pat jones, ceo, drives toward opportunity

Pat Jones, CEO, International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), challenged his board this January to find the opportunities in the difficult year ahead. His president, Kary Witt, Golden Gate Bridge Manager, was ready. The two started working together to create a meeting that would take IBTTA into new territory, pushing the envelope on what was possible under ordinary circumstances, let alone in the present-day economic storm. They brought me in to design and run a meeting that was not business-as-usual, but a call to use 2009 to evolve the organization. They decided in advance NOT to revisit the strategic plan. Instead, they wanted their most active members to come together to find the new opportunities GIVEN their present mission and business plan.

Jones found a speaker, Rob Kuttner, to deliver the right message. Kuttner essentially said, “The danger is not that we will succumb to this crisis. The danger is that we will think too small and not seize the immense opportunity. If we look at transformational presidents we can see that they were able to take a crisis situation and use it to move public opinion to a place that had been deemed politically impossible. When Lincoln took office, the challenge was how do we keep the union together? By 1863 he had moved it to the point where he could free the slaves.”

Then came the committee meetings. Finance was first, and they were focused on the numbers. Good place to start. Feet on the ground. During every committee meeting, Jones pressed his board to answer, “What are the opportunities in this situation? How can we use these circumstances to move our organization ahead? Last year’s president got it, and became vocal forcing the issue again and again in each session. It was not always easy – I was in the room. But, finally Jones emerged with a strong sent of recommendations that was not business-as-usual. Specific opportunities were highlighted including transforming IBTTA’s position in the marketplace.

We are in the midst of an economic shake-up. Many on top will be knocked to the bottom. Some on the bottom will rise to the top. We don’t even yet understand the new order that will emerge. IBTTA is positioning itself now to leapfrog in the eyes of their members, their sponsors, and the country.

When the meeting concluded Jones had successfully identified big opportunities for the year including:
* Take action in DC to become a visible champion for the country’s economic solution
* Transform all 2009 meetings to address the hottest topics in the industry
* Continue international expansion to “reap the collective intelligence of our global community and apply it on the ground wherever it is needed most.”

It was a remarkable transformation as this CEO moved his board from focusing on the negative to identifying the unique opportunities of our time. In these extraordinary times CEOs need to become judo masters, channeling the energy of difficult situations to work for the organization. Pat Jones used today’s tough economic times to turn his board’s energy and attention toward transformation. Now he has an aggressive agenda to boldly work.

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