Dean Richard Franza’s column appeared in the Sunday, May 8, edition of the Augusta Chronicle. The post can be viewed here.
Regular readers of this column would likely not be surprised to learn that one of my satellite radio presets is the MLB Network. In the weeks leading up to the start of the current major league baseball season, personalities on the network discussed who they thought comprised the “Mount Rushmore” in the history of each MLB team – meaning the four greatest players ever on that particular team.
These discussions made me reflect on my personal Mount Rushmores. Since I have lived in Georgia for most of the past 35 years, I thought I would share with you my Georgia Mount Rushmore – four people who each provided me lessons that I think are applicable to not only those in business, but to all of us.
Perhaps surprisingly, three were politicians and the fourth at one time had political aspirations. I never met two of those people and the two whom I did meet provided their lessons to me both up close and from afar.
Here they are, and what I learned from them:
I am cheating a little here, because the primary lesson I learned from Georgia’s U.S. Senator Sam Nunn occurred mostly before I moved to Georgia.
In the mid- to late 1980s, I was a junior officer in the U.S. Air Force, helping manage research and development programs that were part of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, known more widely as the “Star Wars” program. The goal for SDI was to develop a system that would protect the United States from nuclear ballistic missiles.
I participated in a team of military officers and government executives that evaluated the initial concepts for such a system, then managed programs that developed potential alternatives for the command, control and communications of the system. As a young officer, I found it daunting to see the program I was working on being covered regularly by national media.
Because SDI had such a high profile, politicians from both parties often talked about it often during that mid-to-late 1980s span, particularly during the 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns. Unfortunately, as someone working on the program, I found that both parties distorted the facts about the program to make their own party look better.
However, the shining light of truth within all of that distortion was Sen. Nunn. The information that he could share publicly about SDI was always correct and provided the American people accurate insight when others were not. The lesson I learned from Sen. Nunn was not to sacrifice your integrity and credibility for potential self-interest and to provide others with the information they need to make their best decisions.
Though I never met Sen. Nunn, this lesson has stuck with me throughout my career and I hope it sticks with you.
I have spent the past 20 years working in University System of Georgia institutions as a faculty member and administrator (department chair, associate dean and dean). From the time I arrived at Kennesaw State University in 2002 through my current term at Augusta University, I have proudly watched the USG continue to see its institutions to be ranked among the best public institutions in the nation.
The USG began this trajectory in the 1990s with the creation of the HOPE Scholarship under the leadership of Gov. Zell Miller. The HOPE Scholarship, which provides several kinds of funding for college and technical school to academically-successful students, helped the state of Georgia keep its best students in Georgia. As student quality improved and state investment in higher education increased, USG institutions were able to recruit better faculty, improving their reputations and education quality.
It is not a coincidence that since the creation of the HOPE Scholarship, Georgia has become an economic powerhouse, becoming one of the most attractive states for business. The primary reason for this is that the investment in higher education through the HOPE Scholarship and robust budgets, USG institutions are providing the workforces that businesses desire.
The lesson I learned from Zell Miller is that investment in education leads to economic success. Therefore, all of us in business should support investment not only in higher education, but also K-12 education for the future economic prosperity of our state.
I had the good fortune of meeting U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson a couple of times and, while relatively short, they had a significant impact on me. The first time was in a meeting in which the primary parties were not particularly agreeable. However, I watched in admiration as Sen. Isakson worked to find common ground among the parties that led to an agreement when that did not seem likely.
I learned from Sen. Isakson up-close that day and from many other stories about him to always look for common ground, so that we can reach a solution that provides value to all. This is an important lesson for both business and society.
A second interaction I had with Sen. Isakson was as I was waiting in line outside the White House for a tour with many others who had requested tickets from their legislators. My family and I received ours from our representative at the time, not Sen. Isakson. On that rainy morning, I saw an older man shuffle up to the line casually dressed in khakis, a windbreaker and a bucket hat carrying a well-worn University of Georgia umbrella. I believe I was the only one in line who realized that humble man was a senator, making sure everything was going well for those in line.
From Sen. Isakson and the fourth member of my Mount Rushmore, I learned humility and how to treat others.
Let me state very clearly that I am not a Georgia Bulldog fan. During my senior year at Notre Dame, UGA beat the Irish in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship, and I am also an alumnus of Georgia Tech. However, I had the privilege of serving with Coach Dooley in helping to bring football to Kennesaw State University. During that time, Coach Dooley and I shared some lunches and other time together, and I consider us friends.
Spending time with Coach Dooley was an education for me in how to treat people. I cannot think of a man more considerate, and wish everyone had the opportunity to learn what I did. Coach Dooley taught me to respect and be good to others and to do it humbly. While it helps to be a winner, it is those traits that make him so beloved in this state.
Your Georgia Mount Rushmore might be different from mine, but I am proud to have learned from mine and having had the chance to meet two of its figures. I hope you will take the lessons I learned from them and I hope you will reflect on your own Mount Rushmores.