Ted Carroll is making the area a better place, one leader at a time
By Laurence D. Cohen
October 03, 2011
If Ted Carroll ever tires of his role as president of Leadership Greater Hartford, he could probably snare a gig at one of those giant evangelical churches, brimming over with evangelical fervor as they are.
Speak to almost anyone who knows Ted Carroll and you hear such labels as "missionary" and "visionary" and “advocate.” And don’t get trapped alone in a room with Ted Carroll; he will convert you to the cult; you will become a “leader”; you will wander the corridors of your corporate office forever and a day, seeking other converts to the cult of Hartford.
You will be sent off to Leadership Greater Hartford church camp, to network, to commune, to hatch ideas about what it means to be a leader, to organize the faithful to heal Hartford and to bring Hartford and its suburbs into one large, noisy, enthusiastic congregation.
‘He has a missionary personality,” explains John Rathgaber, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association. Carroll, according to Rathgaber, has a special gift that can make the assets and challenges of Hartford intriguing to folks who might ordinarily treat the city as a place you “drive in and out of to go to work.”
Carroll came to the task with all the appropriate bleeding-heart credentials. With an undergraduate degree in sociology and a master’s in social work, both from the University of Connecticut, he was primed to do battle with urban challenges, first, as the executive director of Southend Community Services, a neighborhood social service agency; and then, at Leadership Greater Hartford, where he had planned to stay about five years. After 25 years, he’s still there – and Hartford is better for it.
‘He’s been the nicest, steadiest guy in town,” says Suzanne Hopgood, former chair of the Economic Development agency in Hartford, and a long-time international corporate governance consultant active in urban non-profit and corporate life. “Ted knows how to recruit senior-manager-level people and transform them into leaders concerned about the city – good corporate citizens.”
In the earliest days of the Ted Carroll Crusade, he faced a community in which a very small number of active, involved and powerful people organized and influenced most of the cultural, nonprofit and governance decision making.
We’d call it, “the 50 of us,” Hopgood jokes. “You’d go the Bushnell board and then you’d go to the symphony board, and you’d go the ballet – and it would be the same 50 of us. It was a close-knit, paternalistic community.”
And that’s what Ted Carroll set out to change, through LGH advocacy and training and cajoling that has led to its “graduates” serving on hundreds of nonprofit boards, running for office, engaging in volunteer projects to assist nonprofit agencies; and bringing kids, seniors and other corporate professionals into the fold.
“The leadership network is a lot bigger and more diverse than it was,” explains Carroll. “The issues and challenges and opportunities are more complex than any one sector can address. We need a wide variety of interests working together.”
Ira Yellen, a marketing communications executive in Glastonbury, came under Carroll’s spell years ago, including a retreat in a setting that might be called rustic at best. “Ted is so damn cheap,” Yellen complains.
Carroll is the ideal person to be leading the LGH charge, Yellen says. “LGH is perfect for him. His whole DNA is getting people involved. If he wasn’t there, there wouldn’t be an LGH. He recruits good people.”
One of the most complex challenges for Carroll, in a market of the size and socioeconomic reality of Hartford, is to entice suburbanites to take an interest in the challenges and the strengths and frailties of the city, at a time when technology and economic pressures diminish the role of geography and regional loyalty for many of his corporate recruits.
“All of the parts can work together,” insists Carroll. “You celebrate the interconnectedness. No single community can provide everything.”
Elizabeth Ceriello is a labor relations manager and attorney at Otis Elevator, a former personnel executive for the Hartford public schools, and long has been active in LGH. She says Carroll has been the region’s most compelling advocate for city-suburban alliances. “He has been the cheerleader; he can tell you why it’s important,” Ceriello says. “West Hartford wouldn’t be so successful if there wasn’t a Hartford to commute to.”
Carroll has also been effective at tapping the corporate world for a certain layer of management talent that wouldn’t necessarily come forward on its own for risky urban experiments.
“It’s a different slice of leadership; a different measure of leadership,” she suggests. “Why would you try this out and take on risk? Ted. It does take a certain personality.”
Carroll’s combined recruitment targets of corporate types and suburban folks (as well, of course, as legions of city folks in many occupations) is a chore not everyone would find alluring, explains Joe Marfuggi, president and CEO of Riverfront Recapture, the regional program to utilize the Connecticut River and adjacent parks.
“What Ted does is so unusual; he’s like nobody else,” Marfuggi says. “He’s connecting the corporations and their employees to the city; he combats a negative view of things in Hartford when people see some of the good things that are happening.”
For public consumption, the faithful describe Carroll as humble and preferring behind-the-scenes machinations to high-profile rambunctiousness. But, of course, Carroll is the “leader” of the “leadership” cult.
“He’s tough, but fair,” according to Ceriello. ‘He knows when to hold his ground, when to push people, without being judgmental. He believes everyone was born to be a leader. He’s not an angel or a saint.”
Whatever it means to be a leader (the LGH mantra is, giving your best, by being a member of a group helping other members of the group do their best), Carroll says the skills can be taught and absorbed. “Each of us is born with particular gifts, sets of behaviors, that can be learned.”
Beware. Ted Carroll is on the prowl. He wants you.
snapshot: Ted Carroll
Name of organization: Leadership Greater Hartford
Size of organization: $1.3 million; 15 staff
Education: MSW, UConn School of Social Work – focus on community organizing; B.A. Sociology, UConn
Previous job(s): executive director of Southend Community Services
On the job
Guiding business principle: Keep learning, growing and changing – or risk dying
Best way to keep your competitive edge: Attract and keep caring, talented and resourceful staff and board members
Proudest accomplishment: That LGH has grown to become one of the largest community leadership programs in the country despite being in a relatively small market
Goal yet to be achieved: Long-tem financial stability that will enable LGH to sustain itself and flourish long after I leave
Favorite parts of the job: Witnessing positive change take place in the attitudes and skill levels of those we serve; forging collaborative relationships among people who would not otherwise have met one another; and contributing to helping the communities in Greater Hartford become more cohesive, more prosperous and more just.
Least favorite part of the job: Administrative routines which, mercifully, I do not need to do too often
Most influential business book: As we are in the business of building leaders, I would say “The Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes and Posner
Personal touch in your office: Photos taken by my wife of trips we’ve taken together over the last few years
Best business decision: Collectively speaking, my hiring decisions have been first rate. I have “A” players in every position and support them consistently.
Worst business decision: Hard to say – even my many mistakes have proven to be enormously helpful life lessons
Biggest missed opportunity: No regrets here – we’ve been pretty good about seeing and seizing opportunities when they present themselves
Best place to network: At Leadership Greater Hartford events, of course! However, events organized by HBJ and the MetroHartford Alliance are a respectable second, and meeting colleagues and prospective LGH members at The Hartford Club is always special
Best way to spot trends: Listen deeply and with an open mind.
Next big thing: It’s already started and it’s called social enterprise — that is, harnessing market forces to produce social benefits.
Your pet peeve: When people criticize or denigrate Hartford — a community I love and am proud to call home — without any first-hand knowledge of the city or without any genuine interest in being part of its future.
City of residence: Hartford
Favorite way to relax: Golfing with friends and quiet evenings at home with my wife
Last vacation: How about my next vacation? The west coast of Ireland in October
Favorite movie: City Slickers
The car you drive: Subaru Forrester
Favorite communication device: Email
Currently reading: “Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World” — probably not on NY Times Bestseller List, but well worth reading for people interested in preparing for civic leadership roles
Favorite cause: I’m absolutely committed to building community while building leaders through Leadership Greater Hartford, but I find I can also do so through my church (Asylum Hill Congregational in Hartford)
Second choice career: If I hadn’t gone into community organizing and become a non-profit administrator, I might have gone into education and perhaps become a school principal.