Opinion » The Rant

ServiceMaster Will Find What It's Looking For in Downtown Memphis

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ServiceMaster senior vice president Peter Tosches recently told The Commercial Appeal, "We're trying to make sure we can attract and retain the kind of talent that will help us accelerate a winning growth culture."

Commercial real estate brokers are hustling to sell an ideal space to ServiceMaster, and our city government and chambers of commerce are attempting to induce ServiceMaster with financial incentives. Nothing is wrong with that, but I'd like to ask ServiceMaster: What are you doing to attract and retain the kind of talent that will help you accelerate a winning growth culture?

Any personal relationship fails if it is all taking and no giving. The same holds true for a business, especially those that want to create an attractive culture for today's young talent, who require and seek out environments that are engaged and contributing to the world around them.

The reality is that if all our corporate citizens are simply taking, then we as a city will never be as attractive as we know we can be. The power of our business community cannot be overlooked and certainly cannot be taken for granted. That power includes financial influence as well as contributions to our environment and culture, and investment in the core of Memphis. Our most successful corporate citizens are those who give back to the city from which they also benefit.

Consider the idea of aligned self-interest. Isn't it possible that by contributing to the growth of a city, one actually creates a situation that does more to attract the kind of talent that will lead to a winning growth culture? In the process, a good corporate citizen is appreciated and lauded as a leader in the city, not just as an occupant, but also as a patron and leader.

My challenge to ServiceMaster is to explore engagement in Memphis. How can you contribute to the culture that your company desires? That "winning growth culture" you seek is rising in downtown Memphis right now.

By occupying or building a presence downtown, you can take a leadership role in attracting other businesses and assets, along with employees, who will follow your lead and contribute to the growing culture that you seek. In essence, you can play a role in building your culture, not by asking but by leading by example.

FedExForum entered the game with the notion of moving where the people "are," but decided to contribute to the core of Memphis and now thrives as a downtown landmark. AutoZone, and visionary developers like Henry Turley, led the way by ushering in a wave of downtown development and culture that has manifested in Raymond James staying on Front Street, the Chisca on Main apartments, Bass Pro development, and future Mud Island and St. Jude expansion.

Not to mention the many, many cultural assets that lie in the growing number of apartments, condominiums, music festivals, bars, restaurants, and shops that followed and continue to accelerate the winning growth culture that you desire. These are all things that exist because of investors who decided that giving served them more effectively than merely taking.

By taking a leadership position in Memphis' growth, wouldn't you create more opportunities for your company and the culture you want to create?

Years ago, American urban studies theorist Richard Florida advocated for a strategy of attracting, engaging, and retaining talent. I propose we change the order of these tactics. It is time to usher in a new "ERA": Engage our existing talent by celebrating our strengths and advocating for progress, which will then create a magnetic culture that helps us Retain and Attract internally and externally. The incentives will be available, whether here or elsewhere; what exists in Memphis is the opportunity to engage.

Think about getting involved. Be bold. Be an example. You have to invest in Memphis in order to get the full return. There's a chance to do something remarkable, but you have to participate to reap the rewards.

Doug Carpenter is the founder of DCA, a creative communications consulting firm located in downtown Memphis.

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