Kim Guadagno, Michele Brown, Melissa Orsen and Michele Siekerka all have one thing in common … wait for it … they are all lawyers. They happen to be women, too. But when it comes to bringing business to New Jersey, that trait (one they share with educator Rochelle Hendricks) is a non-factor. Their ability to attract (and retain) companies is…
NJBIZ wanted an inside look at the Partnership for Action — the collection of organizations and state agencies that comprise the public-private collaboration for economic development, job creation and the attraction and retention of businesses to the Garden State.
That’s why we sat down recently for a Q&A with three of the women who lead the partnership — its chair, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno; Michele Brown, CEO and president of Choose New Jersey; and Melissa Orsen, CEO of New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority.
NJBIZ: Let’s start by talking about your involvement with the Partnership for Action.
Kim Guadagno: Since we began in 2010, the Partnership for Action has worked to retain and attract business. Our business model has been recognized as successful and has received national awards. I personally have talked to or touched in some way — (via) speaking engagements, visits, meetings and outreach — thousands of businesses. Our unemployment rate is down to 6.5 percent — from a high of nearly 10 percent in February 2010 — and approximately 190,000 private-sector jobs have been created during this administration.
Michele Brown: We’re all working exceedingly well as a team to make sure that we all have the same goals in mind, that we all are accomplishing our missions and that we’re all working together in tandem. … I, along with someone from the Business Action Center, will go and meet with companies — sometimes with the lieutenant governor, sometimes with our partners at the NJEDA — then the BAC will talk about the services available through the state to assist their business when trying to make a location decision, and the EDA will have a conversation about financial assistance that’s available, whether it be loans, bonds or incentive programs for businesses thinking about establishing a presence or growing in the state.
Melissa Orsen: I’ve spoken with both Michele and Lauren H. Moore (deputy executive director of the BAC) several times this week already.
NJBIZ: Which businesses have the Partnership for Action attracted to or retained in New Jersey? What are some of its success stories?
KG: There are many, many examples, from (large companies such as) Panasonic (in Newark) to Church & Dwight (in Ewing Township) to Subaru (in Camden), to small companies like Biotrial (in Newark). … For example, we were first introduced to Frontage Labs at the 2013 BIO Convention in Chicago when their executive attended our prospect dinner. From there, Choose New Jersey and the Business Action Center worked with the global pharmaceutical R&D services company to consider locations in New Jersey. Then, at the 2014 BIO Convention in San Diego, the company’s leadership met with me (again) and officially decided they would come to New Jersey. Last year, they were approved for a Grow New Jersey award (via the EDA) and opened their new 36,000-square-foot clinical center in Secaucus, with another facility still in the works.
MO: We supported a Paterson-based company called Accurate Box — a third-generation woman-owned business with its first female president, Lisa Hirsh … The EDA was brought in after discussions with Choose New Jersey and the Business Action Center for the Grow New Jersey award: $39.8 million over 10 years. It’s going to help them retain more than 220 employees and 51 new jobs are going to be created. The investment the company is going to make in Paterson is $19.8 million, money going right back into Paterson.
MB: We had another business, Adare Pharmaceuticals, make a commitment to come to New Jersey and grow in our state after the BIO Convention this year. … That would not have happened without the concerted effort of the entire team. … The BAC had helped them find a location in the Princeton area where they wanted to be. Two months ago, the EDA assisted them with financial incentives. And when I invited the CEO to the prospect dinner, I very wisely sat him next to the lieutenant governor, who then convinced him that it was time for him to make a decision to choose New Jersey, which he did at that time. That’s a great example of what we can accomplish when we’re all working together.
NJBIZ: Is there anything you believe may improve the Partnership for Action in the near future?
MB: Our first instinct is to try to work with companies long before they’re making a decision to leave — to establish relationships early on with major corporations in the state so that they know we’re attentive to their needs. … By the time a company’s already made a decision to leave, you’re too late.
MO: I was actually just speaking with the mayor of Trenton this morning on what the Partnership for Action can do to help the small business community — it’s just a topic of conversation that’s been coming up a lot lately. People are very focused on employment, on getting people back to work — and the EDA does have great incentive packages — but, we also have a core business, such as low-interest loans that we want to get out there. … The Partnership for Action brings so much to the table already, so small businesses are certainly going to be one of our next topics of conversation.
KG: Business likes finality and shies away from uncertainty. All the recent efforts by the Legislature to raise taxes and increase spending is setting back the efforts of the Partnership for Action in a way that can only be characterized as a job killer.
NJBIZ: Lastly, we have to ask — is it purely coincidence that a majority of the major players within the Partnership for Action are women?
KG: Are they all women? I hadn’t noticed. … Seriously, it is a coincidence, but I think it works out for each of us very well.
MO: The four of us have a close connection and work very well together. I’m proud to be a part of such a dynamic group of successful women. … It certainly does make for successful harmony.
MB: Part of the role of women leaders and women in business is to provide other women with mentorship and opportunities. … What we can do as women leaders is be attentive to all of our employees and make sure that we give them the right leadership opportunities to shine, because that is what is going to build their confidence and turn them into future leaders.
NJBIZ: Do you believe your gender might have ever helped or hindered you as head of your organizations?
KG: Having done this for nearly six years, I think it is fair to say my partners are collaborative and do not care who takes credit for a win — is that a woman thing?
MB: It’s the business model under which the organization was formed — my predecessor, Tracye McDaniel, was a woman — but I don’t know that I’ve been here long enough to tell you whether (my gender) is an asset or not … as head of Choose New Jersey.
MO: I have not felt that it’s made a difference. I’m always happy and supportive when I find a woman CEO, but men are just as supportive. We’re seeing more women in successful positions. I’m hoping as the years go on, we see even more.
NJBIZ: As successful women leaders, do you believe there are any defining characteristics shared amongst you?
KG: I believe women are collaborative and share the credit in an effort to get things done.
MO: Women, generally speaking, are good listeners and tend to learn from what they hear. They have a willingness to listen to others, which is not always an easy thing for people — and specifically here at the EDA and in the Partnership for Action, we share the confidence that I believe makes us successful. We share the ability to take risks and take that leap to help those businesses that need an extra push.
MB: By the time you get into this job, you already have a professional reputation — I had been in the working world for more than 30 years (before Choose New Jersey). You need to have, in order to be a CEO of an organization, a certain amount of confidence about your ability.
NJBIZ: What are some common mistakes women leaders tend to make?
MO: Perhaps feeling the need to constantly prove ourselves. Women need to recognize that they have the confidence and the same ability as men do. We also have a unique ability to multitask and accomplish goals while doing many other things — we need to recognize those abilities and talents.
MB: I think that when you have a failure of communication with people that work for you, that sets you up for failure — but that’s gender-neutral. New leaders have to learn that their employees are not mind readers and that good leaders will clearly articulate where the hill is, how they’re going to take the hill, who’s going to take it with them, and they don’t assume that the soldiers will follow behind them when they move forward.
NJBIZ: Considering your success with both the Partnership for Action and in your own respective careers, have you actually figured out how to have it all?
MB: There’s no one solution — and I think for more families, it changes over the course of time. … But we as women have to be realistic about our expectations of a particular employer or profession depending on where we are and where we want to be in our family life. … If you’re going to take time off, there will be a consequence — you will have missed a year of career development. … That’s not negative, either. It just means that we as women are choosing to be with our families; or to have a child; or to take care of a sick parent; or to take a sabbatical and go off and study. We should do whatever it is that we’re going to do to try and instill balance in our own lives, but we have to be honest with ourselves. … Let’s not set ourselves up for failure.
MO: I strive for work-life balance every day. My kids are happy and healthy and they know that I am, as well. I think ‘having it all’ is skewed in a way — I just do the best I can. I make a point of driving my kids to school and after I leave my job I spend time with them until they go to bed — and then I pick work up again until I finish what’s needed. I prioritize. You make it work for your unique situation, and whatever works for you becomes the norm.
KG: I have — just not all at the same time. Here are a few tips that have served me well that I’d like to share: One, maintain and expand your circle of women colleagues. Two, celebrate and support those women and all women — not because they are women, but because it’s important to support and be loyal to the best among us. Three, don’t play by a rulebook others write — write your own. You know best what needs to be done. Four, for those of you juggling family and work, know that one day those kids will get it, even if that day is not here yet. And they will be proud of you. Guilt is not your friend. Perseverance, hard work and commitment to public service are lessons that you teach your children by doing the work yourself. And five, reach as you rise. Don’t forget to reach back to young women starting their careers to help them make connections and succeed.
Kim Guadagno: Lieutenant Governor and 33rd Secretary of State
1983: Federal prosecutor with the Organized Crime and Racketeering Strike Force in Brooklyn, upon college graduation.
1994: Deputy chief of the corruption unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
1998: Assistant attorney general; deputy director in the Division of Criminal Justice.
2001: Left public sector to practice law closer to home.
2007: Elected sheriff of Monmouth County.
2009: Elected New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor.
2010: Created the Red Tape Review Commission to streamline government.
2013: Re-elected lieutenant governor.
What she’s doing when she’s not developing New Jersey’s economy: Fishing with her husband and three sons; listening to live country music; sitting on her back porch with the family dog.
Michele Brown: CEO and president of Choose New Jersey
1991: Assistant U.S. Attorney.
2010: Named appointments counsel to Gov. Chris Christie.
2012: Named CEO of the EDA.
2015: Named CEO of Choose New Jersey in February.
What she’s doing when she’s not developing New Jersey’s economy: Gardening (and avoiding poison ivy); cooking and entertaining with her family; looking forward to fly fishing with her husband.
Melissa Orsen: CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority
2000: Hired as deputy attorney general.
2003: Hired as chief counsel for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.
2010: Hired as chief of staff of DCA.
2012: Hired as chief of staff to the lieutenant governor.
2014: Appointed deputy commissioner of the DCA.
2015: Named CEO of the EDA in February.
What she’s doing when she’s not developing New Jersey’s economy: Spending time with her husband and three young kids; running 25 miles a week: “I hope I’m imparting both a work ethic and a love of exercise to my kids.”
It may have grown apparent during our Q&A that the Fantastic Four is missing, well, its fourth voice: Rochelle Hendricks.
Though the first secretary of higher education for the state of New Jersey was unavailable at the time of these interviews, NJBIZ would be remiss not to highlight just how much Hendricks has accomplished for the state.
Hendricks began her career as a teacher in the Rumson Fair Haven Regional High School District before spending more than 15 years at Princeton University in various posts, including assistant dean of students.
Then, in 1987, she began taking on multiple responsibilities and jobs within the Department of Education, including acting commissioner, acting deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner.
She continued her work with the Department of Education when, in 1994, Gov. Chris Christie vowed to give New Jersey colleges and universities more autonomy by abolishing the traditional chancellor of higher education position and its entire department.
While this did indeed give colleges and universities more freedom, it also took away advocates in Trenton as the state repeatedly cut funding for higher education.
So, in 2011, Christie appointed Hendricks to serve as such an advocate and take on the responsibility of developing programs and policies to enhance the capacity and competitiveness of New Jersey’s higher education institutions.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno invited Hendricks to join the Partnership for Action in 2013, and just last year, Christie appointed her to the State Ethics Commission.
According to the rest of the team, Hendricks is now a huge and pivotal part of the conversation when encouraging businesses to relocate to or stay in New Jersey.
“We’re getting better and better at talking about our institutions of higher education that are now completely on board with being much more vocal about how important it is to have research relationships with industry,” said Michele Brown, CEO of Choose New Jersey.
Though not technically a player in the Partnership for Action, her name most certainly comes up when discussing business development in New Jersey.
As president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association in Trenton, Michele Siekerka not only continues to bring a strong voice and solutions to the table, but also challenges.
“If our members have issues with business growth or opportunities, I know I can call the Business Action Center or the NJEDA to find someone to take care of my members’ concerns,” Siekerka said. “The Partnership for Action is a very good resource for us to direct our members to.”
NJBIA — the nation’s largest employer association, representing more than 21,000 member companies and more than 1 million employees within New Jersey — is one of the state’s most credible resources and advocates itself, providing information and services to its members in order to foster a more positive business climate.
“We’re always partnering with the state and higher education as a resource,” Siekerka said.
Which isn’t at all new to her. As a former deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Siekerka was often seated at the table to provide insight to the Partnership for Action from the state agency.
“When a project came in, a liaison would be brought in from all involved agencies — such as the DEP or the Department of Transportation or the Department of Labor — to brainstorm,” Siekerka said.
Siekerka previously served as CEO and president of the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce and senior legal counsel for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
And yes, much like Michele Brown, Melissa Orsen and Kim Guadagno, Siekerka was once a lawyer, too.
“We’ve all developed into strong, confident leaders and consensus builders who know how to make a decision when we need to,” Siekerka said.
“So it’s incumbent upon all of us to instill the same confidence in the next generation.”
The LG’s take on the issues
When asked what concerns out-of-state companies had most often when considering New Jersey, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said, “It’s too expensive to live here, work here and die here, and that’s what we’ve been working to change for the last five years.”
Here’s more of what she had to say on the issues concerning New Jersey:
Millionaire’s tax: “(It’s) a job-killing tax.”
Minimum wage: “The approach needs to be sensible and balanced. While of course we all want to earn a fair wage, we also have to be cognizant of the impact on business — especially small business. Furthermore, what we should be focused on is creating more higher-paying jobs. What troubles me most about minimum wage was the Legislature’s decision to make this a constitutional issue.”
Equal pay: “Personally, I believe we have to work harder to get more women into higher-paying STEM jobs, which is why I am so involved with the Million Women Mentors program in New Jersey.”
Transportation Trust Fund: “The TTF is funded through June of 2016. We are currently spending $1.6 billion a year on infrastructure matched by $1.6 billion a year in federal money on roads and bridges and mass transit. Everyone agrees the TTF has to be fixed. The next step is to fashion a solution that does not crush our middle class communities.”
Background in law
Not only is the majority of the Partnership for Action women, but three of those women — Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Michele Brown and Melissa Orsen — have a history as federal prosecutors.
“The lieutenant governor and I go back almost 25 years,” said Brown, CEO and president of Choose New Jersey. “When I joined the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1991, Kim, at the time, was also an assistant U.S. Attorney.
“I like to say that Kim and I were junior lawyers together.”
Brown was also Gov. Chris Christie’s appointments counsel when he was first elected.
“I was extraordinarily fortunate to have a job where I got to go meet all of the prospects and recommendations to the governor for all these cabinet-level positions,” Brown said.
“I got to know Rochelle Hendricks in that capacity before she became part of the Partnership for Action.”
In addition to familiarizing herself with her teammates long before they ever conducted business together, Brown believes having been a federal prosecutor for almost 20 years shaped the way she thinks and approaches issues at hand.
“When you are a federal prosecutor, it is your job to know all the facts of your case, because you have the burden of proof when you go into court. You need to know your case better than anyone else needs to know it,” Brown said.
“As part of putting your case together, you have to look at all of the different approaches to the case that could weaken it. You have to ask all the questions.
“What it really forces you to do is analyze particular sets of facts and circumstances from every possible angle. … I naturally approach situations by saying, if we change this fact, what will occur? How could I fix it? Is it a fatal defect or could I buttress my argument another way?
“That animates my thinking and my leadership approach.”