I’ve been off by a day all week but I’m pretty sure it’s Thursday. It better be, this is my first day back in a classroom after a wonderful summer vacation. I’ll be at the Warrington College of Business at UF, not my alma mater the college of journalism and communications at UF but I’m excited to teach some business majors a thing or two about writing. Hopefully they never find my voice-to-text transcriptions because I know those are rough for those reading.
So, what did you think? Winners, losers, last night’s debate? I don’t think Governor DeSantis did anything to hurt himself, and while he stuck the landing on his remarks, there’s no doubt those were prepared straight from the can, not exactly farm fresh from Florida. Ambassador Haley did well, and even though I don’t like Governor Christie, I thought his line calling Mr Ramswamy’s responses Chat GPT generated was the best of the night because it’s so true.
Alright, enough of that. Maybe on a slow news day, I’ll break it down more. But we have to set that aside because it’s happened. Local media has mentioned Chick-Fil-A. *Celebrate* This is the one topic that will always draw a Citrus County reader in and Just Wright Citrus threw the door wide open for me to expand upon it today…and I’m not going to do it. I might have to bring my diploma with me to UF today and turn it back in because I’m going to pass on the clear and obvious choice for conversation. Why? It doesn’t feel like enough information is out there yet. There was no mention of the application pulling the conditional use for the storage facility in Thursday’s PDC, we don’t know the board’s reason for tabling it beyond that we don’t want another pair of Citrus County’s most despised businesses, and quite frankly there’s a better topic out there than the click bait allure of the Lord’s chicken.
And it comes from the Chronicle. They did publish the story today about the 3-2 vote regarding the LifeStream contract, which is something I want to cover one of these days, but today is going to center around the editorial rather than the news. The editorial is called Leadership changes in Citrus County: New direction and cultural shift. It’s about the loss of two senior staff members already in the first year of the Steve Howard administration, both through firing but one that was more evident than the other, and today is going to be one of those days where I agree with a lot of what the Chronicle has to say, but I’m going to give it a different perspective.
Are you sure you don’t just want 10 more minutes on my thoughts on the Republican debate, like how former Vice President Mike Pence would have had more personality if his staff had arranged for a fly to land on his head again? No, I didn’t think so. Let’s start with this.
When I teach advertising, I talk briefly about understanding company culture. About every five years, sometimes it’s two years, sometimes it’s the better part of a decade, but on average about every five years, the apparel company Nike will do something to stir the pot. In fact, they just ducked one having also partnered with trans social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney at the same time that Bud Light did but more on that in a second. The last major example before that was five years ago, 2018, when they introduced the “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” campaign starring former NFL quarterback Colin Kapernick. Kap is best known for his kneeling during the anthem, although he wasn’t the first to do it and he’s only best known for that because despite making the super bowl during one good season, he largely displayed second-string level talent on the field. And you remember the reactions. Oh my goodness! End of Nike. But it’s surprisingly on-brand for Nike.
The company has put out ads like NBA star Charles Barkley telling parents to raise their own kids because he’s not a role model and Tiger Woods first ever Nike ad as a pro in 1996 was calling out racist golf courses that he couldn’t play because he was black. Each time, oh my goodness, end of Nike. And they brand is doing fine, currently in a little lull after exploding in popularity post-covid like every other company but overall in healthy financial shape.
Put this in contrast with a competitor, Under Armour, my favorite athletic brand. Under Armour’s peak was 2015, but started a steady decline in 2017 after founder and CEO Kevin Plank was forced to step down for causing unbearable controversy when he said a month after former President Trump’s inauguration that he thinks it’s a good thing there is a businessman in the White House. Oh, how could he!? Blasphemy in corporate America, however reasonable it might seem to you and me, and just for that comment, he couldn’t weather the storm and the brand has never recovered. How is Nike so insulated from controversy, even stoking it, and Under Armour is a shell of itself after a comment that makes sense? Company culture.
Let’s get back to the Mulvaney example. Bud Light tanked when Nike didn’t despite doing the exact same thing at the exact same time, why? Because it wasn’t the exact same thing. The marketing executive of Bud Light came out and said, this was to change the culture surrounding our brand, make it less fratty. That’s not inclusion, that’s perceived power reversal, and only Marxists think like that - I don’t throw that term around lightly but power reversal is truly at the heart of the ideology. Nike didn’t say that. They just included Mulvaney with the rest of their influencers, and when the heat turned into a blaze elsewhere, they dialed it back.
Okay, last example and then I’ll pivot this to a local landing. That’s business but in sports we see the same thing. My beloved Tennessee Titans are a good football team. They were the 1 seed a couple years ago, made the AFC title game within the last five years, one shy of the Super Bowl, and they’ve been consistent for the better part of a decade. And yet, they pale in comparison to the Dallas Cowboys, who have far fewer recent playoff wins, and their last super bowl win is closer to 30 years ago than 25. I’d ask what’s going on here, what determines the popularity and the reputation of winning and stardom despite indisputable facts to the contrary, and you know - it’s culture.
What the Chronicle is advocating today is that new administrator Steve Howard gets leeway on staff turnover as he implements his own leadership style, here’s a quote, “While it’s essential to acknowledge that leadership changes don’t always indicate the inadequacy of the previous leaders, such shifts often become necessary when an organization aims to transform its culture fundamentally.” All I can think of is, man, wouldn’t that have been nice for them to say about the Sheriff’s Office?
Staff turnover was a big issue in the 2020 election for sheriff, with the prevailing narrative that the new Sheriff Mike Prendergast had caused above average turnover. This is in contrast to what the data said, the percentage of employees who left CCSO in the first term of the Prendergast administration was proportionally less than the staff turnover that left under the previous administration, Sheriff Jeff Dawsy when he took over from Sheriff Charlie Dean in 1997, I forget the exact numbers but it was something like 14% under Sheriff Prendergast and just over 16% under Sheriff Dawsy.
I agree with the Chronicle here, that it doesn’t necessarily mean the previous leader was inadequate, this isn’t to cast barbs at Sheriff Dawsy. But there was a culture in CCSO, one that anyone who worked there during that time will tell you, called the Buddy System, in reference to the former number 2 in command undersheriff Buddy Grant. Grant ultimately resigned after his interference in an investigation into potential wrongdoing pointed to signs of obstruction of justice and was subsequently hired by the school system, which has its own buddy system culture - one that I’ve suggested in the past could use a shakeup as well.
Other than passing certain mandated tests to qualify for promotion, there really wasn’t any job description or defined pathway to promotion in CCSO other than go along to get ahead until Sheriff Prendergast professionalized the agency.
And I believe that’s what county administrator Steve Howard is trying to do here. But here’s my one piece of unsolicited advice. There’s going to be a point when he will either have to be a salesman or find a salesman. Despite my controversial claim that government shouldn’t run like a business, I do think its executive team could learn a thing from the corporate organizational flow chart. Chief executives, whether its CEOs or college presidents, are meant to be the face to the external communities whether this is the consumer, the public or even a smaller group like the board of directors or potential donors to a university’s endowment. By the way, this isn’t talk bad about Sheriff Dawsy or Superintendent Sam Himmel hour, both were and are incredibly effective chief executive salespeople of their organizations and that should be recognized.
That leaves the COO, chief operating officer, or provost in academia or assistant county administrator in government, in charge not of the external relationship management but of the internal functions from communication to efficiency. And Administrator Howard has checked this box in a way his predecessor never did, he hired Marisellle Rodriguez, whose resume jumps off a page with overwhelming qualification and who appears to be well-respected by staff from those I talk to. Perfect fit. But right now both the administrator and the assistant administrator are inward focused, not that Steve doesn’t attend county functions, he is an incredibly active and hands on leader, also not to say that this isn’t out of necessity in his first year on the job, after ten months, I wouldn’t even be able to work the phones yet.
But to define the culture of the county. To solidify his leadership, and to help the ever-changing board weather controversies when they arise, there needs to be a public face. Nike had plenty of them with all the athletes they sponsor, Under Armour didn’t, their most popular athletes, Steph Curry, Jordan Spieth, these guys are quiet, soft spoken, not salesmen just immensely talented. So Under Armour tanks in controversy while Nike thrives. The Dallas Cowboys have owner Jerry Jones, outspoken, charismatic, larger than life personality, and the Titans have…I don’t even know. I agree with the Chronicle. Culture changes are inevitable and we shouldn’t fault the leader for the turnover although I wish they would have applied that stance consistently four years ago. But there is going to be a time when Administrator Howard will either have to step up as the public face of the county, or find someone who will, because staff needs that to help define and build a Citrus governing culture even as the board changes faces over the years.