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tom watkins

The annual watering hole gathering of Michigan’s top civic, business, labor, education, government, political and foundation leaders is set to begin.
This three-day event, The Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, draws up to 1,500 of Michigan’s “movers and shakers.”
Beginning Tuesday, they will eat, drink and mingle on the world’s largest porch at the Grand Hotel to gab about the state’s problems and opportunities. There is no shortage of either.

Will this year be different, or will the confab once again be an annual “pogo stick convention”? Will this be yet another gathering of well-intended people where lots of jumping up and down occurs without any real forward movement?

The event is well organized and features great speakers with a solid agenda. The leaders, Sandy Baruah, president of the Chamber, and conference chair Nancy M. Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health System (winner of the 2011 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award), are extremely able and talented people.

A year’s worth of networking with influential decision makers can be accomplished in three short days on the island. But shouldn’t successful business performance be measured by results rather than by jibber-jabber, schmoozing and socializing?

The theme song from past Mackinac Policy Conferences should be borrowed from country sensation Toby Keith’s CD, “Whole lotta talk … not much action.”

Since 1981, our top leaders have been gathering on the island of horses and fudge, but to what end? What has been accomplished?

This is not a slam at the Detroit Regional Chamber, which is to be commended for creating a forum for discussion of issues impacting Michigan. Everyone who attends, however, needs to pull out a mirror and take a look — everyone shares the blame for the lack of tangible results.

If government, education and the nonprofit human services community had hosted this 31-year gathering, the business community would be quick with their ridicule and scorn for the lack of results.

Results should matter! Or are we in a collective state of denial?

Michigan has a historical, almost cultural unwillingness to say that the “emperor has no clothes.” Through the years, we have been either unwilling or unable to take on many real problems and to demand real solutions.

Gov. Rick Snyder started off strong in his desire to “reinvent” Michigan. Will he keep the reinvent Michigan pedal to the metal?

We need to stop pretending and worrying about offending. We need bold leadership, courageous action and positive results. Michigan must adapt to the 21st century global economy through innovation and collaboration in order to succeed.

Fareed Zakaria, CNN contributor, and Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times columnist, will be “keynoters” at the conference. They may want to remind the audience that while we dither, the world is moving forward. Michigan is two peninsulas — not an island.

I hope to see “relentless positive action” resulting from the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference. In the absence of that, I hope attendees at least enjoy the fudge. No pun intended, my favorite is Rocky Road.

Tom Watkins is a former state mental health director and state superintendent of schools and is currently a US/China consultant. He can be reached at tdwatkins88@gmail.com” 

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