquartered elsewhere, maybe in another country even.
Furthermore, I think that the demands on business leaders’ time have become more intense in the last 20 years. It used to be that part of the definition of a job of a chairman or a CEO of a company was an expectation that they were going to do work in the community. And they often had a couple of administrative assistants and an army of vice presidents to help them run the company. One of the things that’s happened in the last 20 years in business is a relentless slimming down of overhead, a relentless flattening of organizations. … There’s a lot of CEOs driving their own cars and making their own coffee now, figuratively speaking at least. And so I think the amount of time and what is considered to be part of the job versus extracurricular activity, that has really changed, and that’s led to a challenge, I think, for organizations that need that kind of civic leadership.

CPBJ: Why do you think the business leaders aren’t stepping up? And do you think it’s a problem? Why or why not?
Menzer:
This is a part of the country – not just York, but Central Pennsylvania – that is not a big-government region. In this area, we don’t look to the government for all of the answers to community challenges and problems. In fact, just the opposite – we first look to the private and the nonprofit sector. In a region like Central Pennsylvania and in a community like York, the one I know the best, when you have a tradition and history of very strong civic leadership as the primary way to address community concerns, then when you don’t have that leadership or when the nature of that leadership is changing, then that is a problem.
It’s a huge strength when you have a small handful of civic leaders … business leaders that can get together in a room and make important decisions and move forward initiatives in a community. It can also be very exclusionary in a community, and I think there is something absolutely wonderful about broadening the level of engagement. … The diversity of thought, the diversity of opinion, the diversity of power, and the ability for people to participate in community decision-making and community leadership is a wonderful thing, and it is a great way for people to feel a part of their community and then to want to stay. So if 20 or 30 years ago, everywhere they turned, the doors were closed because there was sort of an old guard that was holding most of the power, and now when they turn people say, “Not only do we want to let you participate, but we’re desperate for you to participate in community leadership,” then that’s an absolutely wonderful thing.

CPBJ: Is there a difference in the way today’s business leaders approach being involved in the community versus how someone like Louis Appell approached it? If so, how do they go about it now?
Menzer:
I would say that maybe it’s now more intentional. A couple of the organizations that I’m involved in had very intentional conversations about where the next generation of leadership comes from. If you’re a nonprofit organization, it demands having a really good quality board-development committee and being really thoughtful about that. If you’re even approaching something on an ad hoc basis, you can no longer just assume that a few people will step up and have that capacity to take care of this. You have to work harder. You have to be more conscious of the fact that being on a board of directors or leading some kind of volunteer initiative does not come naturally to everybody. If your leadership is more diverse, broader, fresher, newer and turns over more often, then you probably need to provide a lot more support to those people and encouragement and training in how they exercise that leadership in the community.

CPBJ: One explanation is that a lot of what used to be handled by a small group of movers and shakers has become institutionalized by groups such as economic-development corporations and community foundations. Do you think that’s true?
Menzer:
It’s an interesting thought. I would say that there is probably some truth to that. I actually find the term “movers and shakers” offensive, or at least pejorative if not offensive because it sort of implies this kind of smoke-filled, exclusionary kind of way of doing things that I would find objectionable regardless of whether we thought that there was an issue with community leadership or not.
To the extent that there are things that used to be handled by a few people in a room writing a check or agreeing to act in concord, and they’re not able to be handled that way anymore, I do think it’s probably more likely that groups like community foundations, economic-development corporations and other not-for-profit community-improvement groups would fill that void before we would expect the government would fill that void in this area. And that’s probably generally a very good thing.

CPBJ: What does all of this mean for today’s business leaders, and what does it mean for the community?
Menzer:
Even though the nature of community and civic leadership is changing, I would say at the same time that the awareness of the importance of community quality of life is growing. I think it’s because of the fact that there is a growing body of research and growing experience for folks who are trying to recruit employees that the quality of life in the community is a huge, huge determinant in the ability to attract talented people to live and work there. It may be that the ability of a small handful of people to rapidly effect change is diluted, but I think there is probably a greater awareness than ever of the importance of it because these business leaders that you’re talking about here are first and foremost business leaders, they’re first and foremost employers. … People are not involved in these initiatives just as do-gooders, just because they’re altruistic, just because they love their community. They are doing it for those reasons in many, many cases, but also because they recognize that it is fundamentally important to their long-term business success – and that awareness is absolutely higher than ever.

Business Events

The future of higher education

Wednesday, September 28, 2022
The future of higher education

Forty Under 40

Wednesday, October 19, 2022
Forty Under 40

Leaders in Construction and Real Estate

Thursday, October 27, 2022
Leaders in Construction and Real Estate

The Future of Green Construction & Real Estate

Wednesday, November 30, 2022
The Future of Green Construction & Real Estate