Grooming Gainesville's Next Generation

I recently attended the first meeting of a new initiative from the local United Way’s Young Leaders Society called CEO Chats, during which “youngish” (40 or younger) local business leaders were able to chat with a local CEO about what it takes to become, and stay, successful.

For the inaugural meeting last month, we heard from SantaFe HealthCare President and CEO Michael Gallagher, who also is this year’s newly appointed chair of the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce. For a man with self-described 12-hour days and seven-day work weeks, whose most valuable work hours are spent on planes, his time is in high demand. We were lucky to pick his brain about what mattered most to us.

I loved that this event valued and supported some of the newer members of the business community, which included about 16 men and women who had both started their own small companies as well as those who were climbing the ladder in larger, national entities with Gainesville outposts.

One of the key points that stood out to me was the strong desire for organized mentorship in this community—especially for the 22 to 40 set, which often finds itself leaving Gainesville for that second job before returning years later to raise a family.

In addition to the value of mentorship, Gallagher also shared his thoughts on the future of Gainesville, how he maintains a schedule that sees him traveling weekly and his advice for young business leaders. Here are some highlights on those topics and more:

More on mentorship. Gallagher emphasized the importance of a formal mentorship he gained early on while on the job at Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers), which contributed to him becoming one of the youngest partners there. While everyone no doubt benefits from a mentor, it seems it is in the first stages of one’s career when a thirst for guidance is most beneficial.

The challenge in Gainesville is the “small pond” aspect—that is, it can be difficult to find a mentor in one’s field (who isn’t a direct competitor!). Gallagher stressed that a mentor needn’t reflect one’s career goals directly, but that the most key aspect was an organized program. Wouldn’t it be great if Gainesville could develop a structured network of mentors and mentees among the business community? I am always thrilled when time spent helping ambitious interns or students (I teach a class at the University of Florida) results in them achieving a goal. Similarly, I know business leaders would be happy to find the time if asked.

Organization means efficient use of time. It seems organization isn’t relegated to mentorships. Gallagher heavily stressed its value to efficient time management, and credited an executive assistant who “thinks like he thinks.” He also suggested leaving 30 minutes in between each meeting to allow for overflow and planning for the next appointment. When traveling, he mails work to and from his destination.

“I’m the worst person to sit next to on an airplane,” he said—that four-hour block of uninterrupted time being one of his most valued work times. While I’m still waiting for that personal executive assistant to help me stay organized, I’ve disabled the audio alerts on my email to maintain my focus where it matters most.

Culture is key. When interviewing for a job, or selecting a new employee, Gallagher emphasized the importance of matching personalities with the company’s core values. His preference for being active in the community, and constantly working on multiple projects, have led to a diverse resume and to feeling constantly stimulated and challenged. In addition to working with the United Way, he is a member of the Florida Council of 100 and serves on local and statewide boards. He works with both non-profit and professional organizations.

He credits the importance of working with others without a big ego and maintains that he “has never worked a day in his life.” I’ll add to that that when you align yourself with projects that excite you, opportunities and goals arrive.

The “brain drain.” Finally, Gallagher saw hope in Gainesville’s legendary so-called brain drain—that tricky tendency for University of Florida and Santa Fe College graduates to take their talents elsewhere upon graduation. He credited the recent emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship and recent estimates that Gainesville has more incubators per capita than any other town for starting to change this. Although we have only just begun to realize the potential gains of keeping our young workers, the increasing cooperation between the city and the university are encouraging. Our main challenge, Gallagher explained, was the “trailing spouse” syndrome. In other words, attracting one person to Gainesville’s unique combination of big-city options with a small-town feel is one thing. Finding a job for their spouse, given our lack of major corporations, is the sticking point.


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