Rockefeller legacies intersect to do good work

This article first appeared in the Roaring Rock, a Rockefeller family newsletter.

The legacies of two family members separated by a generation and 1,500 miles converged earlier this year. The impact of Winthrop Rockefeller on his adopted state of Arkansas lives on through the work of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, located on what was part of Winthrop’s cattle farm atop Petit Jean Mountain. So, too, does the work of Laura Rockefeller Chasin live on through the organization she founded in Boston – Essential Partners.

These two organizations with two separate missions and in two different geographic locations came together accidentally around a common purpose, resulting in a new and wonderful partnership.

How did this happy accident occur? The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute convenes leaders, thinkers and practitioners to address issues and search for solutions that improve the lives of Arkansans and others. We do this by employing the Rockefeller ethic given to us by the example of both John D. Rockefeller Sr. and JDR Jr. of first framing the issue, then bringing the foremost expert(s) together with others who care about the issue, and structuring the conversation in a way where all voices are respectfully heard and solutions are sought.

The Institute’s mission naturally involves us in the work of civil discourse, so we were recently contacted by two state representatives whose districts had played one another in football. The game was played during the campaign phase of the 2016 presidential election, and because of inappropriate behavior by some of the adults involved, the evening resulted in ugly activities from both sides. The two legislators asked the Institute to guide the students and school/ community leaders through a civil discourse exercise to help students learn how to respect and understand the views of others, even though different from their own. As we began to frame the issue and design the program, we reached out to our partners at the Clinton School of Public Service. That is where we learned about Essential Partners (EP). The Clinton School told us that EP provided effective training in Reflective Structured Dialogue, a method that guides people through a safe and respectful process, to first turn inward and examine themselves, and then turn their focus to listening and understanding others, appreciating their similarities and differences. At the time, the Clinton School did not realize that EP was founded by Winthrop Rockefeller’s niece, Laura Chasin.

Coincidentally, one tidbit of Winthrop Rockefeller’s advice to his son, Win, in A Letter to My Son was to “Never be quick to blame others—turn first to an examination of yourself and your own shortcomings in your relations to them. Enjoy and understand others for the qualities that are good about them—not their faults.” Laura called this a “journey into the new,” providing a new way to engage people with whom we deeply disagree.

Since our early encounter, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute has utilized what we learned from Robert “Bob” Stains, whose mentor was Laura Chasin, to successfully facilitate a conversation around the divisive herbicide dicamba for the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. The result of that conversation was new agricultural policy in Arkansas, and it has the potential to affect ag policy across the country. Likewise, Essential Partners encourages other clients by using the Institute’s example of employing reflective structured dialogue to help groups reach consensus on difficult issues. We have since learned that our founders shared other values and beliefs also. They both believed in rolling up their sleeves and working alongside those “doing the real work of making the world a better place.”

Bob Stains summed it up nicely by saying, “It is like a family song that is sung across generations or an underlying melody that informs and sustains the passionate commitment to changing the world in a way shown to us by both Winthrop and Laura and many other family members we’ve had the privilege to meet. That kind of music seems in such short supply today.” 

Both organizations and those with whom we serve remain forever grateful to Winthrop and Laura for their big ideas on human relations, reminding us what is possible and how people can connect across a big divide.


Leading the way

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute was proud to send Janet Harris, director of programs, to participate in the 2016-17 session of Leadership Arkansas. Leadership Arkansas, a program of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, provides an immersive experience for up-and-coming leaders in Arkansas to learn and grow in their leadership capacity.

Institute Executive Director Dr. Marta Loyd had this to say about Janet's experience:

"Upon nominating Janet for Leadership Arkansas, I knew the experience would be a win-win-win. I was not disappointed in that it was a win for Janet - she grew professionally and personally and built lasting relationships across the state. It was a win for Leadership Arkansas - Janet is intellectually curious and has a sharp mind. I am certain the class benefited greatly by her participation. And it was a win for the Institute - Janet was able to spread the word to class XI about our compelling mission and the good work we are doing here. I am proud of Janet for her commitment to the program and congratulate her on making the most of the opportunity."

Janet recently responded to some questions we had about her experience.

Q: What expectations did you have going into Leadership Arkansas? How did the experience compare to your initial expectations?

A: Having formerly traveled the state extensively as a leader in state government, I looked forward to engaging with private sector leaders from the perspective of the Institute, learning more about their successes and hearing their perspective on Arkansas’ workforce development challenges. The experience exceeded my expectations in that regard, particularly in the way that we were welcomed into each community and allowed access to “behind-the-scenes” operations at some of our state’s leading industries and the candid conversations we were able to have with them. Arkansas is such a diverse state, with each of our regions having unique strengths and opportunities for growth.  I found the experience of meeting those local leaders and spending time with them in their communities to be invaluable. 

Q: What is one or more things you learned about Arkansas, business or leadership that you did not know before LA?

A: We had some wonderful leadership and personal development sessions during the program. The ones that stand out the most are the visioning and leadership exercises we participated in at Crystal Bridges, where we were encouraged to think about leadership through our experience with art, and our last session with Dr. Jeff Standridge, who tailored a leadership exercise for us that really caused me to think deeply about my personal and professional goal-setting.

Q: Describe one of your favorite memories from your experience.

A: The state government and military session held at the State Capitol and at Little Rock Air Force Base, respectively, were my favorite sessions. We held a mock legislative session at the Capitol, which for me felt like coming home after my years in state government. Gen. Joe Wilson, a class member of ours, was such a gracious host at the LRAFB, and not only were we given a fantastic behind-the-scenes tour of the base, but we also had a chance to fly on a C-130, which was quite the thrill. I even managed to keep down my lunch! Overall, though, the connections and friendships I made with my classmates will be what I value most in the years to come. We had a great time getting to know one another and developed a deep respect for the work that we are each doing in our communities.

Q: How will your class of LA stay connected and engaged?

A: We have appointed two dynamic class representatives who are already finding opportunities for us to reconnect with each other. Thanks to the leadership of class member Mark Scott of Walmart, we are having a bonus session in Bentonville later in July. And, I am so pleased that Leadership Arkansas Class XII will host their opening session at the Institute, where I will be helping out as an alum. We have a Facebook group where we keep up with each other’s professional accomplishments and family news, and we have committed to participating as alums together for various other Class XII sessions. I am hoping that we can bring Leadership Arkansas alumni to the mountain for a summit-style working session like we do for our Under 40 Leaders, so that we can continually keep this group of professionals engaged in contributing to solutions for Arkansas.


'Together we can become worthy of the moment'

Working at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and living atop Petit Jean Mountain, I am blessed with easy access to some of the prettiest scenic views in Arkansas. I can’t help but think that the picturesque vistas looking westward off of Petit Jean’s broad plateau is part of what kept Winthrop Rockefeller in Arkansas.

But Rockefeller’s view of Arkansas went well beyond his recognition of its natural beauty. From his farm, home and office on Petit Jean, he could see not just the physical attributes of the Arkansas River Valley, he cast a vision for the future of a state that, in the 1950s and ‘60s, was hanging in the balance.

That vision led him into politics, and 50 years ago today, he was sworn in as the 37th governor of the state of Arkansas.

A lot has changed in Arkansas in 50 years, and much of the positive change that has happened here can be traced back to the two terms that Winthrop Rockefeller served as governor.

Today I was privileged to sit in the gallery as Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivered his State of the State address to a joint assembly of the Arkansas Legislature. At the suggestion of our director of programs, Janet Harris, we reached out to the governor’s office to remind them that the State of the State address happened to fall on the monumental anniversary of Winthrop Rockefeller’s inauguration.

Gov. Hutchinson opened his address with a quote from Rockefeller’s inaugural speech:

“It is true that you have been allotted an unusual moment in the history of Arkansas, as have I … a moment subject to special scrutiny … laden with special challenges … and rich with special opportunities. I believe that together we can become worthy of the moment.”

Hutchinson followed that quote with a charge to the Legislature: “Today, we have our own moment in history, and we can only be worthy of this moment if we work together.”

Commitment to a collaborative approach to problem-solving was a hallmark of not just Winthrop Rockefeller’s administration, but his entire life. I was proud to hear that sentiment echoed 50 years from the time he first took office.

I was also struck by some of the parallels between the two governors’ priorities. Hutchinson today spoke of the need for more efficiency in government. This was also a priority of Rockefeller, who dramatically reduced the total number of state agencies during his tenure as governor.

Hutchinson touted recent economic development efforts throughout the state, citing Sig Sauer in Jacksonville, Sun Paper in Arkadelphia, Metova in Conway, Mars Petcare in Fort Smith, FMH Conveyors in Jonesboro and J.B. Hunt in Rogers. Before running for governor, Rockefeller served as the chair of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, a precursor to today’s Economic Development Commission. He helped usher in more than 600 new industries in Arkansas, resulting in more than $250 million in added salaries.

I’d like to think that if Gov. Rockefeller could have heard today’s State of the State address, he would be proud to hear how far we’ve come as a state. But he would also roll up his sleeves and prepare for the work yet to be done.

A mentor once told me that if I wanted to truly make a difference in my life, I needed to become a part of something that would outlive me. He also suggested that if we hope to see our work completed, we simply have not asked big enough questions. Winthrop Rockefeller personified this philosophy and dared to ask big questions. He took on challenges that he knew he would not live to see conquered.

As I reflect on the work of the Institute and on the indelible legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller on this important anniversary, I am inspired by his accomplishments, but also by his heart and his approach—which was to engage and empower others and to encourage them to aim high toward answering the big questions.


Tapping into the wisdom of youth

For years, being named a 40 Under 40 honoree meant being profiled in a magazine column and attending a luncheon in your (and 39 others’) honor. Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, wondered aloud if there wasn’t an opportunity to bring together those 80 yearly honorees (40 from Arkansas Business and 40 from the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal) to put their heads together to discuss some of the issues facing our state. Fortunately, he wondered this aloud during a collaborative planning meeting with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s executive director, Dr. Marta Loyd. Sometimes wondering aloud develops partnerships and programs, and that’s what happened here. The Under 40 Forum was born.

The inaugural Under 40 Forum was held at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute April 1-2. 32 of 78 honorees from across the state attended the event, which was kicked-off by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The event’s conversations focused on talent recruitment and retention, as did the governor’s talk. He took questions from the group, many of whom were business owners. They asked thought-provoking questions on issues they have faced recruiting and retaining talent in their organizations. These questions and general subject areas became the broad focus of the rest of the event.

Attendees largely focused their strategic conversations on:

  • Lack of widespread broadband access
  • Enhanced pre-K opportunities
  • Branding Arkansas for talent recruitment and retention efforts
  • Need for improved engagement with the public sector
  • Impact of recent proposed legislation on talent recruitment and retention

Examining challenges facing Arkansas was only a part of the reason for the Forum. Developing relationships, crossing geographical barriers and promoting long-term collaboration was the other half of the motivation behind hosting the Forum. If how late the conversations went is any indication of success, we are pleased.

Gov. Rockefeller strongly believed in and practiced the convening approach to problem solving. It’s an approach we are still echoing today. While these problems won’t be completely solved anytime soon, we believe that convening the Under 40 Forum was a good step in that direction, and we won’t be surprised if it’s the people who attended the Forum who are behind the solutions.

In addition to the Forum providing a spark of energy for the participants, another tangible outcome will be a report outlining the topics discussed and suggested actions that can be taken to make Arkansas a place where people want to come and stay. We plan to release that report in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.