Chat with Conference Guest Speaker Robert Wood for just a few minutes, and you’ll quickly realize a few things. One, he’s very fun. Your conversation will not be boring, and he will definitely entertain you. On top of having great stories and engaging wit, you will soon see that he is filled with knowledge and wisdom about life in general, both specific to Economic Development and on a broader scale. We’re grateful we had the chance to talk with him prior to our TexasEDConnection Partner Palooza, and we are also excited for you to meet him next week.
Before we get started, please give us a quick bio so our readers know a bit about who you are and your experience in ED.
I just recently joined McGuireWoods Consulting as a Senior Advisor, coming out of retirement after serving in senior and executive level positions in Texas state government for over 23 years. My last role being the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in 2022, serving as Associate Deputy Comptroller for Operations and Support from 2015 until November 2021. My experience is in a wide range of areas, including public outreach, economic development, statewide procurement, energy conservation, endangered species research, and agency administration. From 2007 through 2014, I was the Director of Economic Development and Analysis for the Comptroller, and oversaw the agency’s economic development initiatives and the Texas State Energy Conservation Office. And I was actively involved in the agency’s legislative functions, and regularly represented the agency before the Texas legislature.
Prior to joining the Comptroller in 2007, I worked for the Texas Department of Agriculture, as the Assistant Commissioner of Rural Economic Development. Before joining state government, I spent 12 years in the commercial banking industry and two years as a manager in a diversified farm and ranch operation. I am a 1985 graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree in Agriculture Economics.
Wow. So you came out of retirement for the role with McGuireWoods. What brought you back into the game?
Well, McGuireWoods is allowing me to carve my own business out. The things I most enjoyed about state government involved fixing stuff that was broken. When things got really ugly and nasty, and they weren’t much fun, I did fine. It wasn’t fun and I don’t want to go back to it, but I learned that the key is staying calm. And I did very well in both chaotic environments and calm ones. McGuireWoods has given me the freedom to work on what I want to work on, which is Economic Development and State Procurement, and capitalize on that ability to stay calm and fix things.
Ok, speaking of doing well in chaos, I understand that there is something very specific that you wanted to be when you were growing up? Correct?
Yes! A Rodeo Clown! It’s a long way from working in public policy, but I’ve always gravitated to situations where chaos could break out at any moment, and the ability to remain calm is important. It taught me about the power of mental visualization and gave me confidence that I could face just about any obstacle.
What is the most significant risk you have taken, in either business or life in general?
I’ve always tried to keep my professional life somewhat low risk – job stability was a trade-off for the years that my wife was able to (mostly) stay home and raise our kids, and now help with our grandson. Personally, I’ve done things to feed my love of adventure… from skydiving at age 16, to rodeo clowning in college to jumping mountain bikes in my 50’s.
What is the WORST piece of business advice you have ever received?
Worst advice – I’ve been fortunate to let most bad advice slide by without acting on it, so I don’t have any good (bad?) examples here (that’s another way to say my bad decisions were self-inflicted…).
Good advice – I worked for a bank in Bryan, Texas and learned so much about business and life from the management team. I have a lot of nuggets from those folks. Here is one… “If you have a problem, and you don’t tell anybody, then YOU have a problem. But if you tell your team, then WE have a problem. And WE can probably solve the problem a lot faster than you can alone.”
And the second is not so much a piece of advice, but a mantra… I first heard it from a friend, years ago…
“He who dies with the best stories, wins.”
Ok. We can already tell that you are a man who has some of the best stories, and we can’t wait to hear some of them at the conference. But on the topic of advice, what is the best advice you would give a young person starting in business?
Honestly, this is going to sound trite, but a lot of it is just “be a good human.” If we would all do this, we would be more successful in business. If you’re not a kind, decent person at work, you’re probably not a good neighbor and maybe not even a good parent. We fail to realize when we’re young that those things pay off. When we’re young, we think we have to go, go, go and be the best. But being a good person matters just as much.
I even have a list of 8 things I think make good leaders called Wood’s Way. Are you ready for them?
- Maintain the ability to adapt.
- Don’t shoot the messenger because then people quit telling you bad news.
- Address the things within your control.
- Ask questions.
- Ask people what they do outside of the office.
- Everybody’s important, so give credit. It takes all of us to run an agency, so pay attention.
- Making mistakes is part of making decisions.
- Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.
We know; we want these printed out too. Don’t worry. Robert’s got that covered too. Click here for a free copy of Wood’s Way by Robert Wood
Speaking of not taking yourself too seriously, what do you do for fun outside of your career?
Mountain bike, camp, read. And anything I can do with my grandson – we go to the rock climbing gym, go snorkeling, ride bikes, play baseball. I also volunteer with the Texas State Guard, and volunteer for a mentoring program for veterans.
What are three things you would take with you to a desert island and why?
1. As many books as possible, including at least one Spanish translation book, to keep my mind active.
2. A pad and pencil… for drawing, writing letters that will never get mailed, making maps, taking notes, keeping a diary, etc…
3. A multi-tool (or a knife or hatchet) – to cut those sticks to spell HELP, as well as all those day-to-day survival activities – fighting bears and stuff, you know?
Also, Gilligan had a transistor radio and the batteries never died in three seasons – can I get one of those?
Of course, you can. You’re in economic development. You can make it happen.
And finally, circling back to your last “Wood’s Way” item, rumor has it you helped your office celebrate not taking themselves too seriously in a very unique way. Care to share?
Well, it’s coming up soon, but we will celebrate National Talk Like A Pirate Day on September 19th. Every year. It started as just a way to connect everybody because things like football teams or colleges aren’t universal. But talking like a pirate is just fun. So the first year we gave out eye patches and people half-heartedly got into it with a few “Aargh, Mateys.” But by the time we were done, it was a full-fledged thing with food and snacks and pirate talk all day. It was just a goofy way to unite us and make work fun. And it worked.
We’re not going to lie; we’re sad that we missed the National Talk Like A Pirate Day celebrations in Robert’s office and hope that he sneaks in a few “Aargh Matey’s” at the conference this month. If you want to hear Robert and the rest of our incredible speaker lineup, be sure to grab your tickets at: https://texasedc.com/partner-palooza.