Kurt Foreman has been President & CEO of the North Louisiana Economic Partnership (NLEP), which is headquartered in Shreveport, since 2004. NLEP is a nonprofit economic development marketing organization that promotes fourteen parishes in the North Louisiana region, working with existing and prospective employers to encourage incremental capital investment and job creation.
Doug Eadie recently talked with Kurt about his work as CEO of the Partnership. Highlights from that interview follow…
Doug: What knowledge, attributes, and skills have you found most critical to your success as CEO of NLEP, Kurt?
Kurt: To start with the obvious, the fact that I came to the CEO job at NLEP knowing the business of economic development inside-out – how to promote a place, handle incentives, do deals, that kind of thing – has been a real asset in my work, as has the tremendous energy and drive I bring to the job. But in the unique NLEP context, I think what tops the list is my love for the partnership building dimension of the CEO job. I’m a true extrovert and engagement-oriented CEO if there ever was one, and I’m always on the lookout for new friends and partners. If I didn’t truly enjoy rubbing elbows with people, I’d be in serious trouble, what with our 60 Board members and 240 investors.
My communication and sales skills have also been critical to my success since one of my primary functions as CEO is to serve as NLEP’s ambassador-in-chief. So I estimate that since I arrived in Shreveport, I’ve annually made presentations to over 40 groups in the region, and I intend to keep up the pace. A couple of other things I’d like to mention have helped me succeed as CEO: I’m comfortable with process, and I never lose sight of the long-term prize. When you’re building new working relationships and putting economic development packages together, you’ve got to be willing to take the time to work through a number of complex issues, and, you know, it can be a pretty convoluted process – not just going straight from point A to point B. Patience and flexibility are two virtues of mine that have paid off handsomely here at NLEP. Taking the long view and keeping my eye on the ultimate prize means that I can’t obsess about short-term quid-pro-quos. My philosophy in this regard is pretty simple: always be generous in adding value when you have the opportunity, and don’t demand an immediate return. More often than not in my experience, that kind of generosity will eventually yield a return, but it might be well down the pike.
Doug: What have you found most enjoyable and satisfying about your CEO role at NLEP?
Kurt: You already know that I love being “Mr. Outside” in my work, and I relish the human relations aspect of the CEO role – speaking on behalf of NLEP, courting new investors, working out economic development deals. Inside the organization, I like building organizational culture and encouraging changes that move us forward. In practice, this means working with the team in coming up with a set of core values to guide our work and our interactions with each other, and then making sure that we put these values to work internally and avoid violating them in practice. Maybe it has something to do with my being a preacher’s kid, but I passionately believe that I’ve got to be an encourager day after day inside the organization, trying to avoid behaving in ways that conflict with our values. By the way, over the years you’ve undoubtedly, like me, come across CEOs who don’t practice what they preach, and that can be a big problem, in my opinion.
It occurs to me while we’re talking that one reason I really love this job is that I’ve become part of this community. That’s partly because my family and I were so warmly welcomed, but it’s also because I arrived here committed to immersing myself in the community. So even though, strictly speaking, I’m still a newcomer, I feel at home here, and I understand and appreciate the rich traditions of the community, which, as you might know, is the cradle of rockabilly and where Elvis got his start. I don’t know if the King has been sighted in these environs lately, but I know he would be right at home too.
Doug: So what don’t you enjoy about your CEO role, Kurt?
Kurt: Wouldn’t life be wonderful if we felt passionate about every last aspect of the job we’ve signed on to do – that would truly be a script written by the Disney folks! I’d guess it’s a rare person who doesn’t have to draw on discipline and a sense of responsibility to get certain things done. For me, developing administrative systems and monitoring financial performance aren’t, to be honest, sources of joy. They’re important functions that I’m accountable to my Board for performing, so I grit my teeth and do the job. But if some day NLEP has grown to the point where we could justify a full-fledged “office of the chief executive,” with an externally-focused CEO and an internally-focused Chief Operating Officer, I’d be in the dream job.