As America and the world struggle with an economy sliding toward recession, the threat of an awakening Russian bear and an expanding list of economic competitors, it’s important for Oklahoma to have a strong bench of leaders to represent our interests.
In years past, Oklahoma had people of enormous stature on Wall Street such as Ace Greenberg, Henry Kravis and, more recently, Michael Price. Our congressional delegation included Robert S. Kerr, Mike Monroney, Henry Bellmon, David Boren and Carl Albert who lead the charge for business, economic and industrial development. Their leadership positions brought our state dignity and respect that resulted in significant Oklahoma investments such as the FAA Center, McClellan-Kerr Navigation System, Tinker, Altus and Vance Air Force bases, just to name a few.
All of this begs the question: Who’s leading Oklahoma today?
Some of the names are still the same. Boren came home and transformed the University of Oklahoma. Burns Hargis will likely do the same for Oklahoma State University. Congressman Tom Cole has been in a leadership position most of the six years he’s been in office. He’s a hardcore Republican but has worked with Democrats and is a respected Washington leader. Rep. Dan Boren is following in his father’s footsteps. A solid Democrat, he has also reached across party lines to do what he thought was best for America and Oklahoma rather than what was best for his party. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor have made both cities stronger and collaborated in the best interests of the state.
The business community is maybe the strongest it has ever been. George Kaiser’s leadership of BOK Financial Corporation and the Bank of Oklahoma have made them national players. The same can be said for George and Jeff Records’ stewardship of MidFirst Bank. Gene and David Rainbolt built BancFirst and a variety of other Oklahoma banking executives have given the state very good professional local banking support.
All of this came in the wake of huge banking failures following the collapse of Penn Square Bank in 1982. It shows what great leaders can do, especially in the face of adversity.
David Griffin has built Griffin Communications into a media empire with KWTV News 9 in Oklahoma City, KTOV-TV Channel 6 in Tulsa, a slew of radio stations across the state, as well as Internet sites and mobile information distribution. Larry Nichols has shepherded Devon Energy into one of the world’s leading independent oil and gas exploration and production companies. Aubrey McClendon has grown Chesapeake Energy into the third-largest producer of natural gas in the United States. McClendon’s former partner, Tom Ward, retired only to return as the head of SandRidge Energy.
The energy boom has also transformed Oklahoma’s housing, office and retail markets led by a variety of architects and developers who have created spectacular new residential neighborhoods and transformed the corporate skyline.
Throw in a whole new list of great athletes, television, movie and Broadway stars, scientists, brilliant attorneys and countless leaders from other professions and walks of life and Oklahoma may be headed for decades of unimaginable growth. It’s all about leadership and Oklahoma may have never had a better team.Orza is dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.