Hometown: I grew up in Holland, a small town on the Tennessee line in Allen County.
Education: Master of Public Administration from WKU and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Relations from WKU. A few months ago, I completed the Institute for Organizational Management and I just took the Certified Chamber Executive (CCE) exam two weeks ago. The exam is the last stage of the process to obtain the highest certification for a chamber professional and I am waiting to hear back. Fingers crossed!
Family: Rodney, husband of seven years. We have also recently adopted a new kitty named Abigail after the passing of our 16-year-old Duchess.
Hobbies: My husband and I love ballroom, tango and salsa dancing. Not dancing has been the biggest change for us during the pandemic!
Currently reading: I am in between books at the moment because I spent all of my spare time studying for the CCE exam, but I love reading books on organizational leadership and Biblical fiction.
Favorite vacation: I went to Israel in 2010 with a Political Action Committee. While most would not have called it a vacation, it was one of the best experiences of my life and I hope to one day return to Israel.
Medical News: How did you end up being President & CEO of Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI)?
Sarah Davasher-Wisdom: I came to GLI as the VP of Government Affairs in 2014 right after Kent Oyler was hired as CEO. GLI was in rebuilding mode after the CEO position had been vacant for quite some time. We learned a lot from our national association and implemented best practices that enabled us to win the national chamber of the year award in 2019.
I began advancing within the organization in 2016, slowing asking to manage more areas and working hard to strengthen GLI alongside Kent, and when GLI’s Executive Committee and Board asked Kent to develop a succession plan I made my interest in the role known to both Kent and the Executive Committee. In the fall of 2019, the Executive Committee hired a consultant to talk with several business leaders in the community about whether a search should be conducted or whether any internal candidates were equipped for the role. As a result of that process, I became the CEO at our Annual Meeting in January after a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors. My journey at GLI has been an enriching experience and I am honored to lead the organization.
MN: So, what is it like?
SDW: Well let’s just say that having a pandemic occur six weeks after assuming the role changed what I thought it would be like. With that being said, I am finding the job to be very rewarding because I get to work on big community projects and major business issues. In this role I feel like I am making a difference every day.
MN: What has been the hardest part?
SDW: The pandemic has required our organization to pivot in many ways because businesses have suffered greatly from both the required closures and consumer (health) confidence to patronize brick and mortar businesses. We have been on the front lines of sharing information on loan programs, helping healthcare providers obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) early on and then helping businesses acquire PPE for their returning workforce. We have been tightly connected with our federal delegation on pandemic relief legislation and we developed a Healthy at Work in Greater Louisville proposal for Governor Andy Beshear to help demonstrate ways various industries would be able to re-open safely. These were all activities that were not in our normal body of work, so we convened a Renewal Task Force to help us develop ways to provide value to the business community. This task force has been invaluable to us and we continue to utilize their expertise.
MN: What is the most challenging business problem you face today or that you recently solved for?
SDW: Recent events have brought light to the need for the business community to help correct racial inequities that have existed for hundreds of years without proper attention being given to them. Our core mission is growing the regional economy, so we must do more to support members of our community who are disenfranchised or excluded from economic opportunities. GLI’s role in this previously might have been more reserved, but our Executive Committee and Board made a deliberate decision to say that racism has no place in our society, and we want to do our part as the business community to join the call for accountability and reform. We recognize that GLI has an opportunity to use our collective influence to highlight racial issues in Greater Louisville. These are tough conversations, but they are important conversations. In the coming days and weeks, we hope to serve as a convener to help bring people and stakeholders together in a way that is thoughtful and invokes action.
MN: Healthcare is a significant portion of Louisville’s economy. What is your vision for growing this sector and how are you working to achieve this?
SDW: The healthcare sector is strong in our region and has potential to grow even more. Our role in leading that is through a GLI network called the Health Enterprises Network (HEN). Comprised of more than 1,100 healthcare professionals, HEN has developed a strategic plan to accelerate growth within the healthcare economy by making our region a location of choice for healthcare companies, consumers, educators, researchers, and investors. Elements of the plan include fostering a strong ecosystem with existing healthcare companies so that common challenges can be more easily addressed and opportunities seized, helping GLI identify business attraction and retention opportunities for healthcare companies, and providing meaningful engagement opportunities for healthcare professionals. When we look at our thriving competitor cities, it is business networks that often drive industry sector growth and we are pleased to be at the forefront of that with HEN.
MN: Who are your mentors?
SDW: Evelyn Strange is my formal mentor and she has been sitting down with me since 2016 to help me navigate numerous situations. I also have several individuals I feel comfortable calling anytime, day or night. Those include members of the Executive Committee and board, Sandra Frazier, Diane Medley, Kerry Stemler, and many others. Tierra Kavanaugh Wayne was one of my closest confidantes and I truly miss having her to call on. Having so many people willing to help however needed is integral to successfully leading the business community.
MN: Tell us about the culture you are trying to foster at GLI.
SDW: We have five core values at GLI, and I am trying to foster a culture that is based on those. We try to ensure a good cultural fit in our hiring process because we know that culture is of utmost importance in how an organization operates. Our core values are: 1) results-oriented: we strive to get results on everything we take on; 2) flexibility: we try to be nimble in our work so that we can address whatever issues the business community faces; 3) passionate: we value people who care about this community and this work; 4) collaborative: we do not work in silos because our work crosses so many departments, and 5) fun: we do all of this while having a great time. We enjoy what we do, and we enjoy being together as a team.
MN: Tell me about your leadership style.
SDW: I think it is important to hire good people, provide the resources they need to do the job at hand, and let them work without micromanaging them. I value servant leadership and I think it is important to ask questions that lead to sound decisions rather than making all the calls. With our GLI team, I am surrounded by some of the brightest people in our community and they are continually coming up with great ideas to help businesses and our organization.
MN: Any final big-picture thoughts on how you will approach your new role, and how you want to make your mark?
SDW: One of the biggest initiatives that GLI is working on right now is development and implementation of a new strategic plan based on a data-driven report by a firm called TEConomy. The firm identified seven initiatives our community needs to do now to accelerate growth. We are currently outlining which elements within the report that GLI will execute in this post-COVID economy. There are many excellent recommendations in the report including greater focus on patent activity; building a more inclusive economy; attracting, developing, and retaining talent; supporting entrepreneurship; helping industry clusters grow; expanding mobility solutions; and collaborating more as a region. We will be rolling out more information on these efforts next month.