Lynch: Trust is key in business, politics

Last modified: 6/11/2015 9:22:03 AM
PETERBOROUGH — Former Governor John Lynch often turned to his predecessor, Walter Peterson, for advice.

“He never said, ‘You should do this,” recalled Lynch about Peterson. “You should do what you want to do. But if I were facing this problem, this is what I would do...”

Lynch, a Democrat, even asked Peterson and his wife, Dorothy, both Republicans, to chair Lynch’s gubernatorial campaigns — to the ire of other Democrats.

“He is absolutely the model of civil discourse,” said Lynch. “I really wish this state and this country had more people like Walter Peterson,” to which the crowded auditorium burst into applause.

It was with these remarks that Lynch began his talk on what business and the private sector can learn from each other, at the Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall on Tuesday.

The forum’s past speakers include the former governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis, former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg and a panel of ConVal and Conant High School students. The event is a partnership between the Monadnock Center For History and Culture, the New England Center for Civic Life at Franklin Pierce University and the Ledger-Transcript. It was established in honor of Peterson, governor of New Hampshire from 1969 to 1973, longtime Peterborough town moderator and FPU president.

Dorothy Peterson was once again in the audience, as was Andrew Card, president of FPU and the former White House Chief of Staff under President George W. Bush.

Lynch — currently a professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business — said the crux of success is trust.

“You can’t get things done if you don’t trust people and they don’t trust you. At Knoll...they didn’t trust me,” he said, thinking back to when he became CEO of the national furniture company in 1994. “I knew nothing about furniture.”

Lynch credited the trust he developed with his employees to transforming Knoll from losing $50 million a year to earning $240 million a year. Lynch’s success led Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Knoll’s parent company, to invite him to speak to all their executives. Lynch said he imparted the same message to them he used in balancing New Hampshire’s budget each of his gubernatorial terms: spend less than you take in.

Lynch served four terms as New Hampshire’s governor, the longest tenure in the state’s history.

Once Lynch became governor in 2006, he said he awoke every morning, knowing it was important for him to cement trust with his constituents.

It was also important for him to know who the “customers” are, the people, and what their needs are.

After Hurricane Irene destroyed several highways in New Hampshire in late August 2011, the Department of Transportation told Lynch the roads could be reopened in six months. Lynch turned to the head of the Department of Resources and Economic Development and asked when he needed the roads opened by. Two weeks, the commissioner answered Lynch, anticipating the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

“I turned to [DOT] and said we need the roads open in two weeks. Furthermore, I’m going to get in a bus. We’re all going to go in the bus, and ride the roads to make sure there are not too many open spots,” said Lynch. “They had the roads open and passable in 10 days.”

“I’m convinced that if you approach problems with a real sense of urgency, like they did opening the roads after Hurricane Irene, not only do you do a better job, but you feel better about yourself.”

Lynch said he ignored party politics throughout his political career, reaching out to members of the Republican Party at every opportunity for collaboration out of respect. When then-U.S. Senator Judd Gregg considered resigning to become the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Lynch found no problem appointing a Republican to the U.S. Senate to maintain the balance of power there.

“You wouldn’t believe it. My staff again was furious. The White House was furious. Rahm Emanuel called me. He was furious,” said Lynch. Gregg subsequently chose not to resign.

“I just think there has to be more of that,” said Lynch. “Less worried about the party. Less worried about how you’re going to get yourself reelected or the other side fired from their job. There has to be more of that, which again doesn’t really exist today.”

Question and answer period

Sharon Selectman Ted O’Brien was the first to address Lynch after his talk. O’Brien, a former broadcast journalist, said the Monadnock region faces a serious threat from Kinder Morgan’s efforts to build a natural gas pipeline through “71 miles of some of the best country on our East Coast.” O’Brien asked how the region can amass a similar response to the one Massachusetts had, which convinced the energy company to move part of the proposed pipeline route north to New Hampshire.

Lynch responded by praising Granite Staters’ grassroots activism. He recommended reaching out to Democratic and Republican state senators and representatives, because a lot of discussions and decisions are made in caucus, not committee.

He also said local control is very important, relating the pipeline proposal to the Northern Pass project to run power lines through northern New Hampshire. He said that as governor, he wouldn’t support the Northern Pass, unless the local communities wanted it.

Tracy Messer of Peterborough praised Lynch’s humor, and asked him how important this trait is in civil discourse.

“In tense situations, I think humor can go a long way to get people to see the other side,” he said. “I think it’s very important.”

After hearing from James Kelly and Kath Allen, both of Peterborough, Lynch challenged the state to better support education, from kindergarten through college. “Education drives jobs. More education drives more jobs,” he said. “I think the state needs to step up to that,” specifically advocating for the doing its part to lower student debts.


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