The new “Competitive Partnership:” legitimate undertaking or huge public relations gaffe?

Thirteen rich white men want Massachusetts to go back to the old days, or so it seems. And they’re taking along with them one token individual without a Y chromosome.

They are all CEO’s or former CEO’s, and apparently they think things were run just fine under the Vault half a century ago. The Vault was the nickname of the Boston Coordinating Committee, which met secretly in the vault of the Boston Safe Deposit & Trust Company. Today’s group calls itself the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership and says it wants to use its power to improve the Massachusetts economy and create jobs.

Who’s in this clique? Former Hill Holiday CEO Jack Connors, Bank of America Chairman Emeritus Chad Gifford, Liberty Mutual top honcho Ted Kelly, New England Patriots and Kraft Group head Bob Kraft, NStar CEO Tom May, State Street CEO Ron Logue, Raytheon CEO William Swanson, EMC CEO Joe Tucci, John Hancock top dog John DesPrez, Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, Partners HealthCare chief Gary Gottleib, Staples Chairman Ron Sargent, Putnam Investments head Robert Reynolds and, for a barely perceptible nod to diversity, BJ’s CEO Laura Sen.

Individually, most of these power brokers are very good people. I’ve worked with many of them in one capacity or another. In addition to being successful, most, if not all,the companies they represent have distinguished records for philanthropy and civic commitment. But that’s not the point.

Consider the messages they’re sending. First, the “new vault” simply looks too much like the bad old days where ordinary (non-white, non-male) people, even successful ones, were closed out of the decision-making process.

The “new vault” is also a thumb in the eye of existing organizations pushing job creation through public affairs engagement. The New England Council, the Mass. High Tech Leadership Council, Associated Industries, the Mass. Business Roundtable and other similar associations all have differently focused mandates. The more generalized Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, not without its faults, is also in the mix. There are also jobs-focused economic alliances in Merrimac Valley, the North Shore, South Shore, the Berkshires and other regions around the state.

The Boston Globe article announcing “the new vault” acknowledged that most new jobs will be created at small and mid-sized companies, but the members are all from big corporations. Where are the small and mid-sized corporate leaders who can inform the discussion?

Does Massachusetts really need a tiny self-selected, elitist group of powerful people who want to do things the old way, by excluding other voices and not using the ideas and energies of a whole new generation of people highly invested in the future of Massachusetts and already making a difference.

Where is Cleve Killingsworth, the African-American CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts? What about Ralph Martin, managing partner of Bingham McKutchen? The Boston Club (disclosure: I am a member) has worked on expanding the pool of highly qualified women, many at the CEO, COO and CFO level, who are prepared for leadership in any new initiative.

Not quite ready, but waiting in the wings, is a whole new generation of talented leaders who actually reflect the new demographics of the state, identified and developed by groups like the Emerging Leaders Program at UMass Boston and The Partnership. Their creation was motivated by lack of power sharing by the old Vault.

What Massachusetts needs is not a mechanism for deciding who’s in and who’s out but a way to be an inclusive, welcoming place for economic initiatives and intellectual creativity – and to be seen that way across the country and, indeed, the world.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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