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PowerPlayer: Leadership RI Executive Director Mike Ritz

Monday, July 16, 2012

 

This week’s PowerPlayer is Leadership RI executive director Mike Ritz. Mr. Ritz was kind enough to tell why he hearts Providence (and Rhode Island) and explain the work his organization is doing around the state.

1) You’ve got a fascinating background. Tell us how you ended up in Providence.

Elaine, my fiance, and I came down to Providence one weekend to see The Cremaster Cycle, specifically #3, by Matthew Barney at Cable Car Cinema. Having a coffee before the show while flipping through the real estate magazines, we saw incredible Victorian homes for sale in the city that were just about the same prices as condominiums in the suburbs of Boston. We returned to Providence a few weeks later and sat outdoors among thousands of people, young and old, rich and poor, from different backgrounds and ethnicities - all enthralled by wood burning in the river canals running through the city at night, comforted by world music echoing through the streets, surrounded by great architecturally designed buildings, old and new. WaterFire is special and served as an amazing embodiment of how peaceful a community could be - a community in which we wanted to live. It was only a matter of months before we made the move, eventually settling into what I consider to be the best neighborhood I've ever experienced - Providence's WestSide.

Professionally, I was running my own military training company full time and could operate from nearly anywhere. I had intended on running Boot Camp Fitness programs in Dexter Training Ground, as I had done around Boston and Philadelphia previously. In the midst of the move a friend asked me to assist temporarily with a fundraiser with the Boston Pops that had gone flat for the past few years. I did well with it and enjoyed working with others committed to non-profit mission. I've been working in that capacity ever since then.

2) We place so much of an emphasis on the negative aspects of Rhode Island. Give us three reasons to be proud of our state.

Quality of life - One of the first actions I took as Executive Director of Leadership Rhode Island (LRI) was to survey our 1600+ alumni about the state of the state of Rhode Island. I found it so curious that one after another criticized the state of our education, government, and economy, but completely praised our quality of life in Rhode Island. I've been working to reconcile that disparity ever since. My first attempt was to theme the 2010 year as "Positively Rhode Island," a year-long exercise in recognizing our incredible assets as a state. I've always been a fan of building on assets first in order to gain enough positive momentum to tackle problems as they emerge in the process.

Connectivity to the world - Our theme in 2011 was "Rhode Island: The Center of the Universe." The purpose of that year was to demonstrate the extraordinary connectedness we have with the rest of the world. If we, as a society in Rhode Island, better recognize and embrace the incredible reach we have globally through natural relationships among our immigrant communities, we would be better able to move our state onto a more powerful international stage while also empowering an immigrant community that is nearly always marginalized in Rhode Island.

In working with other cultures around the world, both in business and in the military, I learned that personalizing professional relationships has a positive impact on business decisions. If I sit for hours at a time drinking tea and getting to know the Gulf Arab business man across from me, gaining his trust and his confidence, he will likely choose to do business with me over the unknown person in Massachusetts, even if the cost of doing business in Rhode Island is higher. Relationships matter. For Rhode Island to play a part of the global economy, we need to start forming these relationships and start putting ourselves out there. Our immigrant community in partnerships with our schools of higher education, especially those with international students, and the private sector could be our greatest asset to accessing new resources (new financial and human capital) for Rhode Island.

Ability to come together to solve problems - Because our state is small, we can physically gather and come together to work on issues much easier than other states. We can know one another better because there are fewer people than in other states. This is a great asset. A year ago, over a six hour period of time we brought together just about every single leader from every corner of the state who play key roles in the tourism industry along with the Governor in order for our LRI class to deepen its knowledge of the critical impact tourism has in Rhode Island - an activity that's much more difficult to execute in larger states with larger populations.

3) Take us through a day in your life.

My days are ever changing. Over the course of a day, I'm generally working on 5-10 initiatives simultaneously. Today, for example, I will meet with a Leadership In Action team of LRI who is planning to bring a very well known celebrity into Rhode Island to raise visibility about the Save Chocolateville campaign and the story of Central Falls, followed by a quick call with the Convention Center to start logistical preparations for I HEART PROVIDENCE in February 2013, followed by a meeting with the leadership of the Community Development Corporations of Pawtucket, Central Falls, and LISC, followed by discussion with our preferred printing company - Barrington Printing - to determine the most cost effective means to deliver a fall newsletter.

Between meetings I'll spend quiet time processing those meetings, strategizing next steps, and responding to alumni and class participant requests. Tuesday will be a completely different day. I thoroughly enjoy my position at Leadership Rhode Island because its always different, there are inspiring challenges with the human capital to overcome them, and I know that our efforts have great impact in our state.

4) At Leadership RI, you’re connecting so many of the state’s most influential figures. Are you seeing alumni working together to better the state?

Absolutely, we know anecdotally that alumni choose one another to work with on a variety of issues. It's not uncommon to see senior management teams full of, nearly exclusively, LRI alumni.

Our three greatest assets at LRI are our statewide experiential learning curriculum, our brand and reputation built over the past 30 years, and our alumni. We are over 1600 alumni strong. As individuals, they possess great influence. For the past three years, I've been collecting data and working with alumni and other community leaders to find ways to organize our alumni around significant issues within the state because I know that the true power of our alumni base is when we unite as a collective. I also know that our alumni want us to start doing this - they see themselves as important stewards of Rhode Island. Our focus on Central Falls is a pilot to see what we can do when we rally behind a particular issue.

5) Tell us something nobody knows about you.

I tend to be a very open communicator. Sharing, I find to be a powerful characteristic in an effective leader. If I had information to tell you that nobody knows about right now, there's probably a calculated reason for that. Next question...

Quick Hitters

Role Model:

I have many mentors. I find inspiration from nearly everyone when I choose to be open minded enough to recognize it. I admire and attempt to emulate the generosity of my mother, the adventurous spirit of my father, and the creative and critical thinking of my fiance, Elaine. I also love to bask in the youthful energy and optimism of my daughter, Sabrina.

Favorite Restaurant:

El Rancho Grande, Ebisu, Loie Fuller's, and Los Andes. When upscale dining is called for - Gracie's, Persimmon, and The Dorrance are exquisite.

Best Beach:

I was spoiled with pristine beaches early in my life, having lived in Cancun for a couple of years. My best beach is one with food and drink served right at my lounge chair.

Best Book You’ve Read in the Last Year:

Organizational Turnaround with a Human Touch. This book has had such an effect on me that I discuss my work regularly with the author, Baldev Seekri. Mr. Seekri is a very wise man who I admire greatly.

Advice for the Next Mike Ritz:

Listen, listen, listen - earlier. Always create a space for silence to process each day before moving on to the next. Most of all, have no fear - you can solve any problem and achieve any vision.
 

 

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