• Steve Wray Head Shot 2014
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Learning from Boston Strong for a Better Philadelphia

For me, the two most anxious weeks of the year are the homestretch of the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange application period. While the Economy League staff always patiently endure my worries that our applications will be down, they know from experience that the vast majority are submitted on the last two days (procrastination seems to be a trait in Philadelphia leaders). They also know that we have a great Recruitment and Selection Committee who are out hustling to identify our region’s best and brightest emerging and established leaders. And, despite my worries, every year we come to the same conclusion: that year’s cohort was truly the best we’ve ever had.


Since 2005, we’ve visited places as diverse as Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and Toronto. This fall’s learning visit to Boston marks our first foray into the Northeast. In choosing a Leadership Exchange destination, we always look for regions with significant similarities to Greater Philadelphia – whether in size, form, or economic mix. In Boston’s case, the common ties run across just about every factor we could consider – history, size, age, demographics, industry mix … you name it. These parallels make the differences between our regions even more relevant and give rise to some interesting questions that we’ll address on the Exchange:


  • How does Greater Boston manage to get Big Things done? Beyond the infamous Big Dig, which submerged a highway and left a major urban park in its wake, how has sustained collaborative leadership paved the way for major education and health care reforms?

  • Why has Greater Boston experienced higher economic growth? With similar core assets and research and development strengths, Boston has had a stronger growth trajectory and fostered higher levels of innovation and entrepreneurship. Why?

  • How does Greater Boston navigate the challenges associated with being an older region? From dealing with aging infrastructure to managing redevelopment to updating the region’s image, Boston’s historic vintage presents familiar challenges and opportunities.

  • What is the changing face of leadership in Greater Boston? Boston’s first new mayor in 20 years is bringing about change in the local power landscape. At the same time, a new generation of political, civic, and philanthropic leaders is working to reshape Boston’s reputation for diversity and tolerance.

  • How are Greater Boston’s Gateway Cities reinventing themselves to compete? Greater Boston’s early mill towns and midsize urban centers face economic and social challenges similar to places like Chester, Camden, Phoenixville, and Pottstown in our region – and they’re banding together to drive economic growth.

Indeed, the content is coming together nicely for our Boston Exchange. Now, it’s a matter of bringing together a mix of leaders to join us who are open to new ideas, clear-eyed about Philadelphia’s prospects and challenges, and ready to engage and connect with their colleagues. What we learn in Boston is secondary to how we apply it here – either by adopting and adapting an intriguing idea we learn about in our travels, or by looking at what we’re doing at home in a new way . And, invariably, some of the best outcomes result from the unlikely pairings and informal conversations that happen when you take 100 dynamic high-achievers away from their comfort zone and mix and match them in new ways that spark partnerships, collaboration, and innovation.


So, apply today (save me a few gray hairs, please) for the 2014 Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange (deadline is April 30), and join us on our world class journey. Working and learning together, we can truly achieve great things for our region. 


Steve Wray


Executive Director, Economy League of Greater Philadelphia