April 22, 2018

Up Front

Talent First

Bruce Faulmann | 6/1/2009

Bruce Faulmann
Bruce Faulmann, Publisher

A few years back, I had the opportunity to hear Herb Kelleher, co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, speak. A man with a laid-back, earthy demeanor, Kelleher is quite irreverent and a bit unconventional to say the least. Kelleher sees the business world a little differently than most business people. Whereas his peers focused first on providing shareholder value, Kelleher said he focused not on the shareholder and surprisingly not even on the customer, which seemed quite odd since Southwest Airlines has an impeccable reputation for providing top-notch customer service. Kelleher boldly proclaimed his first priority was his employees, the talent that ran his airline. As he explained, if his employees are happy and excited to do their jobs, they’ll treat the customer right; his customers will in turn reward the company by coming back; and his shareholders will win by holding stock in a successful company.

As it turns out, Kelleher’s “talent first” approach did much, much more than just treat customers right. It created a culture of innovation, a culture where the employee’s connection with the customer led to ideas and innovations that changed the entire airline industry. Kelleher proved that innovation is bottom up not top down; through talent comes innovation, and through innovation anything is possible.

Talent and innovation are hot topics in Florida today. Combined, they’re the soil that sprouts jobs and the catalyst that will transition Florida’s economy. As we move from an economy heavily dependent on population growth as a significant source of jobs and general economic activity to a knowledge-based economy driven by the high-tech sector built around science and technology, we will create a stable economy with high-paying jobs less susceptible to economic ups and downs.

I recently heard Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, use the phrase “talent is the new currency.” It’s a powerful statement, and one that I believe accurately emphasizes the importance of talent in supporting a diverse economy fueled by innovation. Whether growing it, attracting it or retaining it, most business people agree that talent is the foundation of every company, and talent certainly is the foundation for Florida’s economic future.

In this month’s issue, we name Florida’s top 350 public and private companies. While the rankings are based on revenue, the real story lies behind the numbers. As senior writer Cynthia Barnett points out, not all Florida companies have been caught off-guard by the prolonged recession. By focusing on employees and innovation, some — like Jacksonville-based PSS World Medical — are riding out the storm.

PSS CEO and Chairman David A. Smith cultivates a culture that views all PSS workers as strategic assets and problem-solvers. Read Cynthia’s report on PSS.

Also in this month’s issue is our annual Florida Innovation report. It shows just how far Florida has already come in making the transition to an innovation economy. In it you’ll find lots of examples of how government, education and private industry are working together to address today’s challenges and solve tomorrow’s problems.

The connection between talent and innovation should be an obvious one, and for successful companies — and successful states — it certainly is.

Florida has made a significant investment in attracting the types of companies needed for the state to prosper. We must continue to focus on growing, attracting and retaining our top talent to sustain that investment.

— Bruce Faulmann

Tags: Publisher's column

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