Featured image: Houston Chronicle/Brett Coomer. Pawan Jajoo, Rhino Press’ Director of Communications, co-authored this piece.
Annise Parker, Mayor of the City of Houston, has served the city for six years, now in her final term. On Tuesday, May 19, Rhino Press Editor-in-Chief Jessica Jin had an exclusive interview with Mayor Parker regarding public service, leadership, and Houston’s resources for young entrepreneurs.Q
How do you encourage young people to contribute to public service?A I think everyone has a responsibility to give back to the community — that doesn’t necessarily mean to be in public office or to serve an official capacity, but everybody ought to volunteer. Volunteering should be tied to something that you’re passionate about. There’s always something out there that each one of us can be passionate about and want to make a difference. We owe it to each other and the planet to be actively, civically engaged, and in some ways, it’s becoming harder and harder. We live in air-conditioned boxes [our vehicles] and we communicate online. It’s harder for us to create communities because we don’t engage as much as we did in the past.
What does it take to become a more effective leader?A
You have to have passion. You have to have courage. And you need to be able to communicate. A leader implies followers, and it’s very important to be able to communicate your message so that people can engage with you as their leader.
Many students are focused on going to colleges. What are the critical things a student should focus on in college that would enable them to become successful leaders in the future?AFirst of all, not everybody should be going to college, but everybody should be maximizing their education. For some, that’s an academic ground. For others, that’s going into craft or trades or certifications that will get them to the career they want. But for any occupation, particularly those going to college and pursuing a general education or a liberal arts education as I did, the most important thing is to be able to write and speak clearly and effectively and convey ideas. We are not teaching writing, in my view, effectively in the primary grades. We spend a lot of remedial time at the college level teaching people how to write clearly and effectively. Those of you who are in journalism, I’m assuming, are good at that. The vast majority of students, however, aren’t. And we still have to be able to communicate effectively through the written word. But also learning how to do public speaking is a critical career element for anyone in any kind of future endeavor, to be able to present to bosses, in board rooms, and public places. You’ll need to know how to handle that. Q
Competition in education is now on an international level. What advice would you give to students who want to succeed in our changing economic environment?AThe world is increasingly global and increasingly technical, and in order to be able to thrive in this global marketplace, you have to be more culturally attuned. Learning languages at an early age at least to be able to communicate at a basic level, is a great and necessary skill. But to be technically competent enough to know what you don’t know, and to be able to connect to the experts in a wired world, is very important.
What do you predict to be the greatest challenges facing Houston residents in the next 10 years?AThere are going to be challenges of growth. This is a temporary and cyclical downturn in the oil industry, and that our overall economy will continue to expand, albeit more slowly. But there’s not a megacity in the world that’s not choked with traffic, or struggle with environmental issues such as clean air.
What advice would you give to our high school students who are unsure of their professional futures?AFirst of all, you don’t have to decide today, or tomorrow. For many of us, we didn’t reach our chosen profession immediately. There are going to be lots and lots of pressures to make up your mind on where you’re going to school, what you’re going to study. And the best thing is to get a well-rounded education, with a heavy emphasis on being able to synthesize data and write effectively. I’m a big believer in the adage that if you love what you do, you’ll never have to work. So my advice to young people is find what you love, what you’re passionate about, and then figure out how to make a living out of it. Q
What resources are available for students in the Houston area who are considering a future in entrepreneurship?AHouston is one of the most entrepreneurial places in America, part of that starts from the culture and attitude of Houstonians. We are a city that is very business supportive and business-friendly, and we attract the best and brightest from around the world who want to succeed. So this is still a place where business gets done on a handshake. So there are a lot of organizations that are available to help entrepreneurs. There are Chambers of Commerce, Business Incubators, Houston Center for Technology. There are also government entities like the Office of Business Opportunity, which is part of the City of Houston, which hold business seminars and trainings. City of Houston also does an annual business plan competition. A cursory internet search will turn up lots of resources.
What can business owners like me do to support your initiative to foster a community of entrepreneurship here in Houston?ABusiness owners can foster a culture of entrepreneurship by succeeded as entrepreneurs and spreading the word. I had my own small business with a business partner for 10 years. In my view, the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is under-capitalizing, not giving themselves enough runway to get where they need to go, and not realizing how hard the work is. Running your own business is exciting and liberating and challenging, but you work harder for yourself than you do working for somebody else.