“So to keep growing, you gotta come up with new ideas all the time, new product,” he said. And here the mayor stacked another ∫ on top of the first one, and then another one on top of that. “So, see, our performance or revenue or whatever it might be gets to a new level every time.”
If, as the mayor believes, Louisville is going to reach its next level with lifelong wellness and aging care, the people he was talking to on the first day of spring may have something to do with it. Fischer was at the headquarters of Nucleus — U of L’s life sciences research, innovation and business management hub — speaking to an audience of about two dozen business-casual, mostly 30something tech and science entrepreneurs.
The moderator introduced the mayor as a “serial entrepreneur,” and for more than 45 minutes, Fischer — his daytime tie gone missing — talked to the group, entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur, the seasoned hand coaching the rookies. Fischer said he was now a “social entrepreneur,” and he traced what he called his “entrepreneurial journey.”
He told them about how during summers in college, he worked as an industrial roofer, which was hot and messy. Looking for cooler temperatures, he went to Kodiak, Alaska, and parlayed crane skills he’d learned while roofing into a gig unloading salmon boats. “And that was a good job, because we worked 80 to 130 hours a week,” he said. The money helped pay for his tuition at Vanderbilt University and a year-long trip through Asia and Europe, and that experience led Fischer to name his fledgling company SerVend International “because I said one day we’ll be a great global brand.” The ploy worked: Fischer said SerVend snagged its first international customer because the client figured an “international” company would be able to handle the order.
The whole time he was talking, Fischer barely even mentioned his mayoralty, although he ended on a political note: “I would say my goal would be for you all to create at least 5,000 jobs from this room in the next five years,” he joked, leaving the podium to the sounds of laughter and applause.
But even as the mayor was entertaining and educating the Nucleus crowd, firefighters were trying to put out a fire at a Rubbertown chemical plant. The explosion would claim the lives of two workers and promised to consume a lot of the mayor’s time over the next few days as he reacted to the emergency.
It’s been clear from the beginning that Greg Fischer would be a radical stylistic departure from his predecessor, Jerry Abramson. That’s not unlike Dave Armstrong, the last mayor of the pre-merger City of Louisville from 1999 to 2003 and the person who pushed Fischer to run for office to begin with. “(Armstrong) judged what he was doing by what he got accomplished. I didn’t agree with everything, but I knew what he was doing and why, and that’s a better methodology,” said 16th District Councilman Kelly Downard, a Republican who ran against Abramson in 2006.
“Look, nobody can compare to Jerry,” Downard continued. “He was the consummate personality . . . .To get compared to him is not fair.” But he was quick to add that he thought Fischer “will be the kind of mayor that will engender a lot of respect and support.”
Like Fischer, New York’s Michael Bloomberg is an entrepreneur-mayor who, as a political ingénue with a low-wattage personality, succeeded a charismatic public figure, and Stephen Goldsmith is Bloomberg’s deputy mayor of operations. A Harvard government professor on leave and a former two-term mayor of Indianapolis, Goldsmith said Bloomberg brought a “business rigor” to the office, but he cautioned that “it would be a mistake to assume you could just come in and run a city as a business and not pay attention to the politics or the other factors.
However, I think too many mayors come in with just the latter and not the former.”
“Mayor Bloomberg spends a lot of time with union leaders and workers,” he added. “These guys have great ideas about how to improve the quality of their services.”
To that end, Fischer, who was supported by many unions during the campaign, has now been meeting with city employees, using the prop of a Citizen’s Bill of Rights to talk about what the city is promising to “our customers . . . our citizens.” By the time this story comes out, according to his schedule, he will have met with every Metro government employee.
The meetings may be symbolic, but that’s what the mayor is going for. It’s Fischer back in his comfortable role of the CEO boosting employee morale, making visual statements that bring everyone onto the team, putting inclusive quality management into practice. And so far, Councilman Downard is one Metro employee who is responding. “I admire the method with which he’s operating,” Downard told me. “Admire’s a strong term,” he admitted. “I respect him.”
Then he added, “Everybody came to me for the critical comment on everything for the last three or four years. And I would give it to them if it was there (under Abramson), and there was so much there that it was easy.”
Not so with the new mayor, Downard said. “He’s doing exactly what I think he should be doing.”