I am a firm believer in the adage that in order to move forward, it is paramount to look at where you have been. Seeking lessons from the past provide clarity on the choices we make today. This means that I am routinely reaching out to people who have had experience working for or working with DASNY to help us chart our course forward.
To that end, I recently invited my predecessor, Paul T. Williams, Jr., to sit down with me in our New York City office for a chat about what he learned from his leadership role at DASNY and to learn about what he is doing now, almost two years after he departed.
We sat down in the Executive Conference room for about an hour, the south-facing view of lower Manhattan shrouded in clouds. It was a great opportunity to catch up as we talked about his past, present and future.
With Paul’s permission, I am sharing with you excerpts of our conversation.
GPB: What factored into your decision to accept the offer to lead DASNY?
PTW: I grew up in a family where both my father and my mother spent a lot of time in some form of public service. My father was a general surgeon. He was a very progressive healthcare professional and ran a free health clinic on the weekends. For many years, he did that as a public service. My mother was a professional social worker and then a college professor. She did an awful lot of volunteering, spending time working with children and families, particularly in the school environment. Public service was part of my family DNA.
GPB: What are the three things you are proud of from your tenure at DASNY?
PTW: Before me, DASNY had not had an African American Executive Director or CEO. There had also not been an African American managing director. I was very happy to change that history. I think it’s important to make progress and demonstrate the contributions we make.
I’m also awfully proud of how the organization, during my early tenure, managed the fiscal crisis. When the underlying insurance bond industry crashed, that meant that the whole organization from a finance and issuance standpoint had to take on a whole new posture about approaching credits and deadlines.
The third thing I would say is using public dollars effectively in terms of staffing. I think as a leader of a public agency/entity, one of your obligations is to try to make sure that you’re using the public’s money effectively and appropriately. Sometimes that cuts against the common notion many people have that government is a bureaucracy unto itself and just wants to grow and grow. I think managing a reasonable approach to staffing is very effective and is something that makes me very proud.
And of course, I have to say this as an honorable mention: all the work we did for diversity and inclusion for MWBEs on the professional services side, as well as the construction side.
GPB: What did you learn from your leadership at DASNY?
PTW: I learned how to alter my work habits and balance running such a large organization. I tried to get in tune with and involved to some extent with the life of the staff in the organization. For me that was a really difficult thing to do.
I also got to know New York State. I think we have an awesome state and there are so many locations across New York that offer so much in different ways. That was a lesson for me because I hadn’t been out of the downstate area much. New York is a gorgeous state. That’s a benefit you get from this job.
GPB: Tell us what you’re doing now.
PTW: I spend a lot more time with my family. When I took the job at DASNY my kids were 12, 17 and 19. Now they are 19, 25 and 28. In that period of running back and forth to Albany every week, I missed some of the things you get when you’re around. Now my youngest daughter is graduating from Yale, following in my footsteps. My oldest daughter has been at PepsiCola since she came out of business school and is doing great. She is a global manager for Lays Potato Chips, which is a big brand for them. My son is in the military. He’s in the Marines over in Japan. My wife is doing great. The family is doing great.
As far as myself, I am Of Counsel at Arent Fox, LLC in New York City, which is a nationally recognized firm of about 400 lawyers, with offices in Washington, D.C., L.A. and San Francisco. I am focused in their real estate practice and, among other things, building a practice in public-private partnerships. That’s box “A.”
Box “B” is that based on my work and experience at DASNY, I developed a relationship with BDO, which is a top 5 accounting and consultancy firm. They asked me to join them so I’m a senior fellow with the BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence and Innovation.
There’s something else I’m really excited about as well. My work at DASNY in the P3 and finance areas sparked and fueled my interest in infrastructure development, which led to me launching Williams Strategy Advisors, LLC last year. WSA is an independent global business advisor in infrastructure. I’m very happy with that and am partnering with one of my sisters.
Our business is focused on working with international contractors and investors as well as with in-country partners. We’re doing a lot in Africa and I hope we can change the paradigm for some of the locations there. It’s all fun and I couldn’t be happier working with my sister.
GPB: What do you want to tell the people at DASNY?
PTW: I want to tell them they should be very proud of the work that they do. It’s important work. I think certainly they demonstrate that value for the state. The organization has a strong history that is continuing to be supported by your leadership and the folks that are working hard in the trenches. In my mind, it’s a wonderful story about how government can be effective and can be useful because of the kinds of things we do. It can make a difference. It’s the kind of work that must be done by people who care about what they’re doing – people who have a professional outlook in terms of trying to do things with a manner of excellence – the highest degree of excellence they can muster. People work hard. There’s a commitment to public service. I think that’s one of the things you can hang your hat on at DASNY.