Leaders, Where Art Thou?

Strong, effective leaders needed. Now.

By Joe Sweeney

Each spring in the April edition along with our 40 Under Forty honors,  Ingram’s dedicates that edition to the theme of leadership. This tradition was established in 1998 and it’s fair to say that to some degree, every monthly edition of Ingram’s advocates the importance of that topic. In May of this year, the headline of my column read “Is Kansas City on Track to be the Next Detroit?” 

Having been to Detroit recently, I’d like to retract this reference and apologize to our friends there. That city has made significant strides to improve since my perception of Detroit was so tainted nearly two decades ago. People are human and make mistakes. 

The problem I have is that despite being proven wrong time and again, some dig their heels in deep and fight to defend their mistakes. This is the norm with folks in Washington, D.C. and among many elected and appointed officials and political parties.

We started the 20 in Their Twenties program in 2008, which makes this year’s class our 15th. There are several similarities to our 40 Under Forty program. The biggest difference, however, is that honorees for the latter have performed half of their working career and have in this time significantly achieved at work, as volunteers and philanthropists and as civic supporters.

The reality of today’s work force is that folks in their 20s not only change companies more often than previous generations, but often change career tracks. That doesn’t seem to be as prevalent with this year’s 20 in Their Twenties honorees, who already have carved out impressive spaces in their respective sectors. The quality of candidates and the level of their accomplishments elevates each year. This is a refreshing sign.

As I edge a bit closer to the sunset of my publishing career, I contemplate what kind of mark we might have made, or might still be able to make, on this great region we love and call home. I believe the best legacy we can leave is to ensure we align and overlap with a qualified successor and leave Ingram’s in the capable hands of great leaders and a team that is entirely dedicated to serving the citizens and business community of the greater Kansas City area and our bi-state region. I’ve often thought of the need for a leadership institute where our loyal executive readers might engage by aligning with and mentor promising young leaders. 

I believe my hopes do not vary much from those of other executives reading this issue. We all want to make our mark and to leave a legacy, a footprint deeply imbedded into our region and the organizations we form, manage and grow. 

I look around the region and, regrettably, see a tremendous void in leadership, which has only grown over the past decade as some of the most prominent figures in commerce and civic life have retired or moved on. This is especially true in public service. 

We have many friends and folks we greatly respect who serve as elected and appointed officials, but sadly, there are many mediocre to terrible ones, as well. Our area cities, counties and bi-state region deserve better. And elected and appointed officials deserve fair and reasonable compensation, certainly. Qualified candidates for mayor of Kansas City, for example, should not be dissuaded from running for office because of the financial burden they may endure if they’re elected. I personally would like to see the smartest and most qualified people of character occupy every such elected and appointed position throughout our region. 

Kansas City and Jackson County are especially in need of strong leadership. Change is not only inevitable but often times necessary. These jurisdictions need an overhaul. Let’s hope our citizens pay close attention to performance and campaign promises and elect qualified leaders with character. 

Last month we published the Ingram’s 250—a distinguished group of executives mostly from large and mid-size businesses. Baby Boomer retirements are accelerating the speed of change in the executive leadership ranks. Literally 155 of those in the first Ingram’s 250 class of 2016 are gone. I can tell you it’s very hard to replace folks on the i250 but the data shows an encouraging statistic for the young and emerging business execs. Never has there been a better opportunity for young leaders to step up and in. 

We dedicate our business to focus on growth and performance and to recognize those leaders who are so effectively driving both. I consider that mission to be a noble pursuit, and it makes mine one of the best jobs in the region. I’ll be honest—it’s not for the money that we do what we do. There’s a greater good from serving as a steward of business success, and it’s an honor and privilege to serve the greater Kansas City area and the states of Missouri and Kansas. 

As the elections near, may voters cast their vote for candidates who possess the highest level of intetrity and character.

About the author


Joe Sweeney

Editor-In-Chief & Publisher


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