The power of change

When you think “power” in corporate Columbus, a few names immediately come to mind: Les Wexner, John Wolfe, maybe Alex Shumate.

Who wouldn’t salivate at the thought of having one of these giants on their board — or among their friends? They’re tremendous string-pullers. They have their hands in just about every significant idea or event connected to Central Ohio. They exude power. They’re in a class by themselves.

Or are they?

These are the survivors of the once-small, tight-knit fraternity of CEOs who used to reign over corporate Columbus. Not even 10 years ago, their ranks included the likes of J.W. Wolfe, John Fisher, John McCoy, Frank Wobst and Gerry Mayo. This power trust ruled this city with an iron fist. Their vision was the city’s vision. No one dared second-guess them.

Much has changed. Death and retirement took a toll on many of these business “titans,” and the remaining members of this once all-powerful clique have shunned the old mindset of exclusion.

They’ve turned to consensus building. They’ve found leading with modesty is more effective than bullying with fear. They’ve discovered the power of inclusion.

The leaders we’ve selected for this year’s SBN Power 100 list reflect that new mindset.

Look at Bob Walter, CEO of Cardinal Health. His company has not only grown to be the top revenue-producing company in Central Ohio, but the largest pharmaceutical distribution business in the country.

He’s earned the right to be cocky, yet he’s quite the opposite. He’s maintained an extremely low profile and offers his opinion on community matters only when pressed. His humble nature in the face of great success has brought him immeasurable power.

Then there’s Jerry Jurgensen, who stepped into Dimon McFerson’s shoes at Nationwide less than two years ago and found them a pretty good fit. Granted, Jurgensen is still considered new in town, so he’s putting on a happy face, but I just don’t see this guy getting haughty. He’s just too genuine. His confidence and natural leadership have catapulted him into the top 10 on our Power 100 rankings.

A city needs strong leadership from the corporate community, but it shouldn’t be overpowering.

These CEOs are striking the right balance. Public officials actively seek their opinions. That’s important. After all, industry drives our economy, and making changes in public policy without first weighing the potential impact on private business could have devastating and far-reaching effects.

Those who lead the Columbus business community today are the types of leaders we need. They’re approachable. They’re level-headed. They’re real people. That’s a pretty powerful combination. Nancy Byron ([email protected]) is editor of SBN Magazine.